If Juneau’s road ends less than 50 miles outside town, how is it my odometer reads 123,642?
Actually, we’re a two-vehicle family — again, in a place where the road ends less than 50 miles outside town. The car we “don’t” drive tops 120,000, too.
Exactly where has all this mileage taken me? Everywhere. And nowhere. I find myself circling the same endless loop, a Gordian knot of drop-offs and pick-ups: school, then the other school with the slightly different bell schedule, then whatever it is I do when I’m not chauffeuring; then, in the afternoon, both schools again, then home for clothes change — because every extra-curricular activity involves a different special outfit, too expensive to risk sending to school; then activity A, then activity B, then back to activity A because someone left part of their expensive special outfit, etc. Of course, there’s the occasional spur trip to Costco or someplace more exotic … say, Foodland. Every once in a while, I’ll be dispatched on a midnight run all the way to Safeway for lice shampoo or Kaopectate or something. That’s always exciting.
But gas and lube expenditures notwithstanding, I’m at peace with all this driving; in fact, I’ve even grown to like it.
Some societies mark coming-of-age with the successful completion of a challenge, for example, hunting and killing an animal or, as with my tribe, chanting from a scroll followed by a catered luncheon.
While culturally I became a man at age 13 — before returning, two days later, to seventh grade — I didn’t start acting like an adult until my late 30s … and only because my children forced me to.
See, nothing makes a person feel more grown up than tooling around in a car full of kids — not plucking grays, paying life insurance premiums or taking Prilosec. Muscle cars, convertibles, a crazy homemade Frankentruck with massive spotlights and a built-in gun mount? Child’s play. It takes a real man (or woman) to drive a sensible crossover SUV with multiple booster seats, just as it takes a real man (or woman) to play along with an extended game of “baby” such that several of those booster seats are occupied by American Girl dolls, whether your daughter’s riding along or not.
Another perk: no matter the destination — even just soccer practice, yet again — when you’re at the wheel, you’re the captain. For those miles, and possibly those miles alone, you control your family’s destiny. You also decide whether or not to stop for donuts (a key bargaining chip). And you choose the music. Word of advice: a good captain makes the crew happy, so every once in a while cue up the soundtrack from “Hamilton.” Nothing quashes a backseat mutiny like the soundtrack from “Hamilton.”
Of course, driving with kids — without driving yourself nuts — entails embracing chaos. And mess. Growing up, the interior of my dad’s car was so clean you could eat off it, most likely because we weren’t even allowed to chew gum in there. My car, by contrast, is strewn with Cheerios, cheese sticks, cheddar goldfish, PB&J crusts, sand-encrusted fruit roll-ups, half-consumed juice boxes, and, I’ll admit, more than a few of my own old Snapple bottles. But you can’t pee into a juice box the way you can a Snapple bottle, so, you know, they’re for emergencies.
But even I reach my limits. The other day, our car started to smell, and I mean like death. The culprit: a putrid banana underneath the floor mat protector. (Nice job, floor mat protector; letting a whole banana slip past—I’d hardly call that “protection.”) You know what wasn’t helping, either? A bag of wet clothes from the beach this past June, festering away in the spare tire well (don’t ask how it got there; I’ve learned not to).
Luckily I honed my deodorizing skills back in college—thank you very much, designated driver duty. Now the car smells like pina coladas, fitting, considering how often I get caught in the rain.
Point is, I’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness (although, actually, I’d rather do both — candle-lit swearing totally crushes).
Fine. So you can’t take a road trip out of Juneau that doesn’t involve a leg at sea; so your routes are so familiar you can drive them with your eyes closed (legal disclaimer: do not drive with your eyes closed); so you never use cruise control, even though it’s your favorite button to press, aside from windshield washer fluid, which, fortunately you get to press all the time.
These are small prices to pay. After all, Juneau is also a place where rush hour “traffic” lasts 15 minutes, tops. And where else can you pull over on the way to jiu-jitsu to watch orcas breach in the channel?
Plus, it could be worse. I mean, we could be talking about air travel.
• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday.