The approach of warm Summer weather means the news is full of predictions about how the increase in auto use will mean higher gas prices, proving once again that self-fulfilling prophecies are easy when you have a bunch of analysts who own oil stock. But I’d rather focus on a time when you could pleasantly anticipate and plan vacation trips and holiday drives without giving a lot of thought to the price of gas.
When I was a kid I was luckier than some because my parents always felt that a Summer vacation trip of some sort was a necessary thing. It was good to see America and it was just plain fun to find every quirky roadside attraction for miles around. In lean years, our trip might be just a long weekend spent driving around the Midwest (where we lived) but when things were good we’d venture out for a week or more, and I remember one memorable trip all the way to Yellowstone — but more later about that.
Sometimes we’d even form a mini-caravan of two by going on a vacation trip with my uncle and aunt and their kids in their car and us in ours. The two families were close – my mother and my aunt were sisters who’d been pals all their lives – but going on a car trip together still required some management, and the pitfalls were everywhere. For example, the families would take turns picking the restaurant for dinner each night — but of course that meant the other family would then carp endlessly about how bad a choice it was.
Picking a place to stay was another dangerous situation because this was before the advent of countless well-known chain motels, with uniformity of design and guarantees of sanitary rooms. We’d usually find ourselves considering a questionable-looking “tourist court”, and when things looked a little iffy we’d insist on inspecting one of the units before agreeing to stay there. (I remember that my mother and aunt were especially interested in looking closely at the bathroom.)
We always managed to have a good time and see a lot of the countryside, but not without adventures. On our trip to Yellowstone, we often saw bears cavorting around the tourist cars and begging food. I’m not sure if this was before the rangers banned feeding them or they just ignored the tourists doing it, but in any case it was widespread and could sometimes cause problems. And yet, people still did it.
I remember that my aunt was sitting in the passenger seat and my uncle was driving. She was trying to take a picture of one of the bears and it kept getting closer and closer to her open window. All of a sudden, it stuck its head right into her window and into her lap. Or at least where her lap would have been if she hadn’t leaped over and landed on top of my uncle, who was frantically trying to reach his door handle and let both of them escape the car. They did, and it became a favorite family story for years.
I’m sure lots of readers have equally adventurous stories, and I encourage you to share them. I guess if we’re going to reminisce about past driving trips, there’s only one song that could fit in perfectly – or actually two songs about the same subject. Both are about the famous highway that we all know and that most of us have traveled. I have, many times.