Before my youngest could speak in complete sentences – or relive himself in anything other than a diaper – he knew trucks. From an early 80s single-cab Toyota to a huge, glistening, chromed-out semi, every time we passed one on the road, he’d notify the rest of us by calling out “big truck!”
I can hardly remember when exactly this started, but it seemed to quickly transform into full-blown obsession. He watched Blaze and the Monster Machines religiously. He inherited my decades-old, slightly rusty and fully dangerous gigantic metal Tonka trucks. I started to dream about buying a jacked-up diesel. It was absolute madness for a while, there.
Somewhere in the midst of it all, the opportunity to buy tickets to an upcoming Monster Jam in Tampa came up. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a weekend that three-quarters of the family would love; the boys and I would revel at the power, sound, and spectacle of 5-tons of metal vaulting 30 feet into the air. And my wife…could eat at the local J. Alexander’s for being such a good sport.
It was a perfect, complication-free plan.
Then I decided to invite grandpa.
For better or for worse, my dad prefers to be in control of things. And bless his heart, he enjoys treating us. Naturally, our initial plan of all piling into my wife’s 10-year-old crossover and finding a cheap motel somewhere outside of town was jettisoned quicker than one of Grave Digger’s axles after a hard landing. Grandpa had taken the wheel of the trip.
He showed up on a Friday afternoon in a bright red Dodge Journey rental. While the boys marveled at the new “truck” they’d be riding in to go see more trucks, I was at the rear hatch struggling through an intense game of luggage Tetris.
A quick aside – I’m convinced the fine people at Dodge simply want to watch the world burn. First came the 700+ horsepower land yacht heck-kitten; which they conveniently produced at a price your local grocery store manager could afford. Then, they reintroduced the “Scat” package, which, come on…are we, as fully grown men somehow NOT expected to giggle uncontrollably when we see that on the option sheet? Dodge, our wives already believe we’re nothing but overgrown children with beards. You’re killing us.
But this – this Dodge “Journey” is a love letter to Satan himself. Tucked between the third-row seat and the hatch is approximately 1.5 cubic feet of cargo space. Traveling with more than two other people? Better hope they didn’t pack anything larger than a toothbrush.
The Journey is a hellish riddle; it can fit six, possibly even seven passengers…but none of their things. Drop the third row however, and you could easily pack in a small city…but then be forced to leave your cohorts at home.
I eventually managed to wedge our bags into a space that would have made Harry Potter’s cupboard look like the American Airlines Arena, allowing the kids to take over the entire rear row, while my wife secured the middle for herself. I hopped in next to dad.
We were ready to hit the road.
There are certain things about multi-generational road-tripping that I expect are true across the board. Within the first hour of the drive, grandpa managed to hit all the hallmarks:
- Make an impossible to win bet with our 6-year-old
- Go on a half-hour rant about work
- Sniff out a Cracker Barrel, and stop there for dinner
Of course, he also insisted on hitting up the Baskin Robbins next door for dessert, so I can’t really fault him for that one.
We arrived at the hotel just before midnight. The kids decided to stay up and watch highlights from a golf tournament with grandpa, and my wife and I were able to get some rest.
The next day, we were faced with a bit of a dilemma: The Monster Jam didn’t start until later that evening. Even the Pit Party that we’d bought tickets for wouldn’t get going until mid-afternoon. I’d planned the weekend, and as a result of my tunnel vision, we now had a lot of spare time on our hands and two bored boys.
Somehow or another, we managed to make our way to the Museum of Science and Industry, located slightly Northeast of Tampa.
Another quick aside – there’s simply no preamble necessary; this was nearly the highlight of the trip. I mean, we immediately started talking about planning another jaunt up just to spend a whole day there. There was a litany of hands-on activities for the kids – AND the adults. We sat on beds of nails, built pyramids, yanked on chains attached to steel dinosaurs, and even flew drones. I highly recommend a visit; I promise it will be worth it.
Before we knew it, the time had come to head back to Raymond James Stadium for the Pit Party, where we’d get to study the same trucks that would soon be kicking up metric tons of dirt and mud that evening.
It just might have been the most Florida thing ever…if it weren’t for the weather, that is. The day had been a little chilly to this point, but as soon as we arrived to the all-outdoor Pit Party, the gathering clouds let loose. The rain alternated between a drizzle and a downpour for the next hour and a half, and the temperatures dropped into the 40s. Most of our party were downright miserable.
My youngest though, was in paradise. Despite not being able to talk through chattering teeth and visibly shaking, Ethan stubbornly refused to leave his big trucks. However, there was a certain restaurant calling mom’s name, and with a little aggressive cajoling she got him to follow us back to the cherry red Dodge Irony. We were off to J. Alexander’s for a morale-boost before the true shenanigans got started.
It was exactly 6:43 P.M. that I realized we weren’t going to make it back to the stadium. It was just after dinner, and we were attempting to make our way back to the venue for a 7:00 P.M. start. We were only a few miles away – we could hear the engines firing up! But we’d been sitting motionless in traffic for a solid 20 minutes already.
Normally, I would have been stressed. Normally, I would have been irritated, regretful, and something less than a joy to be around. Normally, I’d be a close reflection of my father in similar situations. But I wasn’t this time. Because dad set the tone:
He was simply enjoying being around the kids, and spending time with my family.
When we finally made it to our seats the frustrations from the weather, time – even the ridiculousness of being charged twice for parking – evaporated instantly. After all, how could anything else possibly matter when you’re sitting right next to this:
This was kind of cool too:
By the end of it I realized something else about multi-generational travel, which I hope is also true across the board. We didn’t travel the way I’d planned. We didn’t stay where I’d planned. We had to scramble to fill the extra time that I, again, hadn’t planned for. And it certainly didn’t go as I expected it would once dad got involved.
In short, the trip didn’t go according to my plan at all.