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It's summer vacation season, and this year, according to the American Automobile Association, 37 million Americans will be hitting the road. Literally. Every few miles along the interstate, you'll see a car pulled over and a man on his hands and knees, pounding his forehead into the highway. That's Dad. He's been driving for seven hours in a car with four children, so he's trying to work out some tension by banging the old noggin on the concrete. Mom would be out there with him, but she's busy inside the car trying to untangle little Jessica, whose brother Christopher put her hair into the car's jack and playfully wound it around several dozen turns.
This family will drive for five more relaxing hours before they check into a motel, where Mom and Dad will spend a fun evening trying to locate a pharmacy where they can replace little Brendan's asthma medicine, which little Courtney flushed, along with little Brendan's special blanket, down the motel toilet. Later that night, when everybody is finally asleep, there will be a pounding at the door; this will be the police, come to check on a report - phoned in by the alert motel clerk - that the family checked in with a crying child who had a heavy metal object attached to her head.
Yes, there is no vacation fun quite like a family car trip. The question is: Where should you go? You'll be excited to learn that I've prepared an itinerary just for you!
You'll begin by driving to Jefferson City, Mo. (NOTE: If you already live there, drive 1,300 miles in a random direction, then drive back). The attraction you'll visit is the Veterinary Museum, which, according to a brochure sent in by alert reader Bill Hopkins, is ``the only museum in the United States devoted solely to veterinary medicine.'' There you can ``touch and explore materials, such as bones, animal skins and hairballs,'' and see ``specimens showing stages of a calf embryo and various animal diseases.''
Talk about family fun! Here are some things you can say to enhance this experience for your kids:
``Just think! Other families are wasting their vacations at Disney World!''
``Brittany, either you will touch that hairball or Mommy will MAKE you touch that hairball!''
After a stop at McDonald's for an educational lunch (``Kids, those hamburgers you're chewing come from the exact same kind of animal that you saw in those jars!'') you're off to your next family-vacation stop, which is Marilla, Mich. There, according to an article from the Aug. 8, 1999, edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle written by Mike Norton and sent in by alert reader Judy Sutton, you might see ... racing zucchinis!
The article (``Excess Gourds Provide Amusement for Family, Friends'') states that last spring Herb Seamons, 79, and his daughter, Karen, 50, planted several rows of zucchini, and - as any experienced gardener could have predicted - they wound up with too many zucchinis (ONE is too many zucchinis). So now, for sport, they ``take some of their biggest, longest zucchinis down to the Manistee River, drop them off the bridge, and then watch to see which ones float downstream the fastest.''
``It's a hoot,'' observes Herb.
The article states that ``the sport has gradually caught on with other members of the local zucchini-growing community.''
If this isn't an activity that will keep your kids enthralled for 45 to 50 seconds, then I don't know what is. My only concern is that, if the Manistee River ultimately flows to the Atlantic Ocean, we could have a situation where a zucchini - which is the densest vegetable on the planet, aside from guests on The Jerry Springer Show - winds up in the path of a cruise ship (``FULL STARBOARD RUDDER! ZUCCHINI DEAD AHEAD!'').
But this is no time to fantasize about watching Leonardo DiCaprio drown. This is the time to head for your next vacation stop. ... Nigeria! Sure, it's a long drive, but consider the attraction: According to a March 23 article in USA Today sent in by many alert readers, ``Hundreds of curious Nigerians flocked to the police station in the northern town of Maiduguri after reports that a schoolboy had been turned into a yam by witchcraft.'' The article states that the police had the yam in custody and were trying to ``unravel this mystery.''
The Yam Boy! What a fun finale for your family vacation, as well as a chance to teach the kids an important moral lesson (``If you spit on your sister again, YOU will turn into a yam''). But now, sadly, your vacation has ended; it's time to make the 12,000-mile drive home. Better use the bathroom now, because Dad is not stopping.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.