The Family Road Trip
Just the other day at a stop light, I came to a halt next to a mini-van with four kids in it.
One of them was on a cell phone, another was playing a video game, the third was
listening to an IPod, and the final child was watching a personal DVD player.
There was so much electronic activity going on in that mini-van,
it was like I had pulled up next to NASA's mobile command center.
Let's face it. When it comes to traveling, modern children have it made.
They have no idea of the tortures that their parents and grandparents had to endure
as childhood travelers back in the olden days when conditions were not as posh.
Although cars were much larger then, parents made up for that extra space
by having three to five kids ride along on every trip. These youngsters could either be
homegrown progeny, or they could be handy loaners from the neighbors.
Child volume was the goal, not child ownership.
Seat belts had not come into common usage, except when your mother leaned over
the seat and belted you, so most adults subscribed to the tight pack method for transporting
small fry, which involved cramming as many youngsters as possible into the back seat of a
two door sedan. That way, if there was a wreck, the kids were wedged in so tightly that they couldn't get hurt.
Trips always started with a mandatory stop at Al Furchert's Blue Point Friendly service station for gas.
Wedged in as we were in the old black 1950 Ford, sweating to death in the summer,
or freezing to death in the winter, we drove Mon insane as Dad carried on a twenty minute conversation with Uncle Al.
Often Butch (and later Duke), our German Shepard dog at that time were used to stabilize the cargo. Nooks and crannies were
tamped with egg salad or peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, a material that Mom used to
transport food that they did not keep it fresh. The load was topped off by a big Tupperware container
of Kool-Aid that Mom had usually forgot to sweeten.
The baby, and since this was the Baby Boom there was always a baby, got scotched up onto the back dash for extra safety.
You just had to remember to turn him from time to time, so he wouldn't get too sunburned on one side.
I mentioned egg salad because in my family, that was the road food of choice. In your car,
it may have been canned tuna or head cheese. But whatever it was, federal law dictated that it had to be heavy on the mayo,
so that it would be sure to turn brown after five hours or so in the back of a sedan with no air conditioning.
Road food was always brought from home because every dad on the face of the North American
continent was excessively frugal, due no doubt to the fact that he was trying to feed multiple children
on a $98.00 weekly salary.
I was assigned the back seat behind the driver (Dad) and brother Dennis was assigned the back seat behind Mom,
so she could clean him up when he got car sick, as he always managed to do.
He did this with such regularity that we had a spot on trips to the city (Dennis' Puking Grounds), where we stopped so
he wouldn't get any in the car!
We were usually late because of the twenty minute conversation with Uncle Al and Dennis' mandatory stop,
so Dad had to make time and couldn't be hampered by details such as stopping to eat or go to the bathroom.
The reason he had to make time was so he could get there, wherever there was,
so we could be stuffed back into the car and start the trip home before dark.
Sometimes on long trips we would run out of road food, an offense which would necessitate
a visit to that most wondrous of highway oases, the truck stop. The conventional wisdom was that since the
truckers were the professionals of the open road, they always knew the best places to eat.
You can't prove that theory by me, but I will say that everything on the menu tasted better than sour
Kool-Aid and warm egg salad or peanut butter and jelly.
Incidentally, modern youngsters are for the most part unacquainted with cars that are not air conditioned.
They weren't that bad, actually, except for the ash from Dad's Camel cigarette, an occasional insect,
rock, or small bird that got sucked into one of the four open windows as the family was
tooling down a two-lane highway at sixty miles per hour.
In the Summer, car interiors were much cleaner since anything weighing less than ten pounds
that was not mounted on or tied to the car would eventually be swept out of those same windows.
In the winter windows were kept closed to conserve heat.
This travel occurred back before cigarettes were known to be bad for you
and long prior to the discovery of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.
Most times the interior of the old Ford resembled the skies over Chicago during the great fire of 1871.
There were no GPS's then, so if Dad didn't know where we were going, we were doomed to circle the neighborhood,
as Mom constantly suggested we stop and ask for directions.
With the exception of making time, which is a genetic requirement for all men who have fathered children,
almost nothing about modern travel resembles the picture I have just painted.
These days, there are several expressions that might apply to ten kids with full bladders riding unharnessed
in hot cars while holding their breath and munching warm egg salad.
These include reckless endangerment, child neglect, and marginal parental indifference.
But back in the "good old days", we were happy just to be going for a ride.
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