Diane offered to make me breakfast. It was a tempting offer — scrambled eggs, toast and sausages would have hit the spot — but I did not want to trouble her. Plus, my family and I were hoping to hit the road as early as possible, as we had a long drive home, from Virginia to Maine, ahead of us. It was early on Monday morning, around 4:30 or so, and our time with my Cousin Jim and his wife, Diane, at their home on the Rappahannock River had come to an end.
“I’m all set, thanks,” I replied. “We’ll probably drive for a couple of hours and then stop for breakfast somewhere.”
I could see us picking a Denny’s or a Shoney’s or a mom-and-pop diner somewhere and settling down for those eggs, not to mention a single pancake and an order of corned beef hash on the side. And free-flowing coffee, of course. I smiled at the thought. There’s something satisfying about eating breakfast, that most affordable and familiar of meals, at a restaurant.
I would not have smiled at all if I had known what awaited me in the hours ahead: a hangry teenager.
“Hangry,” of course, is a made-up word, but a useful one, that blends “hungry” with “really out of sorts and ticked off about not being able to immediately devour food and satisfy a demanding belly.” If someone did the research, I’m sure it could be proven that a lot of arguments — indeed, wars and full-scale global conflicts — have been started by individuals who were simply “hangry.”
“Oh, shoot,” I said about 90 minutes after declining Diane’s offer, as I zipped by the entrance of a Dunkin' on Route 301.
It turned out that, once on the road, with so many hours between us and Maine, my family and I were content just to stop at Dunkin' for a quick fix to tide us over until we reached our beloved Rein’s Deli in Vernon, Connecticut, for a midafternoon lunch.
My daughter, Maddie, expressed similar disappointment. Craving an iced tea and a bagel with cream cheese, she had looked up the nearest Dunkin' on her phone, only to see us breeze by its entrance as the information showed up on her screen.
“We’ll stop at the next one,” I said.
Or so I thought. I blew past that one, too.
“There was no sign on the street!” I said in my defense after Maddie sighed. “How can you expect to see it set back that far without a sign as you approach it?”
Valerie and Mom slept quietly — or perhaps pretended to sleep quietly — in the back seats. If they could hear any rising tension, signaled by a grumbling in Maddie’s belly that sounded like the first shot heard around the world at Lexington-Concord — they kept their thoughts to themselves.
Maddie looked up the location of the next Dunkin' on her phone and expressed some dismay that it was considerably far away — roughly the distance between the Earth and the moon, as I recall. I told her to be patient, to hang in there, to realize that we’re all hungry and would eat in good time.
“It’s only seven-thirty,” I said, thinking that somehow bolstered my argument, as we were still comfortably in the breakfast zone, nowhere near that moment on the clock that heralds the arrival of lunchtime.
Another 20 minutes or so passed and, boom, I missed yet another Dunkin'. I actually thought I caught this one on time and attempted to go to it. Problem is, it was on the other side of the busy road, and I was in the center lane on my side. Too many cars were whizzing by for me to work my way to the left and then cross over. I made the snap decision that it was safer to abandon the mission and continue driving.
Or so I thought. I avoided upsetting the speeding commuters that surrounded me — as surely I would have done if I had jackknifed at the last moment into that left lane to cross to the other side — but I ended up pushing my daughter to a whole new level of “hangry,” one that certainly has been reached in the animal kingdom but never before in the human race. Maddie, not a morning person, needed that iced tea, needed that bagel.
At this point, I told Maddie that I didn’t want to hear anything more about Dunkin'. I told her I’d get us to one, and she’d just have to wait for that to happen. I couldn’t take the “hanger” any longer. My own stomach rumbled as I vowed to get us to a Dunkin' somewhere, whether it was just a mile up the road, or half an hour later, or at one of those rest stops named after obscure historical figures along the Jersey Turnpike a few states away. At that point, I didn’t even care if we had to wait until we got back home to Sanford, where we have three Dunkin's, all within as many miles of one another. All I knew was that the mood in the car was approaching DEFCON ONE, and I wanted peace and quiet.
I was starting to feel like the victim of a cosmic joke, a payback 30 years in the making. During a trip to California in 1989, my family and I went 24 hours without eating. We woke up one morning, skipped breakfast, piled into the car, and headed to Big Sur. Dad asked if we wanted to stop and get something to eat, as it would be quite some time before we had the chance again. My sister Kelly and I said no. Little did we know, we’d skip lunch and would only eat again when we pulled into a fast-food joint at 5:30 that afternoon — making it exactly 24 hours since we had last eaten during dinner the evening before. For years, Kelly and I teased Dad about that time in California when he made us go a whole day without eating. Even Mom got in on the fun. Dad would howl in protest, reminding us that he asked if we wanted to get a bite to eat before we began that long, winding trek that is the Big Sur, but it never mattered. The Irish do not let such considerations get in the way when presented with opportunities to give their loved ones a rough time.
And now I had become The Father Who Would Not Feed His Child While On a Family Vacation.
Eventually, I got us to Dunkin'. Prospects looked bleak there, for a moment, as I peeled off Route 301 and got onto the straight highway with nothing but miles and miles of trees on either side. As they say, though, it is always darkest before dawn. Eventually, I bit the bullet, took an exit, and drove two or three miles into a quaint Maryland town, where, sure enough, I stopped at a Dunkin'.
Maddie got her bagel and iced tea. Val and Mom got a bite to eat too. I bought an iced coffee and two doughnuts, momentarily ditching a solid track record of healthy eating in order to numb myself with comfort food after doing battle with a “hangry” teen.
Once back on the road, as we trailed behind a car going 20 miles below the speed limit, Maddie apologized for getting so “hangry.” She sounded like the sensible, sweet daughter I know when she said it.
I just nodded.
“Just another thing in which you take after your father,” I told her.
Shawn P. Sullivan is an award-winning columnist and the author of “Islands in the Chaotic Ocean of Life,” a memoir that is available online at Amazon.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.