When I was a young teenager my family made a road trip from Minnesota to Texas to visit my father’s parents. The long trip south mostly featured one kind of civil war: the endless bickering of my two brothers and the male cousin who’d come along for the ride. For the trip back north, I staked out a hidey-hole in the far back of the station wagon and crammed myself in amongst luggage, still-wet-from-the-hotel-pool swimsuits, and snack foods.
It wasn’t that my family wasn’t concerned for my safety, it was just that it didn’t occur to anyone that my new traveling berth might be unsafe. This was a time when seatbelts were considered extraneous and “The Brady Bunch,” television’s model family of the day, somehow crammed two parents, six kids, and a stout housekeeper into one station wagon with nary a qualm for high-impact crash survival. So I curled up out of reach of the boys’ wrestling matches and read a weighty novel about the actual U.S. Civil War called House Divided. It was my first 1,000+ page book, and I was elated that the war I was now immersed in was a war of words on paper and not the ongoing backseat battle.
Occasionally a truce was declared so that we could all play a road trip game. One favorite was when we each worked our way through the alphabet, in order, limited to collecting only one letter per sign, in a race to see who could pass “z” first. If you weren’t particularly watchful, waiting for a “q” or an “x” could take you halfway across a state.
As a follow-up to the road trip writing activity I suggested in my last post, here’s a writing variation on that alphabet game we used to play. Have your young writers collect interesting words from a series of billboards or signs they spy out the backseat window or while stretching their legs during pit stops. Challenge them to collect a specific word count, and encourage them to watch for the most intriguing, humorous, or muse-worthy words. When they’re done collecting words, ask them to create a poem out of their language souvenirs.
The photo above is a sample sign I collected a couple of days ago; I’m sure as can be that there’s a funny poem hidden inside this liability warning, just as there are countless poems trapped in billboards along an interstate near you.