I was driving down Richard’s Road last week when a mini-van just in front of me suddenly whipped to the side of the road. Before the car had quite stopped, its right backdoor swung open and a small boy leapt out, ran into some tall grass and hunched over. I knew at once what was going on. After all, that small boy had once been me.
When I was kid, getting sick in the car came naturally – and certainly – especially if my parents made me sit in the back seat. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” A guy named George Santayana once said that. Unfortunately, my parents never heard him say it. I’ll bet Santayana got carsick a lot too.
Summer trips were the worst. Because we had a sedan, my parents put our baby brother in the front seat between them – and stuck me in the backseat with my three other brothers. My siblings looked forward to sitting next to me the way people in ancient Vesuvius enjoyed the volcano.
There was something Pavlovian about the backseat for me. And like Pavlov’s dog, it usually started with the drooling. I’d start feeling burpy and urpy in the driveway. If we traveled any farther than 15 miles, it was a lead pipe cinch that I’d soon be casting forth like cheap champagne shaken up good.
My mom tried giving me Dramamine, the time-honored motion sickness remedy. But the pills caught in my throat and made me gag. Next, she tried the chewing gum version, but it tasted so bad it just accelerated my incipient spew.
Dad thought about putting me in the trunk, but didn’t want me to throw-up on the spare tire. So instead he explained to me that carsickness was purely psychological. “It’s all in your head,” he would say. Unfortunately, by the time it got to my head there was only one place for it to go next – and if the old man didn’t stop the car in time, it was all on his head. Again, not remembering the past, he always seated me directly behind the driver’s seat.
The solution seemed simple to me: Put me in the front seat, between my parents, so I could see the road ahead. I never got sick up there. But, no – my
baby brother sat up front because my parents were worried that he might get car sick in the back. He might get carsick? Hey, put your money on me, Mom and Dad – the sure thing.
I remember a teacher when I was in the eighth grade asking the class: “What would be the worst thing about being the president of the United States?” Most kids in the class offered reasoned, thoughtful answers that indicated that they, unlike me, had been paying attention in class. They said things like “loss of privacy, hectic schedule, fear of assassination” and so on.
But when the teacher turned to me, I had my own answer. “The president always has to ride in the back seat.”
So a warning to parents planning to embark on family car trips this summer. If your youngster in the back seat starts getting real quiet and pale, don’t ask questions. Pull over pronto!
And if you’re the driver, never, ever wear your best shirt.