It's time for our annual Dream Summer Vacation Guide, wherein we reveal our list of special travel destinations that you will not hear about from the other travel writers, because they have standards.
We begin with a word of caution: Because of international tension, the U.S. State Department, currently operating from a bunker far below Lincoln, Neb., is advising American travelers to "avoid trouble areas, including foreign countries, films with subtitles and the World Showcase pavilions at Epcot."
So this year, our Dream Vacation itinerary will be limited to domestic destinations that you can travel to by car, assuming that you rob banks along the way, because gasoline prices this summer are expected to reach $3 per gallon ($67.50 in California). The U.S. Transportation Department is advising motorists to conserve fuel by "traveling mainly downhill."
But let's get to your Dream Vacation itinerary. You'll begin by driving to Indiana, a state located near Ohio or Wisconsin (ask at a gas station for specific directions). On the way, you can entertain the kids by pointing out the many fascinating attractions of the American Heartland. ("Look, kids! Another cow!") Your destination in Indiana is the town of Alexandria. You probably recognize the name: This is the town that made international news 10 years ago when three workers pulled a hairball the size of a goat out of a sewer. The hairball became an instant nationwide celebrity -- kind of like "Joe Millionaire," only with more intellectual depth. The original hairball dissolved, but the people of Alexandria made a replica, which bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump, and which (I am not making this up) has been prominently featured in the annual Christmas parade.
But you're not taking your family to Alexandria to see a decade-old replica hairball. That would be a waste of your precious Dream Vacation time. You're going to Alexandria to see the World's Largest Ball of Paint.
That's right: Alexandria is one of those rare places blessed with two major attractions, like Paris, France, which has both the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum; and Brentwood, Tenn., which has Dolly Parton.
Because it turns out that Alexandria is the home of a painting contractor named Michael Carmichael who, since 1977, has been applying coats of paint -- sometimes 10 coats a day -- to a baseball. Why did he do this? For exactly the same reason that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel: He had plenty of paint.
Over the years, the paint ball grew, until now it weighs more than 1,300 pounds, which makes you wonder what Michelangelo might have accomplished if only he had had a baseball. Back in March, Alexandria honored Carmichael's achievement by holding Ball of Paint Day, and the town is hoping the ball will attract tourists. So, to beat the crowds, be sure to get there early, and allow enough time for your family to truly experience the paint ball. Ten minutes is plenty.
Your next stop, after passing additional Midwest attractions ("Look, kids! Another cow!"), is Algona, Iowa, home of the World's Largest Cheeto That We Know Of. This is a mutant, two-inch Cheeto clump, also bearing a striking resemblance to Donald Trump, obtained via eBay by Iowa radio personality Bryce Wilson, who placed it on display in a bar. To be brutally frank, the Cheeto is not that visually impressive, so to save precious Dream Vacation time, we recommend that you just drive through Algona without physically stopping.
Now you want to aim your car toward the state of Washington. Your route will take you through the West, giving you a chance to point out its majestic natural wonders ("Look, kids! More dirt!"). Your destination is the town of Soap Lake, Wash., home of the World's Largest Lava Lamp project. We are not making this up. Some Soap Lake promoters plan to build a 60-foot-high working lava lamp, for reasons that remain unclear to us no matter how many times we read the official Web site, www.GiantLavaLamp.com (if you go there, be sure to listen to the official Giant Lava Lamp song).
At the present time, the Giant Lava Lamp does not, if you want to get highly technical, exist. But there's an impressive artist's rendering of it on the Web site. You can print this out and display it when you get to Soap Lake.
"Look, kids!" you can say. "Someday this will . . . Kids? Kids?"
Ha-ha! Turns out your kids escaped the car at a gas stop back in South Dakota and hitchhiked home. They're probably laughing at you right now. The little rascals! We'll see how hard they laugh when they find out you spent their college money on gas.