I logged off Google Maps triumphantly and yelled for my wife and daughters to join me around the family laptop.
“Gang, I believe I have found our next vacation destination. Clear your schedules for about 10 days,” I said.
“Ten days?” my eldest daughter cried. “I have to work.”
“And I have volleyball practice,” her sister chimed in. “My national tournament starts in two weeks.”
“So, apparently, you two don’t want to make $3,500? Each?” I said.
“I can always get another job.”
“The team can get by without me.”
Confident I had their attention, I continued. “Your dear old dad has discovered a locale where we will be welcomed with a big fat check.”
“You got another gig in Orlando?” asked my wife, referring to the numerous standup comedy dates I do in that city. Over the years, most of those “business trips” invariably morphed into Magic Kingdom visits, where, magically, my paycheck disappeared.
“We’re not going to Orlando,” I said. “We’re going to St. Louis!”
“Cool,” my youngest replied. “Can we visit the Arch?”
“Doubtful,” I said.
“Can we at least go when the Cubs are playing those stinking Cardinals?” her sister asked.
“I’m guessing you’ll want to tour the Anheuser-Busch plant,” my wife said. “Your girls and I will plan a shopping trip that day.”
I waited for the collective double take. They didn’t disappoint.
“What do you mean, we’re GOING to be sick?” my wife asked alarmingly.
I then revealed my family plan to apply for, and hopefully be selected as, research participants at St. Louis University’s Salus Center, aka the Extended Stay Research Unit, aka “Hotel Influenza,” according to an SLU press release.
In its ongoing effort to develop a universal flu vaccine, researchers at SLU plan to, within the next six months, inoculate healthy volunteers, then deliberately expose them to the flu virus, thereby testing the vaccine’s merits. Salus Center guests will be quarantined in the facility’s “challenge unit” for about 10 days while scientists study whether they do indeed get sick. Volunteers will be compensated up to $3,500 for their “time and travel,” according to Nancy Solomon, the university’s director of public relations.
“We’ve already had thousands of inquiries,” said Solomon, who added the ideal candidates should be 18-49 years of age, not pregnant, and living within a three-hour radius of St. Louis.
My family meets all those requirements. Almost. My 16-year-old could pass for 18, and we could make it to St. Louis in three hours provided we don’t zip past any police cruisers.
“So, who’s ready to get catch the flu?” I asked my girls, who were now looking at me as if I had just sneezed on their manicures.
“Dad, this is the dumbest idea you’ve had since Cancun, where you insisted we tour the Mayan ruins in 100-degree heat,” my eldest said.
“Or when you made us eat raw oysters in New Orleans,” her sister said.
“We got sick on that trip too!” my wife said.
“Yes, but nobody PAID us to get sick,” I reminded them. “C’mon, how can this family pass up $14,000? We get 10 days in a hotel with free Wi-Fi, catered meals and round-the-clock nursing care! There’s even a gym for you two health nuts,” I said, gesturing to my daughters.
“Great,” my younger daughter said. “I love running on a treadmill with watery eyes and body aches.”
“Why don’t you go alone?” my wife finally suggested. “Then you can buy something for yourself with the $3,500. A new set of golf clubs, perhaps?”
“Some anti-bacterial wipes?” my youngest said.
“I’m constantly on the road alone,” I said. “We always say we never spend enough time together because of our crazy schedules. Well, problem solved!”
The looks on their faces suggested my plan was sinking fast. I switched to guilt mode.
“Do it in the name of science,” I said.
They quickly left the room.
Too bad. I was looking forward to coughing on a few Cardinals fans.