For some reason, I envisioned car trips as a great way to bond with family, spending time together talking about the little things we don’t have time to discuss during the week.

That, however, was “pre-family” thinking.

In my current “family” state, a lengthy car trip (about 1,100 miles each way) is more akin to a prison sentence, with even the smallest, most innocent comment by any person dissected, discussed and torn to shreds by the remaining riders.

After all, when you’re cruising along an interstate highway at 70 miles per hour, whizzing by miles and miles of relatively billboard-less and resident-less property, what better way to pass the time than forming a mini lynch mob right there in the car?

Having learned this lesson the hard way a few car trips ago, we set out this time with a more viable plan: The kids were tranquilized by videotapes playing on a back-seat TV/VCR, and my wife buried herself in a crossword puzzle book and looked for places to eat other than McDonald’s.

To pass the time, I turned on the radio and soaked in what I could from the tunes and tales of local pitchmen.

And while cruising from state to state, a few things caught my ear. First, I discovered that most people who write songs these days seem to lead awfully angst-filled lives. I have to admit there are days when I wake up wondering why my last name isn’t “Perot,” but some of these guys… Well, here. Check out these selections from today’s top songs:

  • “I wake up in the morning, take a deep breath, go outside and scream from the top of my lungs: What’s going on?” (I heard this song several times during the trip, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on, either.)
  • “Every day is a winding road. I just wonder why I feel so alone; why I’m a stranger in my own life?”
  • “Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry. Sometimes I do both, and I don’t really know why.”
  • “The hardest thing I’ll ever have to do is holding her while loving you.” (Can you guess: Another country-western marriage gone bad.)

Perhaps all of these songs were written on a family car trip without the benefit of a TV/VCR in the car.

Meanwhile, as we traveled from Pensacola, Florida, toward Mobile, Alabama, WWSF-FM (“the Surf”) provided an interesting taste of local culture.

According to a Surf DJ, the Beulah Sausage Festival was coming up: “That’s right: TWO TONS of sausage. Y’all be there, because these pigs are cookin’.”

Right after that ad, a breezy woman’s voice began extolling the virtues of Ladies Night at a club called Paradise, where “these guys have buns so tight, I want to take a bite!” You’ll have to trust me on this: The written word just doesn’t do justice to this little jingle.

And then, it was time to advertise the Gun Collection and Shooting Range – “Where you get more bang for your buck.” This snappy little ad featured all kinds of “value-priced” handguns, “many as low as $299.”

According to the DJ, this is a portion of the country where “you must be 18 to party, 21 to drink,” meaning that 18-year-olds can legally enter a bar, but they can’t drink. That left me pondering this question: As a general rule, is it possible to party in a bar without drinking?

So what do we know about the land of the Surf? Plenty of sausage, “buns,” guns and fun. We didn’t take the time to check it out personally.

And finally, there was radio newcomer Dr. Laura, prattling on about things of interest to her. She is advertised as a doctor who helps people with call-in problems, and her claim to fame appears to be her direct approach to other people’s problems.

After listening to Dr. Laura for an hour or so, I can’t understand why anyone would call in: She abused just about every caller.

It’s true that many of them seemed to deserve the none-too-gentle tongue-lashing, but why call some radio personality for abuse when it sounds like the callers’ friends and families are dishing it out already?

The biggest impression Dr. Laura made on me was that if I paid a lot of money to dish out “tough love” to radio callers, I bet I could do a pretty pithy job of it, too.

And now to the conclusion: Am I any more intelligent after this marathon, radio-listening journey? I suppose not.

Am I any closer to my family after spending 48 hours in a car with them? Well, we’re not any farther apart, and I suppose that can be considered a positive statement.

The bottom line: Maybe next time, I’ll bring a few pre-recorded cassette tapes for my listening pleasure.