June 29, 2006

Boat on water! Train on bridge!

Susan's request for car games over at Crunchy Granola brought back childhood memories for me. When I was a kid, I loved going on long car trips. Most of our family vacations were camping trips to the mountains or the river – and those did not count as long car rides because the trips were less than 100 miles – but every Easter and every August, we would take a day-long journey to visit my grandmother and aunt.

My siblings and I used to prepare for the trip a whole week ahead of time. We’d find a manilla envelope, and Blonde Sister would decorate it carefully, writing the words Travel Kit in fancy letters on the top. We’d make games to put in the travel kit, like Seek-a-Words or Hidden Pictures, and of course we played the usual verbal games like Twenty Questions, and a million variations on stuff that spells out the alphabet, but the most enduring game, the one that we did every single trip, was Car Bingo.

To make car bingo, we'd get two pieces of stiff white paper and draw a grid, much like a bingo card. Then in each little square, we’d draw pictures, neatly labelled. The key was to make the two cards different but equal so that each team had a shot at winning the game. For instance, if I drew woman walking dog on one card, I would add kid riding bicycle to the other card. And picnic table is clearly equal to trash can since both can be found at any rest area. Just like horse is equal to cow. We had these figured out pretty carefully, although sometimes we’d get into long and heated debates. I still say that barn with three silos is equal to swimming pool. And no matter what my brother says, school bus and green station wagon are not a match at all.

The family would divide into teams, with three people on each team, and each team would get a card. My father, the seventh person, always opted out, claiming he would be neutral because he was the driver and he would just shout out stuff that might be on either card. I can remember dozing off to sleep and being jolted awake when I’d hear my father shout something like, “Boat on trailer! Anyone need boat on trailer?”

The two hardest things to find, always the last two remaining on the cards, were treehouse and train on bridge. I think my mother, who grew up in an urban area, originally came up with the train on bridge one. You know how hard it is to see a train on a bridge driving through the countryside? Pretty impossible. I'm guessing my father came up with treehouse. And hardly anyone builds treehouses in places where they can be seen from the road.

The fact that some of things we put on the cards were almost impossible to find did not bother us at all. The hardest ones became kind of a tradition. You've got to have lofty goals. To this day, when I go to a conferences in a place like Chicago, I will excitedly grab the sleeve of someone walking near me and yell, "LOOK! LOOK! Train on bridge!" I suspect that this is why some of my academic friends think I’m flaky.

Someone told me that games like car bingo have actually been marketed now, but it seems to me that a pre-printed game would be a bit boring. The value of the game was the fun it was to create it, and the educational part was the negotiation skills we learned as we argued about what an equal pair was. Making the car games kept the group of us children busy around the kitchen table while my parents did the real work of doing laundry, cleaning, and packing for the trip. When I see a manilla envelope with magic marker lettering on it, I still think of those travel kits, and I remember that tingle of excitement, that feeling of anticipation.

25 comments:

PPB said...

I'm the first to comment? When does that happen? This sounds like a fun game.

Mona Buonanotte said...

State License Plate Seek-and-Find. We'd get unnaturally excited if we saw a car with Alaska plates, or Washington state.

Our favorite game was, of course, "He's Touching Me/She's Looking At Me!". Which my children are only now reminding me, was my parents most UN-favorite game.

kathy a said...

this is a great post! the bingo game sounds fun.

we also did alphabet games in the car when i was a kid -- sometimes only license plates counted, sometimes only signs we could see from the road. we kept track of how many different state license plates we saw on a trip -- my sister and i even did this one when we traveled cross country as adults. and of course, going through tunnels one has to touch the ceiling, hold breath, and make a wish, then interrogate everyone else about their wishes.

my kids played "i spy with my little eye" -- a variation on 20 questions, i think, based on sights along the way. for some reason, they and all their friends called out "punch buggy!" whenever they saw a VW beetle [the old ones]. we would count cars of a certain type and color, until they got bored. then we'd turn to an ongoing car story, "the land of bob," in which everyone was named bob, and adventures incorporated the passing views and activities such as bobbing for apples. [silliness is pretty magical, isn't it?] sigh.

Bitty said...

Before I reached your finale, I was thinking about how superior this was to pre-packaged games! Lovely memory.

I used to work at Social Security HQ in Baltimore, but I lived an hour's ride away (if traffic was moving) and hitched a ride with friends -- three of us in the car. At that time (maybe still) MD license plates had just two letters. Our ongoing game was to shout out a name represented by the letters. MM, for example, might be Marilyn Monroe, although today the first thought might be Marilyn Manson!

Where I live now, Florida, plates have three letters. No fun at all.

liz said...

Oooh! Jo(e)! I love this idea! LOVE! IT! I'm going to put Muffin Man to work making a kit for himself for the car trip from hell over Labor Day.

KLee said...

Pretty cool! I may have to steal that idea for next year's Disney trip. "Train on bridge" would be hard to spot. Think "Monorail on track" would be an adequate substitute?

Because we're total Disney geeks, we play a game we made up in the car all the time: Our state's license plates all have three letters. We have to find the name of a Disney character (appeared in a Disney movie, TV show, or in books) with those letters. Say MRP would be "Mickey Mouse, Rafiki, Prince Charming." All people playing would have to come up with different answers...you couldn't use the previous person's choices.

Poor Mad Peter said...

We bought a set of preprinted lists of vehicles for Em when she was smaller and getting increasingly antsy on car trips. The idea was to log how many oil/fuel tankers she saw, how many 18-wheelers, how many vans, how many sedans, etc etc. It worked moderately well for maybe 2 trips.

Today, we use the back of the pad for grocery lists... :) And she has an iPod.

Chip said...

what a great game! When we were kids we'd take drives to Florida to visit grandparents, involving two full 12 hour days in the car. We killed the time with license plate games, map games, but I think our favorite pasttime was just squabbling with each other. It drove my dad crazy. Only once I had kids did I understand why.

Scrivener said...

When we went on road trips, I pretty much just brought a stack of books and read. I don't remember playing any of these games until I was in college.

susan said...

Home-made car bingo sounds way fun: I think I may make up something for Curious Girl for the upcoming trip.

I'm trying to remember what my sister and I did when we drove from NY to Maine every summer. I know we played 20 questions, and we sang a lot of songs. Most of the car games I know I learned at GS camp.

Anonymous said...

I Spy and 20 Questions were our favorites...we lacked the creativity that you all had. Your version of car bingo sounds like a lot of fun.

wolfa said...

We did the alphabet game and the state game. We also like the word change game -- go from enter to leave by changing one letter at a time and only using real words.

Which did you think was harder, the green station wagon or the schoolbus?

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Thanks for another great post --- We didn't play car bingo, and now I'm sorry we didn't :).

Sarah Sometimes said...

this is very sweet. my two siblings are both so much older than me that I have no memories of car trips with them, just me in the back seat with my parents in the front. But I do remember a sense of well-being and excitement associated with the trips, mostly shortish ones out to the suburbs to visit aunts and uncles and cousins.

cloudscome said...

LOL we still shout out "train on bridge" in our car. Sometimes it comes out "A train a train a train! Would you could you on a train?" Then we take turns quoting Dr. Seuss for a while.

Tonight we went into the city to have dinner at a friend's. The first 2/3 of the way in Buddy kept saying "I didn't see a trolly yet." The rest of the way he kept shouting out "A trolly! A trolly! Look a trolly! I see a trolly!"

Yeah, we are three years old. All of us.

jo(e) said...

Wolfangel: On a highway in the middle of the summer in the late 1960s and early 1970s? The only way you'd see a school bus is if the Partridge Family was going by. But station wagons were everywhere. (The mini-van hadn't been invented yet.)

Yeah, sometimes you might see a bunch of school buses in a parking lot somewhere on the outskirts of a town, which meant it wasn't an impossible item. BUT NOT EQUAL TO A GREEN STATION WAGON. See, my thinking was that the green station wagon should be paired with something you might see driving by, like a red pick-up truck. Whereas the school bus should be paired with something you might see on the edge of town, like a flagpole.

Dr. Shellie said...

My sister and I had a car tradition (not exactly a game)-- every time we saw a "BRIDGE FREEZES BEFORE ROAD" sign, one of us would read it out. To which, the other would reply: "What bridge? I don't see any bridge!" And the first would say: "that bridge!" Somehow it always seemed funny and never got old. Just a month ago I got a "BRIDGE FREEZES BEFORE ROAD" text message from her on my cell phone-- she was on a long car trip. To which, of course, I replied...

Sfrajett said...

Now, TAN station wagon in the 70s might have been equal to school bus. Leading to heady squabbles about what exactly constitutes TAN, I suspect. We played a version of this bingo. Thanks for reminding me. I like the part where your dad is a neutral enabler. So much better than the movies and the DVD players of nowadays.

Marie said...

What a great post. I can just hear it! We only played the alphabet game. I can remember just PRAYING for a La Quinta in.

Marie said...

That should say La Quinta INN.

kabbage said...

We used to read out loud to my mom when she was driving to help her stay awake. We read a lot of really old versions of the Hardy Boys, where they referred to Biff and "chubby Chet Morton" as their chums and drove roadsters and coupes. We still laugh about "chatting with our chums."

We also had awful jokes for lesser-seen objects. Whenever we saw a cemetery, someone would say, "See that cemetery? People are just dying to get in there" and "Why did the skeleton go to the library?" "To bone up on some subjects."

I also remember the sheer terror of the I-70 rest stop latrines in Ohio. They smelled a lot (we usually did the trip to visit my mother's family in Indiana in August) to my sanitized suburban nose, and I had a terror of falling down the shaft. Over the years, I've gained enough weight that that's certainly not an issue.

andrea from the fishbow said...

How wonderful! We're hitting the road soon, and we're definitely doing the DIY car bingo.

I might replace "treehouse" with "outhouse" ... just to make it a little easier. :)

wolfa said...

I didn't really pay attention to when the car trips were. I'll grant you green station wagons being more common than schoolbuses (even now, as station wagons are surprisingly popular here).

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, during a road trip yesterday I grabbed my husband and yelled "train on bridge!"

andrea

susan said...

And here I am, commenting on this post years after the fact, to tell you to head over to Rev. Dr. Mom today and look at the picture. I thought of you and this post right away.