It's summer vacation time, and I'm sure you can't wait to jump into the family car and drive to fun and exciting new places, preferably before the family wakes up and realizes you're gone.
But before you `hit the road,'' you should make sure your car is in proper mechanical condition. Drive to your local gas station, beep your horn, and when a friendly, competent mechanic comes out to help you, ask him to please call the mental hospital, because you are hallucinating. There ARE no friendly, competent mechanics at gas stations any more; there are nervous cashiers locked inside bulletproof enclosures surrounded by smokeless-tobacco products.
So you'll have to inspect your car yourself. According to the American Automobile Association, the most important thing to determine about a car, before taking a trip, is: Does the car contain enough Cheez-Its? Vacationing Americans need to eat while they drive; it gives them something to do in between Waffle Houses. An average family of four will consume a pound of Cheez-Its every 50 highway miles (25 city), although your actual mileage will vary, depending on whether you also have Ding Dongs.
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On the mechanical front, it goes without saying that you should inspect your car thoroughly -- including engine, transmission, brakes and electrical system -- for snakes. I say this in light of articles from two British newspapers, sent in by alert readers Trudy and Dan Simmons, concerning a sales representative named Nicholas Miller who was driving his car in England when he felt something slithering across his ankle. Horrified, he looked down, and there, wrapped around his legs, with beady eyes staring from its scaly head and forked tongue flicking out, was: F. Lee Bailey.
No, seriously, it was a two-foot-long snake. According to the articles, Mr. Miller slammed on his brakes and jumped out of the car; the snake was eventually taken into police custody and turned over to a veterinarian, who determined that it was an American corn snake and fed it some dead crickets. The articles do not say how an American snake happened to be in England; perhaps there is some kind of snake-exchange program intended to foster understanding between the two nations.
But the point is that there could be a snake living in your car right now, and it could have been there for a while. One of the British newspapers made this statement, which I am not making up:
"Mr. Miller is convinced that the snake had been in his car for several days because of excrement on his boxes.''
So you should go over your car with a fine-toothed comb looking for snake excrement, always bearing in mind that ``The Fabulous Snake Doots'' would be an excellent name for a rock band. If your car does contain a snake, you can take it (the car) down to a Sears automotive center, where, no matter what you tell them, they will sell you new shock absorbers. Or you can remove the snake yourself by luring it out with a trail of dead crickets, which you can purchase in the bait department of your local gas station.
OK! Now you're ready for your vacation trip! The question is: Where should you go? The answer is: Not outside. I say this in light of another alarming article from a British newspaper, this one sent in by alert reader Katy Decker. The article states that an MIT researcher has come up with a plan to plant trees by -- I swear I am not making this up -- dropping them from Air Force bombers . The article states that the researcher ``has designed a tree-holding canister capable of reaching 200 mph before impact, then planting itself in the ground.''
Great! As if we didn't have enough problems with drugs and crime and the federal government, now we have to deal with high-speed trees dropping out of the sky! You will love this: The researcher claims this project would be safe, because before an area got tree-bombed, it would be checked for human inhabitants by -- get ready -- Star Wars technology. This does NOT reassure me. Over the past 10 years we have spent several jillion dollars on the Star Wars system, and according to all reports, it still does not have a clue how to protect us from Russian missiles. Every time scientists fire up the main Star Wars computer, it goes: ``WHICH ONE IS RUSSIA AGAIN?''
So if this tree project is implemented, I see danger ahead. Try to imagine what would happen if a Cheez-It-munching vacationing family were driving through some supposedly uninhabited wilderness area, with dad at the wheel, pointing out various natural wonders (``Look, kids! There's a rock! It's made from minerals!'') when suddenly a 200 mph strategic elm came hurtling out of the sky, piercing the family car like a lawn dart going through a Twinkie. What would happen is, the kids would think it was the coolest vacation ever. They hate it when dad points out natural wonders.
So maybe the tree-planting project is a good idea. But just to be safe, I think I'm going to spend my summer vacation relaxing in a bomb shelter with a good book.
I'm not going to read the book, you understand; I'm going to use the book to kill snakes.