When I was a kid I’d have to go to Kansas City every few months for checkups. I hated it. Every trip to Kansas City meant a day of boredom, hunger, and torture that ranged from mild irritation to something you’d find in the Auto de Fé. It would start with the three hour car ride to Kansas City. We had a 1985 brown Dodge Minivan, two seats up front, a mini bench in the middle, and a seat in the back. I’d usually sprawl out in the very back and sleep the whole way up there while my Mom listened to the radio. Sometimes, though, she wouldn’t let me sleep. Sometimes she would need me to be awake. During these times she would stop in Rich Hill at the Amaco station, we’d buy a soda and a candy bar, and then we’d play guessing games all the way to Kansas City.
Growing up, my mother was the master of coming up with different little games to keep my attention. Car rides, waiting rooms, exam rooms waiting for the doctor, all the amount of down time we had to pass by were always occupied with little games and diversions so that I wouldn’t get antsy or cranky about having to wait four hours to see an eye doctor or five hours to get an x-ray. There are my three favorites –
1. Rhyme out: The concept was simple. She would start with a word, and I would rhyme that word, and we would do this in succession until we could not possibly think of another rhyme for the word. Slant rhymes did not count, and when a rhyme couldn’t be found the person whose turn it was rhymed out. We would keep score and most of the time I would lose. My mom was spectacular at rhyming. She did word searches a lot, was an avid Scrabble enthusiast, and would whip my ass all up and down Highway 71 at Rhyme Out. Eventually I got better at it though, as I got older, as I read more. Years later when I began exploring the songwriting process I would discover that rhyming words was almost second nature to me. I think Rhyme Out is the reason why.
2. Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral: This was a variation of 20 Questions we’d play, and I use the term variation loosely because the only real difference is that the person could ask as many yes/no questions about whatever you were thinking about. Sounds a lot easier, right? It wasn’t. We would go out of our way to stump the other person, using ambiguity as our weapon of choice. If you could think outside the box, and vaguely mold your object into an answer of yes to their question, then you could generally stump the other person. For example, if the thing I was thinking of was lettuce and my mom asked if was used for fuel, I could say yes, because, technically, lettuce is food, and technically food fuels out bodies. We constantly toed the line between black and white and gray. Years later when I studied philosophy I would learn that William James played kind of the same game when he drafted America’s only real contribution to philosophy – pragmatism.
3. Wyatt’s Cafeteria: Hands down this was my favorite game, and it wasn’t so much a game, as it was a thought diversion. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Wyatt’s Cafeteria was a restaurant that employed a business model that is nearly extinct today. You went in, grabbed a tray, and slid it down this long buffet style line of food. You played a flat rate and pointed to what you wanted. Usually you got a salad, your choice of main dish, two side dishes, and a drink. It was basically like Golden Corral or these mega feeding trough except the food was better and it employed limitations. You really had to choose carefully because whatever you got is what you were stuck with. For me this was always better than a self-service buffet. People go crazy when they have too many choices. They feel they have to at least try everything on the buffet, and they end up eating more than they should. Next time you’re at one of these mega food bar places look at how much food is piled on people’s plates, and you’ll see what I mean. The beauty of Wyatt’s is that you had to choose, and that left you looking forward to trying something different next time. This is why choice was so important. It would make or break your enjoyment of the meal. The Wyatt’s Cafeteria game played off this idea of choice. Basically someone would say, “You’re going to Wyatt’s Cafeteria and they have these three choices for salad, they have these three choices for main dish, they have these three choices for side dishes. What do you get?” There was nothing to win, no skill or strategy involved. You simply had to choose, but the fun was in the choosing. You had to consider variables. If there was fried chicken was it all white meat or was it dark meat? Is the gravy brown or cream based? You also had to consider food combinations. I might really love broccoli with cheese sauce, but it might not compliment the other main dishes very well. This game not only passed the time, but it also made choosing where to eat an easy choice. Did I mention I really miss Wyatt’s Cafeteria?