Have you seen the movie The Way, Way Back? If you haven’t, put it on your to-do list immediately. It’s that good.
First of all, Steve Carell plays a bad guy and he’s brilliant at it. Second, Allison Janney’s boozy neighbor character will have you cracking up throughout the whole thing and you will still probably miss a lot of hilarious jokes because she talks so fast. I’m going to see it again to pick up what I missed the first time. Third, it’s a sweet, funny, coming-of-age story that anyone (especially those who ever spent car trips in the way way back of a station wagon during a family road trip) can relate to.
All throughout my 1970s childhood, I spent family road trips in the way, way back of the orange Volvo station wagon my parents drove. Yes, orange. You’d think one orange vehicle would be bad enough for any family to own, but my parents actually bought three orange cars. They started with an orange Volkswagen Beetle when they first got married and graduated to their first orange Volvo station wagon after having kids. Then, because that obviously wasn’t enough attention-getting for them, they bought another life-jacket-colored Volvo station wagon. It wasn’t until I was in junior high that we finally had a normal-colored grey car.
Anyway, when packing for a family road trip in our hideous orange station wagon, my dad would leave a rectangular space among all the suitcases just for me in the way, way back. I would have my pillow and blanket as well as whatever book I was reading, plus my journal and some snacks, usually graham crackers. It was like my own cocoon of paradise back there. There was such a freedom about being able to stretch out my small body and read, write or sleep away most of the hours of the drive. Sometimes I just watched the tops of trees zoom by.
The worst thing about my journeys in the way way back was the fact that my parents usually thought I was asleep. Either that or they forgot I was there. When we arrived at our destination I often knew far more about the state of their marriage than I should have. And it usually wasn’t good. I was relieved when I got a Sony Walkman for Christmas one year so I could lie in the way way back and drown out the sound of their fighting.
One time I went on a road trip with my friend Lisa in the large van she called Big Blue. Her parents kindly put a gymnastics mat in the way, way back for us and during the several hour drive we did flips, walkovers, handsprings and cartwheels. It was just like having a moving acrobatic playdate.
Then there was the time that I smooshed in the way, way back of my soccer coach’s station wagon with what seemed like ten other 11-year-old teammates on the six-hour drive to a tournament in Virginia. It was the first time I realized I could make up stories on the fly and entertain people, even make them laugh. Scrunched up in the middle of all the other girls I made up story after story on that long drive in the way way back. I don’t remember how we did in the tournament, but I still remember the pride I felt at being able to tell a story that held people’s attention.
Today, most kids don’t have free rein of the way way back anymore – legally, that is. I know it’s safer for kids to travel in a car seat and be buckled in tight with a seatbelt, but I feel a little nostalgic for the time when car travel was less safety-conscious and more fun and free for the kids.
In any case, go see the movie. You’ll be happy you did.