For the past week, people have been asking me two questions.
First: “What’s ‘The Thing’?”
As I wrote last week, The Thing is an old-fashioned publicity stunt using roadside signs stretched out over hundreds of miles to pique your curiosity and lure you into spending an extra dollar when you stop for gas at the border of Arizona and New Mexico.
So The Thing is shameless hucksterism, quirky Americana and something to occupy your mind on a long road trip — and keep you from falling asleep and crashing into a giant cactus. And in the end, when you finally arrive in Dragoon, Ariz., and plunk down your buck, it’s a bit of a disappointment, because nothing could possibly live up to the hype.
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But as the reader who called my house early Saturday morning wanted to know: WHAT EXACTLY IS THE THING?
Spoiler alert: If you’re about to drive out West and want to keep from falling asleep and crashing into a giant cactus, don’t read the next paragraph.
The Thing is an allegedly ancient mummy of an alleged mother and child, allegedly discovered in either the Grand Canyon or the Pyramids of Egypt.
There. Now you know.
The next question: “Where are you taking your summer family road trip?”
Answer: Around Lake Michigan.
I’m not kidding. When my wife announced that, to mark our oldest child’s final summer as a high school student, we would be taking the mother of all family road trips, we all assumed we’d be driving to the Grand Canyon.
But it’s already so dang hot here, and why would we want to drive across Texas in the middle of summer to see a place that’s even hotter and has no shade?
So we’re going to drive up to Chicago, hang a left into Wisconsin and drive around Lake Michigan.
The circle tour we’ve mapped will take 1,099 miles, 20 hours and 29 minutes of driving time, and seven overnight stays.
That doesn’t include the 1,638 miles and more than 24 hours of driving time it’ll take to get up to Chicago.
We’ve got a great plan that involves ballparks, waterparks, lighthouses, concert halls, museums, bookstores, bratwurst, fish camps, cheddar cheese, ferry rides, dune climbs, bike tours and suspension bridges.
There’s one minor problem: Our current family minivan has nearly 300,000 miles and is older than one of our teenagers.
So we took it to our mechanic and asked him if our van was capable of surviving a 3,000-mile family road trip. If it died at the end, preferably as we were coasting into Columbus, that would be fine.
Of course, some mechanics would say absolutely, and that all it needed was a new flux capacitor, which he could install at a bargain price of a couple grand.
But we have an honest mechanic. He said he thought it might survive a drive from his shop back to our house, where he would recommend parking it and never driving it ever again.
So we just added hitchhiking to our plan. It’ll be a blast.
Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, can be reached at email@example.com.