THE SKINNY: Always journal on journeys, kids!

Sonja Hansen
The Pollard Flat Food And Fuel in Lakehead, Calif.

I always, always, always used to have a journal with me. I liked to take notes on everything, particularly on my travels.

When I was 4, I sat in front of the TV at a family party and attempted to copy the jargon from the late-night news reporters. I had to sound out the big words like “investigation,” “double homicide” and “perpetrator,” but words like “DUI” were a little easier.

The following is an excerpt from an entry in my Kids’ Travel Journal from when I was 4 or 5 years old.

I am taking a vacation to: “mom dad”

I did some research and found: “I ec snowe snowman or eo pool vote pinecone lot of of snow snowe. 3 stops new friendbd O5E minutes 048 tebby bear we had a pool toke loge.”

The weather here is: “worm”

People speak: “egLish”

My first impression is: “miy fend”

I’m thankful for never having to face “worm” weather again and am pleased that young Sonja was able to recognize the tongue of “egLish.”

The following excerpt is dated September 14, 2007. I was 7 years old.

“were haveing a baby shower at piatti my dad keeped it a secret betwin me and my sis

“we had so much fun

“at the end we stuk are feet in the water and then thaey called us”

I really hope I stuck my feet in the fountain outside of Piatti’s and not in a pitcher of water at the dinner table, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I wasn’t one to observe social norms.

I wrote about hundreds of my family’s excursions – exotic and mundane. I gave my accounts of our trips to Paris and Tokyo just as much time and detail as I did our trips to the dry cleaners.

I’ve since stopped carrying around a journal and instead constantly compose memos in my head, but there were a couple events I probably should have written down. Here’s how one of them would have gone:

July 2, 2014

Bianca, Morgan, Mom and I arrived at Aunt Becca’s house at 9:30 tonight. Mormor (my grandma), Jason (my aunt’s boyfriend), Aunt Becca and Hannah and Taitan (my cousins) came out to greet us. We sat on their front porch.

“Have you guys been in the RV yet?” Hannah asked. She took Bianca and me inside for a tour. It was predictably short.

The RV belongs to Jason’s dad. Tomorrow morning we’ll take it to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to visit my mom’s cousin Valerie.

Hannah asked us if we were willing to sleep in it. I flopped on the mattress and noticed my feet dangled off the edge. My cousin is a good six inches taller than me and is nicknamed “Baby Giraffe,” so I estimated her entire bottom half wouldn’t make it on.

Furthermore I found that the bed was wide enough for exactly three squished girls. And with 100-degree heat at night, that dense little RV was going to be a pressure cooker and make our sides a sticky hell.

“Sure,” I said.


July 3, 2014

Last night was rough. After lying on the bed, talking for an hour or so, we decided to sleep with the doors and windows open.

“What if a raccoon gets in?” Bianca asked.

“That would be fun!” my older cousin Hannah replied.

When the mattress started to feel more like a hot tub, and I started to worry about drowning in our freshly created sweat puddle, I was over it. I peeled myself from the others, got out of the bed and went to sleep on a bean bag a couple feet away.

When the felt bean bag got too hot, I slipped off it and onto the RV’s stairs. The linoleum felt like sweet providence had been reached, and I couldn’t tell if the liquid on my face was leftover sweat or tears.

And that’s how the rest of the family found me – sprawled, dripping, on the floor with a weak smile.

My mom screamed, and I woke up and flopped back onto the bed.

When I woke up for real, we were on the road. Out the back window Bianca, Hannah and I played “Sweet or Sour,” a game in which players test neighboring drivers’ willingness to either wave back or give the middle finger to hyper kids. Most of our drivers were sweet, but not so much with the early morning commuters.

Morgan had been throwing up since we started our trip. She was stripped down to her underwear because the A.C. was so weak it felt like someone was blowing on your face and then pausing to smack their lips and ask, “How’s that?”

Sonja Hansen
The gas station women’s room mannequin.

We stopped at the weirdest gas station. It was in the woods – so enough said.

As soon as we opened the RV door, Morgan threw up again. Mormor almost stepped in it.

Hannah, Bianca and I went inside the gas station convenience store to use the bathroom. The inside was decorated as a log cabin. There were thousands of license plates.

I should have known something was up when I asked where the bathroom was and the two guys behind the counter tee-heed and pointed, but sleeping on stairs makes people a little foggy.

I went in first and found her. She was lying in a bathtub, motionless. Where her hand should have been was a gray stump. She was wearing a bathing suit patterned like the American flag. Her hair was mussed and covering one of her eyes. Her head was tilted toward the toilet, and her eyes were wide open so that she could stare at the user. But she was smiling.

Oh, and she was a mannequin.

It puts your life into perspective, peeing with a mannequin inches from your shoulder, waiting for her to reach out and place her stump on your knee or open her mouth and let a spider crawl out. Even blocking her with your hand or staring at the wooden floor, you realize just how vulnerable you are and that letting out a screech to your family probably won’t spring them into action fast enough.

Hannah couldn’t take the heat and had her mom go in with her and block the mannequin with her jacket.

We arrived in Coeur d’Alene that afternoon but even being states away from her isn’t enough to shake the feeling that she’s still watching me relieve myself.

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