Summer is drawing to a close (sorry, but it is) and it’s time to tackle the dreaded chore of cleaning the vacation detritus collecting in our vehicles. I try to keep my truck reasonably tidy throughout the year, but when summer vacation hits and the truck becomes the primary family wheels, it can be tough to keep up.
The aftermath, come late August or September, can be grim. A typical fall cleaning session takes me an entire day with the vacuum, carpet shampooer, assorted scrubbers and cleaning potions, and yields bags of dirt, sand, crumbs, pieces of broken toys and stray Pokemon cards.
I’ve learned a few lessons along the way and I’m using that knowledge to produce my own list of banned items and substances with the goal of more pleasant road trips and easier fall cleanups. Needless to say, it isn’t popular and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s quite possibly even more arbitrary than the TSA’s Prohibited Items list.
Generally speaking, I agree with the TSA when it comes to sharp objects such as meat cleavers, ice picks and scissors, and I’ll also stick with their decision to ban firearms, cattle prods, drills, blasting caps, hand grenades, plastic explosives, pepper spray and tear gas. My kids don’t have access to most of those items, but it works for me as a common-sense baseline. The last thing I need 10hours into a 12-hour drive is an accidental blast of pepper spray to the face or a cattle prod duel breaking out between the occupants of rows two and three.
I probably have dozens of pet peeves after nearly a decade of doing the parental driving routine, but here are five things that really drive me nuts and are therefore banned (although my wife naturally retains veto power and the ability to overrule any of my so-called proclamations):
1. Those grabby pincer things they sell at all souvenir shops
These plastic claw things are ubiquitous in gift shops, particularly zoo gift shops, for some reason, where they’re usually fashioned so the grabby part resembles an animal’s head. Robot hands are also a popular choice, and dinosaurs are always fair game. Having three rows of seats in my vehicle ensures a certain degree of separation that helps reduce disputes around touching, poking or personal-space intrusion. One of these diabolical devices extends the reach of any child, giving him the ability to stealthily poke, nudge or pinch anyone in the vehicle. That’s bad enough, but when the poorly made toy inevitable snaps due to retaliation, hyper extension, or perhaps from attempting too ambitious a caper (like snatching a bottle of water from a cup holder), then there’s the inevitable aftermath of the upset owner. Avoid these at all cost!
2. Chewing gum
I don’t have anything against a good chew, but keep the stuff out of my truck. Unless you’re an adult, but even then, I’m watching you…. My children know they shouldn’t swallow gum, they know not to play with it or otherwise pull it out of their mouths, and they know better than to litter. The rule used to be: Once you’re done with your gum, ask mom for a napkin to safely contain it until we stop where there’s a garbage can. Now the rule is: No chewing gum in the vehicle! In my experience, spent chewing gum mysteriously ends up in hair, stuck to clothes, attached to door handles and stuck to the seats. No-one is at fault though as, unbeknownst to me, chewing gum has apparently become sufficiently autonomous to hop out of the mouth and throw itself onto inconvenient things. One useful feature of winter is that it gets cold enough outside to chisel any gum deposits off instead of having to work at it for hours with scrubbers and various solvents.
3. Cheese doodles
The second item on my foodstuff-related theme. Don’t get me wrong, whatever brand name they might go by in your area, cheese doodles can be a tasty, if not particularly healthy, treat. However, in the context of being consumed by children in an automobile interior, they may as well have called these things “l’il orange car wreckers.” Heaps of brightly colored, dusty coating that’s the perfect consistency to be ground into upholstery, leaving smelly orange streaks? Check! Brittle snack that easily disintegrates into millions of particles that will fall into every crevice, including between seats, under booster seats, inside seat belt mechanisms and collect at the bottom of door pockets? Check! Morphs into a slimy, bloated orange slug that smears on anything when exposed to moisture? You bet. We took the kids to the drive-in a few years ago and they chose a bag of cheese doodles as one of their movie snacks. I’m still finding crunchy orange things when flipping seats around, nearly three years later. Just as frightening, the three-year-old doodles look as though they just fell out of the bag yesterday.
I don’t remember stickers being such a big thing when I was a kid. Yes, we had them, but they seemed less common and were therefore more prized. You didn’t just slap a sticker on anything, you made sure the surface was worthy. I don’t know if it’s the advances in cheap printing or the fact that destinations feel obligated to give every kid at least something as a takeaway, but sticker use is epidemic. We come back from the doctor’s with stickers, the dentist gives out stickers, museums slap stickers on you and stores sell books full of stickers that look as though they’d be an awesome way for the kids to kill a few hours on an extended drive. That’s a trap if I ever saw one. Stickers have a way of migrating from where they should be — on a page, or perhaps a shirt — to the backs of seats. Good luck to you if one makes its way onto a harder surface like a window or door sill. If you don’t notice one of these things adhered to a flat plastic surface and it bakes in the sun for a few days, you’ll learn the hard way what “sticker” really means.
My family loves the beach. We live in London, Ontario, and although our city is more or less landlocked (unless you count the Thames River or the artificial Fanshawe Lake), we’re only half an hour’s drive from Port Stanley on Lake Erie and an hour from Grand Bend on Lake Huron. We frequent the beaches from spring through fall and our summer vacations frequently include waterfront destinations like Prince Edward Island and Cape Cod. The kids practically grew up on beaches. The downside to beach activity combined with kids, is sand. Sand is my nemesis when it comes to my truck. The kids track in sand that gets ground into carpets, works its way into rubber seals reducing their effectiveness, scratches paint and finds its way into various mechanisms resulting in grinding wear and tear. I can never win this battle — the vacuum will always be full of sand at the end of every summer — but I try to enforce a sand ban as a way to reduce the damage. This involves an elaborate (and some say extreme) degree of rinsing off, shaking down and brushing of people and things after all beach excursions.
Two things I always carry in the truck that make life easier:
1. A box of diaper wipes. We haven’t had to deal with changing diapers for years (thank you, thank you, thank you….), but I still carry these things around because they are so incredibly useful. First line of defense against ice-cream smeared faces, sticky hands, spills, food stains on clothing, “gas pump smell” hands from self-serve re-fueling, and in a pinch they can be used to attack big messes (usually bird or bug-related) on the windshield that the wipers are choking on. They do it all. Yes, there are similar products sold as all purpose cleaning wipes, but diaper wipes are usually stronger, cheaper, easier to find, and my wife kind of likes the scent.
2. Lint Roller. The two-sided tape kind. A good roller will pick up the deeply embedded dog hair that even our Dyson won’t pull out of the upholstery; it picks up food crumbs and sand as well. Strips of a sheet can be used to retrieve coins dropped into a difficult to reach nook (think chimps fishing for termites with a stick). The only downside to this one (at least for those of us in Northern climates) is the stickiness takes a significant hit when temperatures drop below freezing.
Homepage photo: Fake Zombies attacking an innocent driver. Andy330/Flickr