Read an Excerpt
Mom always says the difference between a trip and a vacation is the quantity of dirty laundry after it’s over. A visit to Aunt Kate’s house would be considered a trip—never lasts more than two days, only one change of underwear, two max. However, traveling from Texas to California? Definitely a vacation.
Dad had been in Los Angeles all spring. But he wasn’t on vacation. His aircraft company sent him out there. One of the reasons Dad was asked to go was because he’s a brilliant engineer. And he’s a great problem solver, too. At least that’s what he tells us. His boss wanted him to work out some wrinkles in the L.A. office. It wasn’t that he hadn’t missed us, but he’d said a million times how much he liked it on the West Coast.
I was busy researching a school project on my computer when Directions Man popped up on my Buddy List.
“Hey, Dad!” I Instant Messaged him. Engineers love reading directions, so it’s the perfect name for him. “How’s it going?”
“Miss you guys,” he IM’d back.
“The Pacific Ocean is awesome, Jason, and the weather is fantastic.”
“I want to see for myself,” I wrote him. Were there palm trees and movie stars on every corner? Did everyone drive a convertible? I could almost taste the salty ocean air.
“You’d love it, Mania Man,” came his answer, flying across my monitor. Everyone knows my screen name. I chose it after the greatest game show of all time, Masquerade Mania.
It’s the best. All the contestants are kids. Almost everyone in our sixth-grade class watches, especially Freddy and me. Even my parents and my pain-in-the-neck older sister, Jen, like it. It’s hilarious.
The master of ceremonies is this beautiful long-haired girl named Jasmine. Dad says she gives the show class. At the beginning of the show, she glides down a winding staircase like melting butter. She’s awesome. Her cohost is Desmond O. Now, that guy is cool. He wears this wild suit. The stripes on his pants go up and down and the circles on his jacket go across. He has a bow tie that lights up when he talks. I’m sure he’s the creative genius behind the show.
Desmond O teases the contestants in the Hot Box. He wants to confuse them so that they’ll give wrong answers to Jasmine’s trivia questions. Jasmine asks a question and the first kid to press his buzzer gets to answer. The questions are tough. It takes a real brain-o to think fast enough to get them right. After a contestant answers three questions correctly he gets a chance to Spin to Win. His spin could land him on a prize. It’s unbelievable what they give away—portable MP3 players with headphones, DVD home theater systems, video games, skateboards, televisions, great vacations, sometimes even college scholarships. Once I saw this kid win an Xbox and a year’s supply of video games and he passed out cold. I bet he was mortified when he came to. But my favorite part is when a contestant lands on a WHOOPS! That’s when the real fun begins.
If you land on a WHOOPS! Desmond O makes you do crazy stunts. Like jumping into a tub of Jell-O, or doing a funny dance while Desmond O plays his kazoo. Sometimes he forces a contestant to run an obstacle course against a ticking clock. That’s the most nerve-wracking part of all. You never know what to expect if the clock wins. Buckets of slimy spaghetti could drop from the ceiling! You could be pelted with water balloons. Three WHOOPS! and zap! You’re out of the game. You have to be careful or you could go home empty-handed and covered in chocolate syrup.
“Did you catch last night’s show?” I typed. I didn’t have to explain. Dad would know exactly what I meant.
“ ’Fraid not,” he typed back. “I was still at the office.”
“It was really cool,” I told him, wishing he were here to watch it with me like he used to. “A kid dressed up as a tube of toothpaste won a trip for four to New York City!” His costume was flipped out. He’d even carried a plastic bag filled with dental floss.
As I sat at my computer, I got this fantastic idea. I’m always getting fantastic ideas.
“Since you’re so great at working out wrinkles,” I IM’d Dad, “why don’t you work out a way for us to fly to Los Angeles, too?” I was dying to fly on a plane. And not only that, maybe I’d have a chance to get on Masquerade Mania! If that happened, I’d be a real Maniac for sure.
“Sounds good,” he IM’d back.
“Ejsy?” I typed so fast I didn’t realize my fingers were on the wrong keys.
I retyped almost as fast. “When?”
Next thing I knew, Dad was on the phone with Mom, Mom was on the Internet checking out hotel rates, I was jumping around the kitchen, and our family was California bound! Well, not exactly the whole family. My bulldog, Patches, would be checking in to the doggie motel. And Baby Millicent would probably stay at Aunt Kate’s house because Mom always says he who travels swiftest does not carry a diaper bag. Millicent is two years old. Her track record in the potty-training department leaves a lot to be desired. But sometimes Mom gets guilt pangs when she thinks one of us is not getting a fair shake. So Millicent might luck out and land on the plane with Jen and me. If that happens, I’m letting Jen take care of her. What else is a big sister good for, anyway?
From the Hardcover edition.