The kids are getting older--they're in high school now--and with summer jobs and college campus visits, every year it's harder to squeeze in the special family time of aggravation and bickering we used to experience during summer vacations.
"We need to get away and just do it," my wife said. "Someplace far, like the west coast."
"Well, we've both got friends in Seattle," I said, "and they lost their NBA franchise, so there will be fewer tattooed millionaires crowding the nicer restaurants."
To our mutual surprise, we quickly agreed for once and made plans that came to fruition this week when we touched down at Seattle's internationally-renowned "Sea-Tac," which sounds like something you take for seasickness but is actually an airport.
The kids had already done their on-line research and wanted to go to the Fun Forest Amusement Park for go-kart rides and the all-sugar luncheon special, but I was insistent that we sample the area's educational and cultural attractions first.
"You kids need to learn some history while we're out here," I said sternly.
"Aw, dad!" Scooter, our seventeen-year-old, groaned.
"Don't start, young man," I added firmly.
"History sucks!" Skipper, the fifteen-year-old said with a disgusted look on his face.
"Kids, I agree that nothing takes the irrational exuberance out of a family vacation like the dead hand of the past," I said, trying to calm everyone down a bit, "but irrational exuberance is a bad thing, and history can be fun!"
"No way!" Scooter said.
"Oh yeah?" I countered. "Have you ever been to a history museum that looked like a car wreck?"
They were silent now--I had their attention.
"I didn't think so," I said as I set the GPS for "museum paid for by a Microsoft billionaire that looks like the architect was on drugs."
"Do you want," came the disembodied voice over the instrument, "Paul Allen's Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame?"
"YES," I said loudly and clearly.
The computer directed us through a series of turns until we reached the weird-looking structure designed by noted architect Frank Gehry that resembles nothing so much as the stucco walls along the stairway of my boyhood home during one particularly bad acid trip. "Here we are, kids!"
"Neat!" Skipper exclaimed.
I could have said "I told you so"--but I didn't. To me, it's more important to see the wonder in kids' eyes as they learn American History in a safe, controlled environment, with no risk of a "bad trip" or an Iron Butterfly interlude, than score intra-family "points" for being right about the importance of Our Nation's Psychedelic Era.
We let the kids wander around for awhile, taking in the amazing sights and sounds, reading the explanatory text next to the exhibits. "Did you ever drop acid?" Scooter asked after he'd learned a little about the importance of hallucinogenic drugs to the crappy art, literature and music of the sixties.
"Scoots," I said as my wife discreetly absented herself from a conversation she wanted no part of, "I took LSD ten times--but I didn't inhale."
"Oh," he said thoughtfully. "So that makes it okay--like President Clinton?"
"That's right. I maintained my deeply-held skepticism throughout the experience. So I became experienced, but the experience didn't become me."
That last bit of psychedelic babble threw them for a loop, and the potentially-embarrassing questions stopped. "Listen, kids," I said after a moment. "This museum is all about the 'experience' of drugs, and I want you to be inoculated by the sensory impulses without running the risk of adverse pharmacological consequences. So why don't we take a ride on Jimi's Wild Trip!"
"Yay!" Skipper nearly shouted. He's the one member of the family who really enjoys scary amusement park rides.
We headed over to the ticket counter, passed muster next to the "You Must be THIS Tall to Ride THIS Ride" stripe painted on the wall, and got in one of the four-seater gondolas.
"Everybody strapped in?" the grungey carney said as he locked the safety bar.
"All set," I said, and we embarked on a tour through a tunnel with a mind-blowing barrage of lights and sounds that left the kids' ears ringing and their previously static views of reality challenged.
"See, kids," I said as we got off. "Everyday reality can be a downer, so sometimes it's good to go outside through the Doors of Perception."
"I'm hungry," Skipper said.
"How can you be hungry?" my wife asked. "I'm nauseous from that ride."
"He's a teenaged boy," I said. "Let's stop into the Munchie Zone."
We got some food and grabbed a table, where our shared experience led to the kind of intimate conversation that great family vacations inspire.
"I notice your band plays a little Hendrix," I said to Skipper--he's a drummer.
"Yeah, he's cool," Skipper said. "He died young, so he's not around anymore to turn groaty and hit on girls four decades younger than him like Nick Jagger."
"It's Mick," I corrected him, but his mistake was telling. For a group that humbly refers to itself as The World's Greatest Rock Band, The Rolling Stones don't seem to be inspiring many imitators among the younger generation of rock musicians.
"Did you ever burn your guitar, dad?" Scooter asked with wide-eyed ingenuousness and an expression that revealed his admiration for his father's amateur musical skills.
"No, sweetie, it just sounds that way when he plays in the basement," my wife said.
Scooter started to laugh and milk came gushing out his nose, which brought back happy memories of family meals past.
"Don't do that," his mother said with furrows of concern ploughed across her forehead. "You'll choke."
"It's okay," a busboy interjected. "Every employee of 'The Experience' is Heimlich-trained to prevent patrons from choking on their vomit, like Jimi did."
As we left the museum we stopped to pick up souvenir tie-dyed flower-power t-shirts, personalized with the kids' names spelled "Pscooter" and "Pskipper."
"So--the 'p' is silent?" Scooter asked.
"Right," I said. "As in 'pseudointellectual'."
"What's that?" Skipper asked.
"Someone like your father," my wife answered helpfully.
"So I can take a 'p' and add it onto a word that begins with an 's' and it's okay and nobody will know?" Skipper asked.
"That's right, sweetie," my wife answered.
Skipper turned to his older brother with a malevolent look and yelled "You're a pshithead!"
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection "Kids: They're Cute When They're Young."