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Monday, March 31, 2014

DRIVING CROSS COUNTRY - a cranky re-run


This Monday's cranky re-run is from March 2012

In the many blogs I read daily, a common thread is the difficulty of raising children.  Moms are tired, moms are stressed, and everything is so difficult.  Raising children is indeed difficult.  It is something I have whined about as well.  As difficult as it is to deal with kids today, It used to be so much harder. 

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.          


  1. I (not so fondly) remember sleeping in crappy hotels on the way to the East Coast by way of Quebec (and my parents spoke nary a word of French, and I was too young to have studied up on it enough) after we moved up to Ontario. Dad "had to go visit back home". And got suckered into going along to help Mom try and keep him from falling asleep at the wheel. It's a wonder we weren't all killed.
    Now, when it came to car trips with our two kids, our first reliable car was a VW Rabbit, and I have long arms. There was no, "She's touching me". But that's all I'll offer on that subject.

    1. I tried that with my kids, but they dodged my hand smack like Mohamed Ali!

  2. I would have been so envious of you back in the day! I so wanted to go to California -- instead of our usual vacation of Northwestern Vermont to East Paterson, New Jersey!

  3. so neat. loved the line: and the 3 of us all cringed. :)

  4. I agree with you; people were tougher back then. I was born and raised in California and grew up with a hankering to see New York and beyond. The longest car trip we made was from Santa Clara to Disneyland in 1962. We made it as far as Tijuana.

  5. Yep, we are from the same era. My mother smoked not my dad. I so remember all of this. We didn't know any different indeed.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

  6. Ahh...the days. The longest driving vacation I can remember our family taking was Texas to CA/Disneyland round trip. I remember stopping in Juarez at a dog racing track. In Mexico, if your money can reach the counter, you can gamble. I won $63, a feat I haven't to this day repeated. By the time I took my kids on a driving vacation we had a cassette player and the chirrens had "Car Toons". Ugh! I'll die with those tunes still in my head. ;)


  7. We used to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas around 11:00 pm because it was cooler then. We loved it!!

  8. That is a fantastic game. I ought to learn and teach my grand kids that game.

  9. Boy did you bring back memories. We moved a lot and I always enjoyed the trip more than the destination. I was the littlest and sat in the middle of the back seat, straddling the hump.

  10. Modern conveniences don't always solve these issues. Now we have a GPS and I have two women giving me directions. One, however, I can shut off

  11. Not too many posts launch me back into the past. This one did. Terrific!

  12. Ah...the good ol' days. When 8-year-old kids could ride dangling their bare feet off the tailgate of a Ford pickup truck at 70 mph down a divided highway.

  13. I echo what Val said; those were the good days! Good bonding time, nowadays that would never happen, kids and parents would be with their technology, looking down at a cell phone or whatnot instead of looking out the window, etc. Great memories you have of it years later! I sympathize with your mom, I was the map reader too when going on trips with hubby and kids. I was never so thankful when GPS was invented!


  14. We never went cross country but we did go on vacations. We had punch buggy which always ended with my dad saying If I have to stop this car! Very cool that you got to see Route 66! Most of it is gone now but would have loved to have been able to see it before it was gone! Great post!

  15. Eight days in a car and your parents survived?? And were still sane?
    They made them tough in the old days.

  16. We did a similar car trip from Detroit to LA in 1963. 5 days in my mother's Oldsmobile - my sister and I both in the front seat with her as the back seat was filled with suitcases and our Springer Spaniel rode on top of them. It was a very long 5 days.