It could have been a new reality TV show.
Instead, it was reality in the Turiel-Hinds family.
The challenge: Cross 1,121 miles (about 20 hours) with two vehicles (neither of which have working tape players), two children (ages 4 and 22 months), and two parents.
The prize: Getting back to the homeland (Durango).
Group Dynamics. We go father-daughter, mother-son for most of the drive, primarily to separate Rose from the mammaries, which she still believes can heal all life's wounds, including the boredom that creeps in just an hour out of the gate, while I am white-knuckling through 3 inches of unplowed powder in Southern Oregon. I sing to her; it is the wrong song. I hand her the photo album that was a computer-confounded week in the making; she flips three pages and tosses it to the floor. With Dan however, she is six kinds of angel, entertaining herself for an hour with a plastic pig and French fry box (see the next paragraph).
The Golden Arches. OK. I've read Fast Food Nation, which reveals the scary truths behind the Mc-Empire. And I am scared. Yet, when I glimpsed the two-story slide -all cavernous and twisted like intestines - my heart would flutter like a new bride's. I bow down to the PlayLand. Dan and I would reunite, consulting maps and sharing stories of our intrepid travelers, while the kids got out every ya-ya from scalp to toenail. Heaven on earth, er Winnemucca, Nev.
Caffeine. We stopped often for what passes as coffee in Nevada. It was darkish, warm and poured by a matronly type who had shot five of the 20 bucks stuffed and displayed on the wall. She'd eye our entourage suspiciously - Col bouncing around the establishment lobbying for a lollipop bigger than his mouth and Rose swiping packets of Sweet 'n Low. The coffee tasted like badly needed medicine as we hurtled alongside Nevada tumbleweeds, past herds of wild horses and a single bald eagle, its gleaming white head shining like a light in the dusky sagebrush.
Entertainment. We planned accordingly. Like many plans, this failed. It was too loud and bright to watch DVDs. The magnetic dress-up dolls scattered like crumbs on the Subaru's floor. Instead, Col had a galaxy of fun with a bungee cord. He enacted a highly realistic snowstorm with Rice Krispies west of Salt Lake City. Some hours after Col scrubbed the dusty dashboard with a toothbrush (while riding shotgun in truck), I learned that said instrument was used by Rose for a self-imposed, thorough teeth cleaning. As the stars ignited the sky, Col became urgent philosopher-boy, ticking off questions as if they could replace the need for sleep. "Mama, where is the Durango train right now?" And, "Is it okay to drool in a river?"
The kids adjusted amazingly fast to life on the road. On the second morning, Col said: "We drive, eat, slide, then drive, drive, drive, then see trains. That is what we do."
The homeland never looked so good.
Rachel Turiel's column runs the first and third Sunday of the month.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.