In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
We had to get out of Dodge this weekend for a whole series of reasons, so my Mom invited us to take the kids on a Duck tour of Nearby Big City.
For those who haven't done it: 'ducks,' in this context, are amphibious vehicles that drive you around for a while, showing sights, then take you in the water and show you the city from the water. Depending on the joie de vivre of the tour guide, you also get issued kazoos shaped like duckbills, which the kids enjoy honking at every possible opportunity. If you were in a major Eastern city this weekend and saw a pasty suburban dad in a baseball cap gamely honking a duckbill kazoo in an amphibious vehicle with an enthusiastic three-year-old by his side, that may have been me.
(We discovered that random people on the street and smile and wave when you pass by in a giant motorized duck. Who knew?)
According to the tour guide, our duck was a 1944 model, built by Rosie the Riveters at GM for military purposes. It has since been repurposed, obviously, with a roof added (and an ipod hookup, apparently). He also mentioned that ducks were pressed into service as rescue vehicles after Katrina, which made sense, since they can drive or float or both as needed.
The land part of the trip was nothing special. We saw some Major Historical Sites, but the kids are too young to get much out of them. (Major Historical Sites don't mean much if you don't know the history.) Trips to Major Historical Sites are different as a parent than as a kid. As a kid, I remember wondering why my Dad kept making such a fuss out of such seemingly random stuff. Now, I can't help but notice the glazed expression on TB as we explain that this was where (fill in the blank) happened.
(Exception: The Air and Space Museum, in DC. I actually got a little teary when TB and I touched the command module for Apollo 11. Yes, I'm a nerd, but in my defense, it went to the freakin' moon. Can you imagine being, say, Neil Armstrong, and being able to point to the moon and say "been there"? That's pretty *^%#^% cool. TB didn't need any convincing on that one.)
When we got to the water, though, it got good. The duck charges down a ramp directly into the water, landing with a satisfyingly colossal splash. Then it starts chugging along in the water without skipping a beat. TB and TG loved the splash and the waves, and the view really was different. (To really appreciate a major bridge, look at it from underneath.) After a few minutes on the water, when we still hadn't been issued our quackers, TG raised her hand and very politely asked the tour guide if we could have them. He smiled, charmed, and dutifully handed them out. Before long, the entire boat (maybe 20 people) was contentedly quacking, singing, and laughing. The tour guide was a cross between Tom Waits and the Car Talk guys, so he was great fun in an "I don't give a crap" kind of way. The end of the trip featured the entire group quacking in unison to Cheesy Hits of the Seventies, which is life-affirming in its way. ("YMCA" lends itself especially well to three-year-olds with duckbill kazoos.)
To a seven-year-old – let alone a three-year-old – major historical sites just can't compete with a really cool splash. I can't blame them.
When we eventually got back home, I asked TB and TG about their favorite parts of the day. TB picked the splash, and TG picked the quacking. Major Historical Sites will just have to wait.