When I was 12, we took a six-week camping trip out West. By “we” I mean me, my sister and my parents. By “camping” I mean “living together 24-7 in a minivan and a pop-up camper.” I would love to do it again, with adult friends whose company I enjoy. Because let me tell you, no 12-year-old enjoys six weeks cooped up with her parents and a bratty sibling. The Grand Canyon is all well and good, but your average pop-up camper was not built with adolescent angst in mind. There was nowhere to go to get away from the rest of the family, and most of our pictures of that trip have me in a corner, standing a bit apart and looking sulky.
So I can sympathize with some of the kids in this week’s Wife Swap – two girls forced to live, with their parents, in a traveling bus. I would have been very understanding if the poor things had been throwing screaming fits or running off into the woods at every opportunity. As it turns out, though, that was the parents.
This week our swappers are the Smiths and the Pikes. The Smiths consist of parents Lynn and Andre and their two daughters, all of whom have lived on a bus for two years, ever since Andre decided the rat race was too ratty and forced the family to sell all their belongings and hit the road. They live in 280 square feet of space, forcing Lynn to be super-efficient in her domestic organization. There’s no room for junk food or soda and it’s not allowed. They have one drawer apiece for their belongings. Lynn and Andre think having their children no more than 20 feet away, every second of every day, is the best way to raise them. The girls say they miss having normal things, like friends, but Lynn and Andre say it’s important to be the girls’ social circle, because of the negative influences of peer pressure, sex and drugs in school. Andre says he tries to turn everything into a lesson, even down to fixing the bus’s motor, but the girls say they don’t think they’re learning much. Lynn hopes the swap will help Andre learn to listen to opinions and points of view that are not coming out of his own mouth.
Lynn will be trading places with Michelle Pike. Michelle lives in a stationary home in Indiana with her mortician husband, Rick, and their three sons. Yes, Rick runs a funeral home. “I 110 percent love my work,” Rick says, as the producers cue dirge-like organ music. Michelle 110 percent loves being a mom. She thinks it cheats kids to not let them have friends and a social life – foreshadowing, anyone? Michelle is also a self-described “clutterbug”. Rick is a “neatnik,” but it doesn’t matter because he spends most of his time hangin’ with the dead. He works all the time, and even left a family vacation to Disney World two hours into it because the town doctor died. Michelle hopes the swap will encourage Rick to put their family before the dead people.
Destination: Route 83, Mile Marker 29
The two women travel to each other’s homes, and of course for Michelle this means a limo ride into the Smiths’ campground du jour. As she passes through the trees, she is amazed – in a “who in the world would want to do this” way – that people actually live in the campers she passes. Slowly it dawns on her that SHE will become one of those people. “Is that MY bus?!” she screeches. “Shut UP!”
Meanwhile, Lynn is just happy to be in a house that doesn’t have a driver’s seat.
Michelle is less than thrilled with the bus’s shower – which involves sitting on the toilet and holding a hose over your head. She marvels at the storage everywhere – has she never BEEN in a camper? – and shakes her head at the smallness of everything. Already she has plans to put the family in a real house when it’s her turn to make the rules.
In Indiana, Lynn is figuring out Rick’s profession. There are funeral urns lying around, to Lynn’s dismay – “I don’t like dead things” – and she’s not impressed with the lack of organization of regular house clutter, either.
The women left each other a manual to describe their daily lives. Lynn learns that Rick is always working, and wonders, “Are there that many dead people around here?” Michelle discovers that Lynn helps Andre clean out the bus’s sewer water. “What is that, POOP?!” she screams. Michelle wonders if she’ll have to help pick up dead people, and Lynn is already determined that the Smiths’ nomadic life is “not the real world.”
Having had a primer, it’s time to meet the families themselves. Michelle – predictably – squeals when she meets the Smith daughters, who later tell the camera they think she’s prissy.
In Indiana, Rick manages to leave the hectic funeral world for long enough to greet Lynn, but then rushes back to work (again accompanied by organ music). Lynn feels slighted.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, I May Be a Mortician, But You Live in a Bus
Lynn home-schools her daughters – well, bus-schools them – so having to get up and get the three Pike boys ready for school tires her. Rick is still asleep – what, nobody dies in the morning? – and so Lynn still hasn’t had much chance to talk to him.
Lynn takes the Pike kids are headed to school, by way of a convenience store, their breakfast location of choice. As they sock away sodas and ho-hos, Lynn shakes her head at the sugar and fat content.
As the day goes on, Lynn tries to keep up with hectic boy-schedules, while being irked that Rick is always at work and not there to help or even see his sons play ball. The sons wish he were around more, too.
To see what Rick is up to all the hours he’s not home, Lynn visits the funeral home, where Rick gives her a tour of the casket displays and a lesson on the proper temperature of the crematorium. He points out that cremation still embodies the biblical idea of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” it just speeds up the process a bit. Lynn looks distinctly unenthused.
A Nice Bus… For Me to Poop On!
At the bus, Michelle has been put to work keeping her foot on the poop pipe. For some reason, she chooses to do this in sandals, and for a minute I’m hoping for a serious pipe defect. Sadly, the only malfunction is in Michelle’s stomach; unable to endure the idea of what’s in the pipe, she runs off to puke. Andre is surprised at her reaction. “Everybody’s got poop,” he says. I guess some people are more full of it than others, eh, Andre?
De-pooped, the bus is on the move; Andre takes the family to visit a plantation. He thinks this is a learning experience, although he ruins anyone’s ability to actually appreciate it by loudly directing them to look at things. “It’s only learning if Andre wants to teach it,” Michelle says.
Andre also makes it a point, for some reason, to tell Michelle that he always goes down stairs in front of Lynn, in case he needs to catch her. What, is she abnormally clumsy? Does she make a habit of falling down stairs and this was instituted as a preventative measure? I’m thinking Andre is displaying an ignorance of physics, as the velocity of Lynn falling down a flight of stairs into him would likely make falling with her more likely than catching her.
Michelle catches the girls alone to ask if they would prefer to be in school. They parrot their parents’ teachings about the evils of peer pressure, but Michelle says that school is to help them learn to deal with peer pressure.
Personally, I’d rather deal with peer pressure any day than deal with Andre. His idea of asking Michelle to make lunch is to demand a sandwich, cut in half, and to repeat his request several times to make sure she did what he asked. Finally, a frustrated Michelle asks if Lynn usually holds the sandwich for him while he eats it. I’m guessing she would have shown her frustration more physically had he not been driving a thousand-pound bus down the highway at the time.
You Don’t Have to be Dead to Be in Hell
Things on the bus are going from bad to worse. Andre announces that as it’s late, they’ll be spending the night at a Pilot truck stop. From Michelle’s reaction, you’d think he said they would be sleeping in cardboard boxes in the redlight district. She puffs up and says there are prostitutes at truck stops. Well, maybe there are, but I’ve personally stopped at truck stops for the odd rest stop or whatever, and they’re a damn sight better lit and cleaner, usually, than your average state-maintained highway rest area.
Anyway, Andre says the truck stop is not up for discussion, because it is “part of the plan.” But her nagging is getting to him. Michelle is in tears about how Andre is so worried about his kids being exposed to unhealthy influences that he’d take them out of school, just to make them sleep next to an 18-wheeler in which the sleeper compartment is a-rockin’.
I guess hell is all in how you look at it, though. In Indiana, Lynn is forced to host Michelle’s weekly social event alone, as Rick is still at work. It doesn’t seem like Rick’s scene anyway, as all the guests are A) women, or B) children, or C) not dead, or a combination thereof.
At any rate, Lynn waits up for him to come home, which occurs at 1 a.m. She tells him that his sons want to spend more time with him. Rick says his family IS his priority, and that he shows it by working hard to provide for them. Lynn suggests that they need him to prove it in other ways, and asks which is more important, financial security or emotional security.
Master of His (Mobile) Domain
Tensions between Michelle and Andre have reached a boiling point. As he instructs her to, Michelle cheers him on as he fixes the bus engine. But inside, he says she’s not serious about things like cleaning and laundry, and she goes off. Michelle says the bus is a hobby, not a life. She says he’s making his dreams come true at the expense of his daughters’ childhoods.
Andre counters by saying the other kids in school have to deal with sex and drugs, and he’s saving his girls from that. Michelle says he’s just keeping them in an unrealistic bubble. He finally just says it’s the right plan, and heads out to “plug in” the bus. Michelle taunts him, saying he can’t even do that without being encouraged. “Be a man, Andre! Plug in your bus!”
After what seems like a very long show already, it’s time for the wives to impose their own rules. They are as follows:
-- The biggie is, no more bus. She says Andre has “hijacked” his family, and she has rented them a real house in their old hometown.
-- The girls will go to school. They are giddy. Andre is sullen.
-- The girls will be on a soccer team.
-- Andre will get a job. He says he “doesn’t” go to work.
While the girls are jumping around excitedly inside, Andre is outside saying he doesn’t need a house or a job and the girls don’t need school. If he’d just shut up and turn around and look at his family, maybe he’d rethink that.
-- Rick is to come home at 6 p.m.
-- No funeral home work for her; she’ll take care of the house.
-- The boys will do chores.
-- No junk food.
-- They’ll do some father/son stuff.
Has Andre Been Sniffing Bus Fumes?
The Smiths arrive at their new house, which includes some old personal effects, like photo albums, that they left behind. Andre sulks, and says Michelle figured out the biggest way to hurt him – get rid of the bus. The fact that he still has his children seems lost on Mr. Priorities here.
The girls do go to school, and are thrilled. One is excited about her locker, and likes the friends and peer support of school. But she also discovers she’s behind in a lot of subjects.
Meanwhile, Andre is working as an airfield mechanic, and from his attitude you’d think he was cleaning out someone else’s poop pipe with a toothbrush. He says he doesn’t “do” this, and that Michelle is a witch.
Later on, Andre skives off work to check on the bus. Michelle is furious. “It’s like you’re a drug addict and the bus is your drug,” she says. Andre whines that he doesn’t need this after his hard day, but she says that’s the real world. “I’d love to take my shoe off and beat him about the head,” she fumes. (She doesn’t. *sigh * Maybe next time.) Instead, she demands his bus keys.
The girls are loving their soccer team, and the younger one wistfully wishes she’d be allowed to stay. This culminates in a fight with Andre, when the kid (Talia, I think) tells him she likes it, and she disparages it. Evidently Talia has a habit of loving an activity one day and hating it the next. Talia, no stranger to the ways of pitting adults against each other, turns to Michelle and says her parents discourage her on everything and never offer moral support. Them’s big buzzwords for such a little girl. I wonder who’s spending too much time with adults?
Anyway, Andre says a soccer team is not compatible with the nomadic lifestyle they lead. Michelle suggests that maybe some changes to that lifestyle are in order. Andre says he’s not changing his life for a 12-year-old, and eventually the females slam out and Andre is left alone. He tries to argue with Talia some more through her closed bedroom door – I bet she’s loving this non-bus house, where she HAS a door to slam – but Michelle screeches at him to leave her alone.
Making Morticians Everywhere Proud
In Indiana, Lynn is doing a massive organization of the house, and she has the boys helping her. She throws all their junk food into a trash back, but unwisely allows them to carry it out to the trash can. Not surprisingly, the ho-ho’s make a detour into the garage, where they are clandestinely stored for safekeeping.
Rick is trying to abide by the 6 o’clock rule, although he says it’s hard. He made it home, though, and the boys are happy.
Parent-child relations are going better here than with the Smiths. The whole family goes fishing for the day. At home that night, the boys say they felt special, which gets Rick a bit weepy. He says he needs to spend more time with them, and that they’re very important to him. It’s kinda sweet.
Later on, for the first time ever, Rick leaves work early to attend a son’s basketball game. He wants to show that family is his top priority. All this is making Lynn question her own lifestyle; she wonders if her girls have issues about being on the road all the time. I guess when she sees this episode, she’ll know. Unless Andre says they can’t watch it.
Obviously the Bus family is more interesting to the producers than Mr. Mortician, because we’re back with Andre and the crew pretty often. This is more of the same, really; Michelle has organized a reunion party for the girls’ old friends, and Talia says she doesn’t want to go back to her “boring” life on the road.
Andre says Talia can’t live with them AND have friends; it seems like he’s demanding it be one way or the other, and he refuses to compromise. “She’s asking me to physically change my life. No, sorry, it’s not going to happen.” I would point this out just once – that changing your life is kind of what you DO when you have kids. Michelle seems to agree; she says he’s delusional.
Some People Get Pooped On
All trainwrecks must come to an end, and on this show they end with the two couples sitting down together in hopes of wringing some last bit of drama from the event. Michelle does not disappoint. She says Andre is the biggest spoiled brat she’s ever met, that he can’t fathom the possibility that he could be wrong, and that Lynn must stand up for herself and her daughters because he’s not always right.
Lynn is astonished that the bus is gone. But she tells Andre the bus is a “huge distraction” and that it’s not reality, and that he needs something else in his life.
But then Andre proclaims that he’s not going to be “stepped on again” – and I’m starting to think there are a lot of other issues with this couple – and Lynn breaks down crying and promising her undying support and love. Where’s the poop pipe when you need it?
Lynn also takes Rick to task for his workaholic ways, a lesson Rick says he’s learned well. He says his boys and his wife need him, possibly more than all the dead folks.
Michelle gets in a last dig at Andre by telling Rick that she’s glad they make sure their boys’ wishes come true too, and not just their own.
Rick says he’ll try to keep coming home at 6, and Lynn promises that she’ll try to work out some sort of compromise for her daughters.
Back on the Bus, Y’all
Sine the swap, the Smiths parked the bus in their hometown, but not for long; Andre already is gazing longingly at the road, and expects they’ll be traveling again shortly. Meanwhile, the girls joined an activity club for home-schoolers, which they love. Andre claims to have learned to listen more, which is met with a hearty guffaw from the audience.
At the Pikes’, Rick is coming home earlier. He feels like the Swap was a wake-up call. A wake-the-dead kind of wake-up call? You be the judge.
Two interracial couples. The same, only different? We’ll see.
Send me the poop at firstname.lastname@example.org