Tuesday, August 10, 1999

An electronic remedy for carsickness?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Believe me, I love my country. I also love my family, including my brother, even though I once begged my parents to leave him at a rest stop in Tennessee.

        It was during an automobile trip to the Great Smoky Mountains when we were both in grade school. The plan was to see America together as a family. I do not remember the purple mountains' majesty. I do not remember the amber waves of grain. I do remember wishing I could lapse into a coma after the seventh or eighth rendition of “Found a Peanut,” the only camp song my brother knew. So I whined.

Custody dispute
        Meanwhile, in the front seat, my parents were shooting each other ugly looks. The only thing that saved their marriage was that after 10 hours in a car with their children, neither would agree to take custody of them.

        Carsick? We were sick of the car and sick of each other. Actual nausea would have been redundant. We were maddened by togetherness and bored witless by endless games of License Plate Bingo. Dad's solution was to try to get it over as soon as possible, refusing to stop the car unless the gas tank was empty.

        My mother kept heaving books and games over the back of the seat. After we had counted every last cow and horse in Kentucky, my brother and I entertained ourselves by fighting. About everything.

        I like to wallow in nostalgia just as much as the next baby boomer, but the family vacation in the family car is an old-fashioned ordeal begging for a modern solution. Even with air-conditioned cars, even with minivans that have a window for everybody, even with SUVs the size of Kansas, getting there is as miserable as it has ever been. Maybe more. Forget counting cows. All you can see are interstate mile markers.

Road to success
        Anne Kuhn says she can help. The Anderson Township woman is the Midwest purveyor of Survive the Drive, “the latest in entertainment activities for kids on the road.” Her brochure promises to “put an end to constant fighting, whining and complaining.”

        She says she has tested the product on her own family during a 10-hour drive. Anne and her husband, Tom, a systems analyst at Procter & Gamble, have a 2-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. She says they completed the entire trip — and she swears this is true — without once hearing, “Are we there yet?”

        The company, founded in Pennsylvania by the desperate parents of four small children, rents portable TV/VCR units designed specifically for use in cars and vans. Survive the Drive also offers activity bags with workbooks, games, crayons and stickers, as well as snack packs and game buckets with Nintendo and hand-held electronic games.

        The TVs rent for $49 for a weekend or $99 for a week, and come with two movies and headphones for those who would rather eat barbed wire than hear Barney sing. Reservations can be made at (513) 225-7640. Anne recommends at least a week's notice, longer if it's a holiday.

        Most of her business comes from Greater Cincinnati, but Anne has shipped units to Cleveland and Columbus.

        The company, founded in May 1998, opened its branch here on Memorial Day this year. “Cincinnati has been an amazingly good market for us,” company President Liz Walsh says. “The summer has been really strong, and we're putting together some special kits for Thanksgiving and Christmas trips.”

        But what about the American experience? What about those fruited plains? And the largest ball of twine? “Well, nothing keeps you from turning off the TV every once in a while,” Liz says reasonably, “when there's something special to see.”

        Those parents who want a taste of the old-fashioned American automobile vacation can still listen to their children bicker about which movie they will watch.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Author of I Beg to Differ, she can be heard regularly on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.