Many people will be taking vacations that involve road trips this summer, especially now that the kids are out of school. National parks and monuments are among the favored destinations, as are visits to family summer camps, or to relatives and friends in other states.
While Americans’ love of the automobile has waned in urban areas, the freedom that comes from driving on the open road remains a delight. Car/SUV travel brings places and people into focus in unexpected ways.
The road trips of my childhood, however, were never about sightseeing or taking a leisurely drive. The point always was the destination, not the trip itself.
Typically, our family road trips began as early as two in the morning. My brother and I would be hustled into the back of the car, still in our pajamas, falling into our makeshift beds. Being the elder, his was on the back seat, and mine was over the axle on the floor behind the front seats. Seat belts were rare at the time, and certainly non-existent in our Studebaker.
Those early morning hours were the most magical, as we dozed off to sleep again in the moonlight. But by the time we woke up, surrounded by no longer welcome pillows and blankets, the summer heat was already infiltrating the car, portending a hot, sticky day ahead.
As a college student, my father drove tour buses in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. He was a good driver with only one flaw, that being his reluctance to relinquish the driving to my mother. Even when tired, he kept a firm grasp on the wheel for hours on end. The only stops were to buy gas and freshen up in the gas station restrooms.
The scenery on these road trips was varied, depending on the destination. The route might have consisted of miles and miles of cornfields, punctuated by small towns and the occasional grain bins and water towers. At other times, we drove through desert or beautiful mountains.
On one rare occasion, driving through the Midwest, heavy rain put us behind schedule. We stopped to spend the night in an inexpensive, Bates-like motel. The rain foiled our rest, however; the ceiling sprung a leak and water poured straight onto my father’s pillow. So off we went, back on the road again.
Road trips of this nature can be long and boring, and staying occupied required some imagination. Without today’s digital devices, we devised our own forms of entertainment. We competed to identify license plates from other states, spot a Burma Shave sign along the route, or find, in the correct order, each letter of the alphabet from billboards, small town storefronts, and license plates.
It was truly, however, the destinations that made it all worthwhile. The magic of a small dairy farm in the Pacific Northwest was unforgettable. Spending time with cousins, my lifelong friends, hiding out together in the hayloft, picking wild berries, pulling up sweet carrots from the ground – these things made me happy until, literally, the cows came home.
Summer time is time for road trips. Perhaps, as I did, you will ride horses in the Rocky Mountains, or picnic along a mountain stream. No matter what or where your destination may be, I hope that you will create memories as happy as mine. And don’t forget to enjoy the sights along the way!
1950 Studebaker Champion image. Wikimedia