Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 11, 2013

Ed Hungness: Meditations on 'Are we there yet?'

Ed Hungness
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — During a typical summer family vacation, the question asked most frequently by the kids in the back seat is, “Are we there yet?” My guess is that children come pre-programmed with a set of phrases and questions that they only retrieve from their memory banks while traveling down the highway.

Other selections are, “How much longer?”, “We’re Hungry!” and “I’ve got to go potty!” After a few hundred miles, the parents sometimes wish that vans came equipped with a sliding Plexiglas window separating the front seat from the back.

Many families who vacation along Northern Michigan’s pristine shorelines and dense forests travel from other states and their long trek is frequently an annual event. They may be visiting grandma and grandpa or perhaps have rented a cottage or stay at a resort. In any case, their goal is to spend time soaking up the sun, wiggling their toes in the sand, swimming in clear waters and enjoying all that our area has to offer.

Northern Michigan is truly a vacation destination.

For dad, the vacation usually begins with packing the family vehicle the night before their departure. After a hard day’s work, he enters his humble home and is greeted by a mountain-sized pile of stuff sitting by the door, ready for loading into the minivan. The children have gathered plastic buckets, shovels, and strainers for building sand castles and forts. Dad takes a deep breath, gazing with wonder at multitude of suitcases, backpacks, coolers, sleeping bags and pillows.

How will he get it all in? Where will he put his fishing gear and what about the golf clubs? Every nook and cranny must be efficiently utilized.

After several false starts and rearrangements, dad finally completes the task. He steps back with hands on hips, and admires his engineering feat. Unfortunately, no one else is awake to share his glorious accomplishment. The rest of family is asleep as visions of wide sand beaches, campfires and s’mores dance through their heads. Exhausted, he visits the kitchen where a dinner plate of cold meatloaf, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy awaits him.

He was never fond of cold gravy. Shortly after his reheated meal, he collapses into bed.

At 4:00 a.m. the alarm clock jolts mom and dad to consciousness. He carries the children to the van while mom walks the dog prior to depositing it in the back seat with the kids. As they back out of their driveway, a pinkish glow rises in the eastern sky. The first day of vacation is underway.

Armed with travel mugs of steaming coffee and yesterday’s donuts, they point the van north. No map or GPS is needed. Always a pathfinder, dad never stops for directions. With the children sleeping in the back seats, the vacationing couple enjoys the quietest portion of their eight-hour journey. “Wouldn’t it be nice if they slept the whole way?”

All too soon the kids are awake after one child pinches another which results in a shriek followed by a bark from the dog. They hungrily rip into the snack bag and by the second rest stop the back of the van looks like a war zone. The floor is littered with candy wrappers, broken potato chips, cheesy popcorn, a squished bologna sandwich and discarded juice boxes. It wasn’t a good idea to buy purple grape juice, even if it was on sale.

“Don’t make me stop this car!” is a popular phrase used by parents when all else fails to bring unruly behavior under control. It is a last resort, emergency threat that is seldom followed up with action. Cooler heads prevail and by the time they arrive at the cottage everyone is simply delighted to be there. The challenges of previous eight hours are soon a vague memory. It’s time to breathe in that fresh northern air and head for the beach.

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed’s retirement. He can be reached at or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633