Seeing all the people out on the road this past weekend brought back memories of vacations taken in the family car. It was what people did back in the 1950s, when I was growing up.
Most of the time it was off to Grandma’s house. One lived in Cortez, Colorado, and the other in Lamar, Missouri. In either case, it wasn’t a short drive, being that we lived in Denver at the time.
The real excitement was more in the preparation and anticipation of the actual trip rather than the trip itself. My older brother and I - my younger sibling hadn’t been hatched yet - would get a couple of dollars to buy things to, hopefully, entertain ourselves during the long hours of travel. Comic books and candy mostly. Lifesavers were the best buy. They lasted the longest.
Our family had a system to our travels. My dad would drive and my mother would hand out homemade sandwiches and pop. Those deviled ham and egg sandwiches never tasted as good as they did on a road trip.
No need to stop to eat, though, when we could put those miles behind us. That was pretty much the plan, as I remember it. We would drive as far as we possibly could without stopping.
Charles Lindbergh must have been my father’s hero. My dad was the Lindbergh of highway travel. Under no circumstance would he even think of pulling over unnecessarily. Non-stop was the theme. I think if he could have had a tanker plane refuel the car as we sped down the highway, he would have.
As we made our way down the road, we’d pass the inevitable roadside attractions with signs like “See the World’s Biggest Three-Headed Snake” and “Prairie Dog Rodeo - Next Exit,” or “The World’s Largest Ball of Twine – 1 Mile.”
Either my brother or I would say something like, “Wow, I bet that’s interesting” in the faint hope of getting to stop and actually getting out of the car. Not going to happen, my friend.
When we finally ran low enough on gas that we had to stop, it was “Hurry up and get your business done. We have to get back on the road.”
My brother and I called them pit stops, because they would be something Mario Andretti’s crew would have been proud of. You never saw people move so fast. Heaven help you if you were late getting back in the car and everyone else was waiting on you.
My brother and I are just a year and a half apart in age, so our relationship has always been competitive. We would sit quietly in the back seat and read our Spiderman comic books for the first 10 or 15 miles and then punch each other and argue and antagonize each other the remaining 790 miles.
This would go on until my mother or father would turn around and say, “Don’t make me have to come back there.” I always wanted to say – but, of course, never did - “Be sure to pull over and stop first.” Anything for a chance to get out of the car.
Finally, an imaginary line of demarcation would be drawn down the middle of the back seat so that we each had our own territory. This did little good because it brought on a competition to see who could sneak over the line without getting caught. We eventually wore ourselves out and started the “Are we there yet?” and “How much farther?” inquiries.
These trips were a little long but a wonderful experience on the whole. The only drawback is that, even to this day, I feel a little hurried and unnecessarily apprehensive when I pull in to fill up the car and use the restroom. Old habits are hard to break, I guess.