Wally Blossom, his wife Charlotte, his son Turner, and his daughter Pony, are driving in a station wagon, heading towards Falling Waters, West Virginia. Charlotte begs her family to stop singing, “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” which leads to a fight between Pony and Turner, and a quarrel between Wally and Charlotte over Wally’s driving speed. When Wally turns around to stop the children from hitting each other, and Charlotte grabs the wheel to keep the car from veering off the road, Wally stops the car, and he and Charlotte argue about safety, who should drive, and why they are driving in the first place. Charlotte’s aunt is dying in New Mexico, and Charlotte, who is afraid to fly, wants to say goodbye, and for Turner to play his guitar for his great aunt. Wally reluctantly comes to terms with the road trip, as Charlotte complains about the heat, and the children wail about missing their pets. Charlotte takes the wheel and starts driving, as they talk about her brother Scotty, his wife Joy, and his daughter Amy, with whom they will be visiting in Oklahoma City. Wally and the children make fun of Amy, a very masculine and athletic little girl, who is the daughter of a Swedish track star. The family plays Geography, cruelly ganging up on Pony, the youngest, who complains that they are not fair.
In Luray, Virginia, two days later, the Blossom family is huddled around the door of their tent, looking out at the rain, collectively cursing the weather; Pony is frightened, and Turner excited, by the dramatic thunder and lightning. Charlotte prays, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” The family starts straightening up. Turner talks about how one of his teachers at Juilliard told him that fireflies and electric eels are immune to lightning, and Wally tells Charlotte, voice lowered, that this was a metaphor for prodigies. Pony stands on her head, and wants everyone to look at her. Wally compliments Charlotte’s blanket weaving and wishes she would take it more