DRIVING CROSS COUNTRY
This Monday's cranky re-run is from March 2012
I think back to when I was a child.
In 1951, my dad’s job required his transfer from Long Island, New York to Pasadena, California. Dad decided to make the trip to California a family vacation. It became an eight day vacation spent primarily in a four door Buick. The Buick was a top of the line touring car for its day. Still, there was no air conditioning and it sat three across on the front bench seat.
Dad drove most of the way. Mom rode shotgun. The five year old, me, sat in the middle. I had to sit up front all the way to California because one of my brothers, either nine year old Chris or Eleven year old Jim was always “TOUCHING ME!!” (Yes, even in 1951 there was the touching, or the even more ominous “fake touching” sibling torture.)
The Buick had no air, and dad, like almost every adult of the time smoked, so there was always a window open. The radio was AM only, and stations went in and out constantly. Most of the music was awful so the radio offered no entertainment. The in-car DVD was not yet invented, so entertainment was “car games.”
The favorite games were “Woody” and “Snake.” If you were the first one to spot a station wagon with wood panels, you would yell “Woody” and get one point. If you saw a foreign car, you yelled “Snake.” If you could identify the make of the foreign car you got a point. The winner was the one who accumulated the most points by the time dad went nuts and erupted from all the yelling of “Snake” and “Woody” and all the fights about who yelled it first.
Either of these games would be very difficult today. “Woodies” no longer exist except in antique car shows, and “Snakes” make up 75% of every car on the road.
The roads from New York to California were all Rt. 1, and Rt. 66; still directions were an issue. Finding points of interest, and getting fuel, food, or lodging often took us off the main highways. We had no GPS for directions, we had maps. Mom was responsible for reading the maps while dad drove. Dad drove, mom read, and the three of us all cringed.
Mom could never give dad the proper directions. “I think….it looks like….there might be….I don’t see….” Finally, invariably, dad would pull the car over to the side and snatch the map from mom. Dad could read maps as easily as if they were comic books. After he determined where we were and where we needed to go there was five minutes of mom/dad bickering and we were off again.
At night we stayed at the nearest Bates Motel. There were no “Holiday/Ramada/Howard Johnson/Days Inns or Motel 6’s, only little attached bungalows with Anthony Perkins as the proprietor.
Meals were all at whatever greasy spoon served the most truck drivers. (Truck drivers do not in fact know the best places to eat.)
Through all this we had a wonderful trip. We gained memories that have lasted a lifetime. Memories that were all captured on an old Eastman Kodak that required light meters, f-stops, different film speeds and film loading which when attempted by mom rivaled the tension of the daily map reading.
I cannot imagine spending eight days with all my children in an un-air conditioned smoke filled, no radio, no DVD, no GPS car, driving on highways which were often only two lanes in opposite directions, eating at questionable establishments and lodging in crappy motels with inadequate beds and zero TV.
My parents did it. They did it twice when dad was transferred back to New York. They did it and they enjoyed it. We all enjoyed it. They did it because they didn’t know any better.
They did it because they were tough.