Monday, December 01, 2008

when one goes on a long trip across the midwest, one often plays the alphabet game, in which one looks for the various letters of the alphabet, in order, a-b-c-d-e-etc. on roadsigns, license plates, virtually any place outside of the car; we always get stuck on j, q and sometimes x, but usually make pretty good progress if we don't lose interest. Another game is the Missouri cow game, taught to me by a friend, in which people on the right side of the car compete against people on the left to count cows; whole herds just count as ten if you can't count quickly enough, and a cemetery makes you lose all your cows at once.

But, in the absence of competitors, or people old enough to actually count the cows, one can always just keep track of license plates themselves, and see how many states one can come up with, in a given trip, in this case across about half of a single state, illinois. now in my case i enjoy writing the names of the states, as i see them, on a scrap of paper, in this case an old envelope, and speculating about how each distant traveler came to be on whichever particular road at this particular time. now with this game as any other you have dilemmas about how to count. what about truck licenses? what about canadian provinces or mexican states? what do you actually do with your list when you're done; do you compare it with lists of bygone trips, at different times?

can't answer those questions; i might play it different at any given time. this time, I saw a manitoba, but it was a truck; saw a host of the usual suspects, in, ia, oh, mi, ks, ok, tn, ky, mo, ar, al, ms, and a few from farther away: tx, mn, va, sc, nc, fl. the motel parking lot and the interstates were, as usual, the most fertile grounds. at least one car was clearly exotic but sped by us too quickly and i missed it. in the small towns i was surrounded by il itself, proof that, even on a holiday, the vast majority of people on the road were just going from here to there, to the store or to grandma's house. illinois is not one of those states where you can discern what county someone is from, by careful study of the plate; however, if you live in the same small town for years, you can get better at knowing which ones are from your own. you get a funny feeling knowing there are all these bluish lincoln-images in transit down there at number-level, and wonder if that bothers anyone besides the wisconsin traffic police, who assume we are all from chicago, or weary iowans, perhaps used to a more genteel pace of traffic. someday obama will be on those plates, maybe, though they change only, maybe, once every sixteen years. i assure you that tourists are not destroying the place, except maybe on their way through. it's the same as usual, and, for what it's worth, it's not too crowded, except maybe the toronto road cracker barrel.


Blogger J-Funk said...

Happy thanksgiving! Love you and miss you lots - see you soon!

11:06 PM  
Anonymous bruce said...

I remember the alphabet game and the license plate game from when our parents took us to Iowa (or beyond) from Toledo. I remember MS being hard to find. Truck licenses, yeah, I get the feeling they are pretty dubious, like ship registrations, or like corporations all being from Delaware.

Nowadays we drive to my in-laws every week, about an hour each way. Not enough time to find state licenses but my kids used to play the alphabet game a lot. But on the really long trips, like to C'dale, all they want to do is watch videos. Too bad. The license plate game and the alphabet game would be way more fun.

10:47 AM  
Blogger tom said...

bruce- yes, probably the biggest difference between today and when we were younger is that southern states like al, ms and ga are far more common. Granted we're doing a lot more driving in more southern areas; c'dale is actually further south than richmond va- but, we were driving north, and basically a lot of southerners these days are transplanted northerners who have moved down there and now come back on trips. at least that's my explanation.

now as for the young boys, it's true with us also that the main reason the 7-yr.-old is not doing the alphabet game is that he's watching some movie. but the movie has the added advantage of occupying the 3-yr-old, who basically is cognitively locked out of the alphabet game. and who wants to get him involved in a basically gruesome game like the missouri cow game?

now j-funk and i, for example, were alphabet champions, knew every x q and j between iowa city and cedar rapids by heart. & i'll never forget the 16-yr-old, who was then about seven, finding the last z in amarillo texas and shouting "iss-uh-zuh!" we were baffled, but it turned out to be an isuzu dealer, nice big sign too.

8:34 PM  

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