My dad loved a good road trip.
When I was young, he’d spend months planning cross country trips for us to take every July. Since this was in the era before smart phones, Expedia.com and Google, he’d plan every trip with an actual map, usually on the john. He’d collect articles during the year of interesting places for us to go to lunch or museums that coincided with an interest one of us had. Because he traveled extensively, he’d come home from business trips talking about exotic places like Milwaukee, St. Louis and Kansas City. I’d hear him talk of Holiday Inns and marvel that a place existed where every day was a holiday and they had mystical machines that made ice.
He owned Mobil Gas Station Guidebooks for every single region of the country and often talked about restaurants in relation to how many Mobil stars they had. I ate in a lot of three star restaurants as a kid and if we were taken to a Mobil Guide five star restaurant, it was cause for much jubilation. Ask me about the time my parents took us, ages 10, 7 and 6 all sporting tube socks and shorts, to El Tovar overlooking the Grand Canyon and my brother loudly demanded ketchup for his gourmet, five star meal. Or about the time we were in a Mobil Guide one star establishment and my dad asked for butter. The waitress brought a fifteen pound vat out from the back, plopped it on the table, handed him an ice cream scoop and asked, “That enough for ya, hun?” Good times.
Rand McNally, Mobil guidebooks and Avis Rental Car were the Holy Travel Trinity in our house. If Mr. McNally didn’t have a road to it, we didn’t drive there. If Mr. Mobil Guide gave it two stars and a check for extra value, we ate there. Mr. Avis always had a car ready for us and my dad practically wore out his Wizard card using the points he’d racked up. Our suitcases were even Avis specials: tan with red straps that my father had earned for customer loyalty. We had five of them. One for each of us. Which made unpacking a little tricky but I digress….
I swear, somewhere in the recesses of Marriott corporate headquarters, there is a plaque dedicated to my father’s honor. His use of Marriott points was legendary and he single handedly kept the Marriott Rewards Program in business. He thought very highly of JW and his establishments, I can assure you. I don’t think there’s a Courtyard that hasn’t seen the likes of my dad.
Things have changed a tad, though, since I was eight and crammed into the backseat of a 1982 blue Chevy Cavalier Wagon sandwiched between my two brothers.
Things have changed since Denny’s, Friendly’s and McDonalds were the mainstay of the vacationing family.
Things have changed since it now costs one MEEEELLION dollars to take a family of four to Disney World.
From the macked out minivans with DVD, wifi and Bose sound systems to the GPS devices that do everything but actually drive for you, I think Virginia Slim would agree that we’ve come a long way, baby. There are apps to help you find restaurants in strange cities, to direct you to points of interest, and to alert you that traffic is up ahead and you should chart a different course towards the world’s largest ball of rubber bands. If you live in California and want to travel to New Hampshire by way of Puerto Rico, I’d be willing to bet there’s an app for that, too. And if there isn’t, there should be. I’d totally pay $.99 for it.
Kids have iPads, iPods, iPhones, and portable gaming systems to keep them occupied for All. The Miles. Teddy grahams come in travel sizes, liquid refreshment is just a Capri Sun away and who doesn’t enjoy a good game of Words With Friends with your friend who is also hurtling along I-95 corridor towards the Museum of Dollhouse Miniature Furniture? What could be better than watching Despicable Me for the 900th time in HD from the backseat of your mobile command captain’s chair at 70 miles an hour?
Yes, road trips were a bit different in my day.
There were no Angry Birds, WWF or Facebook.
There was no Pandora. Or iTunes. or iRadio. Or xm satellite radio. Or Ryan Seacrest.
There were no restaurants with talking trees or that looked like the Bahamas.
There was no plush, seating for eight minivan with adjustable seats, dual zone air conditioning and cup holders.
There was no computer voice to give directions or screech “Recalculating!” when you realized you were 50 miles off course.
We had Froggy 101, The Paul Harvey Show and NPR. Or static if we were in the mountains.
We had peaches we’d bought off a guy whose truck broke down and my dad got a bushel for $5. And we ate those peaches from North Carolina all the way to Florida.
We had Kids Eat Free at Denny’s.
We had the worst night’s sleep ever in Miles City, MT (no disrespect to my Montana fans).
We had a visit for stitches in Anaheim, CA (my brother) and an ER trip in Eugene, OR for pink eye (me).
We had Map Reading 101 in the backseat to pass the long hours of driving boredom.
We had The License Plate Game.
We had July 4th in a different city for ten years.
We had the view of all 48 states from the back of a Cavalier. Hawaii and Alaska were left to us as grown ups.
We had the car window for the best HD movies ever.
Most of all, we had a father who loved everything about road tripping: the planning, the anticipation, the driving, and the destination. For him, road trips were about the journey more than the destination itself. Never was he more proud than when we’d arrive somewhere after seven hours of driving within ten minutes of his estimated time of arrival. Declaring logistical success was the icing on the proverbial road tripping cake and it made all the hours on the porcelain throne worth it to him.
Like I said, he loved a good road trip.
And, now that he’s gone, presumably on the best road trip he’s ever taken, I still go back to the memory of riding the hump in the Cavalier listening to country music as he gave me the world, one road stop at a time.