Welcome to Meatland…
and other childhood memories from on the road.
Creep 10 feet. Stop. Creep 20 feet. Stop. Typical rush hour. A four-wheel-drive behemoth sporting a license plate from two states away is in the next lane. Through the rear window, I spot two flickering screens hanging from the ceiling. I inch closer. The left screen shows Dora the Explorer off on another adventure, while a battle to save an unnamed planet rages on the right screen. I can’t see the pint-sized passengers inside, but I’m certain they’re completely and obliviously plugged into their respective worlds. “No fights over who gets to watch their show first,” I think. “Where’s the fun in that?”
The scene was so alien from my childhood travels. My family’s annual beach pilgrimage was a low-tech, slightly dangerous affair. Bouncing around untethered in the station wagon’s backseat, my sister and I raised the slap to an art form. But in between our squabbles, we never missed The House with the Eiffel Tower in the Front Yard, The Mysterious Igloo, and A Store Called Meatland. As each of our many landmarks flashed by, we knew we were getting that much closer to The Place Where Our Salty, Sunburned Dreams Would Come True.
My son, Ian, is 16 months old. He entertains himself in the car now by calling every vaguely boxy vehicle a truck. I’ve done some things I swore I wouldn’t do as a mom—let French fries pass his lips, let non-chlorine-free diapers swaddle his bottom. I’m sure my time will come when I’ll think, “Just stop whining and watch TV … PLEEEEASE.” But for now, I never want him to sit slack-jawed, staring at a screen, unaware of the great big wide world going by. Because a Giant Inflatable Tomato or Creepy Abandoned Diner can mark the way to Some Really Cool Places— especially in his own imagination.