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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

My family vacation: a four-door prison on wheels

How uncool is this? I finished high school, but I can't escape Dad's Sinatra tunes and truck rage.

August 07, 2003|Chris Erskine

My dad, he asked me to write his column for him, on account of we're on this road trip, see, and he has a hard enough time just driving, without trying to write and drive and read a map all at once. Frankly, he has a hard enough time just writing too, if you've caught any of his recent stuff. But, like Holden Caulfield, I digress.

"Hey, Dad, can you laugh without smiling?" my little sister asks as we zoom up the freeway.

Gimme a break, when you graduate from high school, doesn't that mean you don't have to go on car trips with your family anymore? Isn't that, like, one of the perks?

Most of my college friends, they don't go on trips anymore. Most girls my age get to stay home and ... well, I'm not going to go there. But they get to stay home, let's just leave it at that, OK?

"Stupid trucks," my dad grunts at the traffic.

You should see my dad right now. The tips of his ears are real pink. And every time a truck cuts him off, they redden like maple leaves. When we went through the Grapevine, I thought his head was going to explode.

"You OK, honey?" my mom asks.

"Stupid trucks," my dad grunts again.

"Hey, Mom, does Dad drive like this on purpose?" I ask her.

"Your father is an excellent driver," she says.

It's funny how she defends him sometimes. From what I can tell, they fall in and out of love every 15 minutes. I mean, what's that about? Isn't real love, like, always there? Maybe there's real love, and then there's marital love. I don't know. Maybe love's like hair and it just falls out eventually.

"You have milkshake on your shirt," Mom tells him.

"You should see what I have on my socks," he says.

"Let me guess, mustard?"

"Keep guessing," he says.

"My lipstick?" she says.

Then they both laugh and turn to look out their respective car windows.

Arrrrrgggggh! Someone get me out of here. It's like being stuck in a POW camp that's 5 feet wide and smells like Armor All. When does that Geneva Convention stuff kick in? Where's that Alan Dershowitz dude who's always rushing around trying to help beautiful people in distress? I mean, I'm beautiful. I'm in distress. What do I need, a sign?

"You make me feel so young," my dad sings.

Ever since Fresno, my dad has been singing little phrases from Frank Sinatra songs. Right here in the car, where we have to listen, not like at home where you can go outside and stuff.

He actually tells my brother at one point that he learned everything he needed to know about life and love from listening to Sinatra.

"You did?" my brother asks.

"Just about," Dad says.

"You did?" Mom asks.

"I got the world on a string ... " sings my dad.

" ... Sittin' on a rainbow," sings my brother.

In restaurants, it's the worst. My dad is one of those dudes who uses his cellphone voice, even when he's not on the cellphone. This morning, he ordered pancakes real loud and everybody stopped to look around, in mid-bite, egg dripping off their forks.

"Dad, keep it down a little, OK?" I say.

"Know what I really like for breakfast?" he asks.

"Fish?" I say.

"Fish," he says.

The whole trip, my dad has been talking about fish. I guess some dude told him about this great fishing spot. My dad, he's really excited, even though he hasn't caught a fish in, like, 10 years or something. Maybe 20.

My mom says he has a better chance of coming home with Bigfoot than a rainbow trout.

"We're here!" my mom suddenly yells as we enter Tahoe.

"We are?" my dad says.

"We're here!" screams my little sister.

Seriously, if you know any SWAT team members -- or even paramedics or something, Cub Scouts, I don't care -- tell them to watch out for a white minivan loaded down like a donkey and racing around Tahoe, driving the local residents nuts.

Tell them there's a girl in distress inside. Me. Probably pounding on the windows. Holding up a sign.

Like, seriously.


Chris Erskine can be reached at

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