I was born in 1963 and grew up in rural 1970s Indiana.
The nation’s network of interstate highways was born shortly before I was, and we grew up together.
My Dad, not much older than a teenager himself, immediately embraced the concept of driving cross-country – with a vengeance!
When my sister Tammy and I were still quite young, Dad began what would become an oft-repeated family tradition: loading us and Mom into a car, usually attaching a camper, and driving … driving … driving … throughout the Midwest until we arrived at our destination.
Dad didn’t screw around. Sleep? Forget about it! Motels were for soft city folk. Once we were on our way, stops were kept to an absolute minimum, and only when necessary: to refill the gas tank, or to empty our bladders.
Dad never began a trip with less than a full tank, so the first stop, made hours into the journey, was almost always due to me and Tammy.
“Dad, please! We gotta pee, I can’t hold it any longer!”
“Didn’t I tell you to go before we left home?” he’d scold us.
Eventually, Mom would finally admonish him. “Oh, now, come on, Norm. They’ve held it in long enough!”
Then we’d take the next exit and stop at the nearest Stuckley’s (whatever happened to those?). Once done in the little boys’ and girls’ rooms, Tammy and I would buy candy and soda, then rush back to the truck. You did not want to keep Dad waiting.
At the end of those endless drives, amazing adventures always awaited. Camping in Iowa; King’s Island amusement park outside Cincinnati, Ohio; Mackinac Island in Michigan.
As we got older, the campers got bigger, and Dad’s wanderlust shifted into a higher gear. We began driving the Eastern seaboard.
First, up North, all the way to Niagara Falls. (Mom and Dad never had a proper honeymoon, I realize now, so…). It was an impressive spectacle – but I was far more amazed by the Adam West “Batman” figure we saw in a nearby wax museum.
Then South, to Disney World, via never-ending, maddening stand-still traffic jams in Georgia.
After the Happiest Place on Earth, I got my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. I ran into the water, ecstatically about to take my first swim in an actual ocean, completely ignorant of how strong ocean waves are! I quickly found out. A large one knocked me over and dragged me under. I tumbled head over heels, over and over, until I eventually emerged, gagging on sea salt, with seashells embedded in my hair and down my shorts.
I’ve hated swimming ever since.
When I was 12 or so, Dad was required to attend a UAW convention in 1970s Los Angeles. He could have flown solo. But he decided to take his family (and a large “fifth-wheel” camper/trailer) to LA on the mother-of-all-road-trips and see much of the country along the way.
What followed was a week-long drive into the Deep South, then through the Southwest.
And we saw it all. Grand Canyon (“Now get back in the car!”), Petrified Forest, (“Come on now, you saw it!”), Painted Desert (“Let’s go, let’s go!”).
Alas, a tire on the fifth-wheel trailer blew out as we crossed the Arizona desert (while my sister and I were inside it, but that’s another story!). Once Dad was able to control, then stop, the wildly careening vehicles, we found ourselves stranded in the hot, dry desert on the side of the highway. Hours passed as we waited for roadside assistance. Mom wouldn’t let us venture too far, for fear of rattlesnakes.
Once help arrived, Dad learned he’d have to leave his beloved trailer in Arizona for repairs.
That may have been a blessing, because I can’t imagine Dad parking it where we stayed in Hollywood -- the Sheraton Hotel near Universal Studios! (For details on that trip, read SUB-LEBRITY*).
Dad became a farmer when I entered high school, and that pretty much ended our family road-trips. And I did finally start flying, in my early 20s and, boy, did I make up for lost time once I did!
But now, as my “golden years” sparkle on the visible horizon, I’m longing for those road trips of old. My husband Laurence and I have talked often about buying a trailer and driving across the country once we retire.
We used to worry being together that much, that long, would drive us crazy! Now, five months into COVID-19 and counting, we’ve realized we can take it!