Empty soda cans rattle against each other under the seat and half a bag of cheese-flavored popcorn spills onto the floorboard of the minivan. Wheat fields blur past the window a mile a minute and telephone poles tick the slow pace of time like a traveler's metronome. Magnetic checkers have lost their charm and the batteries are dead in the Gameboy. There are neck cramps and the sticky halitosis of a snack food diet makes small talk quite avoidable. The question is coming. Are we there yet?
The parents in the front seat know the answer. They guard it like the hole cards of a poker champ before the flop in a Texas Hold ?Em tournament. Peeking quickly while already knowing what's there and evaluating the faces of their opponents to size up the results of their move. "Soon sweety, but not yet. We'll be there in a little while."
Little children don't understand distance and time so trying to explain why it takes six hours to get to Aunt Edna's would be futile. To them it feels like an eternity of excruciating boredom and the back of the headrest looks the same in Ohio as it does in Michigan. A few potty breaks and a layover at a fast-food oasis are the only real carrots there are to dangle.
Mom and Dad are talking up front but the kids only catch bits and pieces of the conversation. They don't always understand the grown-ups and are usually bored by them when they do. Breaking the monotonous silence they pick fights with each other. Kicking and punching sideways despite the restraint of the seat belts tires them out and they stop. Mom tells them to ring the bell and end round one and Dad levels his damning death-ray of turning the car around. Silence returns to the back seat.
"Why are we going on this stupid trip, anyway," one of the kids pouts. "Because she's our aunt, dummy," answers the other. "We are going to see your aunt and the rest of the family because it's Thanksgiving and it's what we do as a family. Spending time with them is important and one day you'll thank us. Now sit still and I don't want another word," amends the front seat.
Does this situation sound familiar to you, thinking reader? No, no? not from the long car trips of your childhood ? think news, think current events. You can do it. Who is trying to get somewhere and get something done that we?as a country?should do? Who is sitting in the back seat crying and picking their noses demanding to know when we will get there? I can feel you thinking and yes, you got it! Our war in Iraq!
We are at war in Iraq, boys and girls, and do you know what that means? Some Iraqis who remain loyal to the Saddam regime still want to kill us! They didn't want us to ruin their little torturing, plundering, palace building games and now they're mad. Guess what else, back seat drivers? We're not there yet!!!
Attention readers with average or above average intelligence: some people (in America, too) believe that we should leave Iraq now. You may not be aware that this idea even exists in the minds of man but it does, so keep a look out for these people and be careful. They don't want us to contain terrorist rebels who would try to subvert an Iraqi election process because, get this, then they could dig their heels even further into the backs of the Bush administration when the country crumbles into chaos. Can you feel the compassion just pouring out of these folks? But don't get mad because their form of questioning is patriotic and they love their country. They just hate all Republicans.
Now that you're convinced I'm a Neo-Con with my sweater vest a few sizes too tight let me even the score a little bit. The Bush administration did itself a horrible disservice in focusing on WMDs before our military campaign began. With Cheney's hints at nuclear weapons and Powell's endless slide-show for the U.N. it is doubtful that the administration will ever quench our thirst for weapons. More than anything the liberation of the Iraqi people and the installation of a democratic government fixes decades of human rights violations in a region where common respect for humanity isn't always common. This should have been the primary cause for action and not relegated to a side effect.
Our work in Iraq is not done and may take years to see through. There is no crystal ball for the amount of time or money a stable Iraq will require and to demand such numbers indicates an infantile understanding of the world we live in and the currents at work in the Middle East. For those of you that are kids in the back seat whining and filling your diapers you can keep shooting those intellectual spitballs into the front seat because we're driving this minivan all the way to Aunt Edna's.
Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.