I thought of how road trip financing has evolved in my short life. I remember leaving town with all the money you’d need for the trip… or (in my case) not enough money. That made things interesting. (Younger viewers also may wish to consult the Smithsonian about “traveler’s cheques”.) Modern folks (sometimes myself included) regularly blast out of town with a debit card and maybe a few random dollars in their wallet. The whole idea of “I ran out of gas money in Muncie Indiana back in ’83 and that’s why I live there now” is passé.
I really should plan ahead better. What kind of example am I setting for the kids? When the EMP hits and the ATM’s fail I don’t want to be zombie bait and neither should they!
Luckily I’ve got experience on my side. I’ve travelled a lot and usually on a shoestring. I know how far I can go on a dollar (and it’s further than most normal humans). Time to make an estimate. I teased my memory, tested the wind, noticed a seagull flying toward the northwest in front of a pursuing crow, reflected that the moon was in the seventh house, consulted an oracle, and sacrificed a goat. My estimate had been made. I would need X gallons of diesel which would cost Y dollars.
Now, time to get the kid into the game.
“Here’s the deal. You must decide when and where to get fuel.” I announced.
“And if we run out?” He asked. Oh… nice. I’ve taught him well.
“We die.” I grinned.
With that I fired up the truck and we rolled out.
That didn’t last long. The kid shrugged and was immediately engrossed in a book or a game or maybe shooting heroin or whatever kids do in the back seat when I’m not paying attention. He knew I’d wound up “stranded” in my past but that was a long time ago and a different part of life and as surreal to him as the cold war or the horror of the AMC Gremlin. Little more than distant fairy tales. I could threaten him with working as a rodeo clown in Albuquerque to pay for a repair but it didn’t hold the sound of truth in a world where the ATM solves everything.
Time to employ my favorite teaching technique; markets!
“OK, new idea.” I announced.
The kid barely showed a pulse. Teenagers!
“You could make money.”
Suddenly he was bright eyed and bushy tailed. “I’m listening.”
“I know about what I expect to spend on fuel. If we make wise choices we’ll spend less. We fuel up where you choose. It’s up to you! For every dollar less I have to spend on fuel, you keep half.” I announced magnanimously. I was rather proud of myself for thinking of this. The kid had ‘skin in the game’ but no downside at all. I’m such a nice guy!
“What if I got it all?” The kid asked.
Greedy little cretin! “You got it all? And if the cost goes over… then what? You expect your fairy Godmother to flap her little wings and create diesel for you? You don’t get all the benefit and none of the risk.” I barked. Good grief, all of the benefit and none of the risk pisses me off and explains why Chrysler (bailed out twice) can’t make decent steering for a Dodge Ram. I’d have none of that in my household.
“Yeah? Well what if it goes over and I cover it myself? I have savings.”
“I gave you a 50% share with no downside and you’d rather roll the dice on it all? It’s a long trip. This is a big truck, drinks lots of fuel. Are you sure you’re that smart?”
Oh that had him! The hook had been set.
I spent the next twenty minutes getting grilled about travel. The kid had an urgent desire to know everything. Length of our route (I had a decent idea from Google maps). MPG of the truck (which I know very well). Cost of a gallon of diesel. I explained at length that some states (called “shitholes”) have higher fuel taxes and others (called “free lands”) have much lower fuel taxes. Also my truck has a mondo tank that costs a mint to fill but can go a long time. Thus the game becomes buying fuel in large quantity right before or right after crossing certain state lines. (I may have digressed a bit on how this works in all things in life and high tax states can’t deny the truth. This included an extra digression on smuggling designer jeans behind the iron curtain. What can I say… life lessons need to be imparted lest the next generation does stupid shit like… well… like the current generation is doing stupid shit.)
I also mentioned uncertainty. I explained that MPG goes down in headwinds and climbing steep mountains and so on. I hinted that the miles of the trip might be more or less than we expected. Etcetera.
The kid mulled this over. X miles, at Y MPG, at Z $/gallon. Uncertainty in all those estimates. But then again… greed.
“What about $X?” The kid proposed his estimate.
The number was about what I’d planned. Which made sense because he’d accepted all my information as totally trustworthy. (Another lesson in life, your elders might be idiots. He’ll get that soon enough.)
“Look, if you are wrong it could be a lot.” I tried to give him a chance to bail out.
“Nope, I’ll take the deal.”
At the next town I pulled into a bank and made a withdrawal. (If I tried to take all the money out of an ATM it would exceed the limit… because terrorism or some shit.)
I handed the kid a fat envelope full of $20s. It almost killed me to let it go.
This is the kid that has lost many of the toys given to him and broke most of the rest… and I just handed him money?!? What was I thinking. My heart palpitated. I snatched it back.
“C’mon Dad. I’ll be careful.”
I handed it back to him. “You lose this and you’ll be my indentured servant for life you know that right?”
“I know.” He nodded gravely.
I’d given a child money. Good God! I was such a fool! It would be safer to hand over a pistol, a bottle of liquor, and a gift card to a tattoo parlor.