Looking Forward – Looking Back – A 70’s Road Trip Remembered

Today is the day we were supposed to start our Fleaing Across America Road Trip.  Right now, I should be tweeting and sharing pictures of the landscape between home and Las Vegas.  Instead, I’m at home, in terrible pain, waiting to hear back from my dentist’s office,  praying he can put me out of my misery some time soon.

Eventually, we will hit the road and over the next few weeks, we will be sharing the highlights (and possibly the lowlights) of our upcoming adventure but until then, take a trip back with me to a road trip adventure from my childhood.  Let’s reminisce, shall we?

It was 1970.

There were 9 of us.

In one car.

In the summer.

On a road trip to Boston.

I know it’s hard to imagine but there was a time, way back in the day, when children roamed free inside moving vehicles.

It was a time before seat belts, before tinted or electric windows, before air conditioning and before child safety locks on doors.  It was a time before SUV’s, even before minivans.

The station wagon ruled the summer road trips of my youth.  The faux-wood-paneled Ford Country Squire was the vehicle of choice for every free-wheeling road tripping family.

Ford Country Squire

The 70’s Family Dream Car

Because there were no seat belt laws, we could sit where we pleased.  Little ones often sat in mom’s lap, or on the front seat bench between mom and dad.  Older kids could sit in the back seat, or crouch on the floor.

But there were two prime spots that were hands-down my favorite.  One of them was the back-facing bench that folded up in the rear cargo area, where we gleefully waved at drivers behind us, pressed our noses up against the back window and pulled imaginary air horns, in hopes of getting other drivers to honk back in response.

My other favorite spot was in dad’s lap, in the driver’s seat, with my hands planted on the wheel at 10 and 2.  That is where I fell in love with driving and the open road. When I wasn’t in dad’s lap, I would lean over his shoulder from the back seat and watch his every move, mimicking the way he would steer and casually lean his arm on the open window. I couldn’t wait for the day when I would inhabit that coveted seat and drive where ever I pleased (in fact, I didn’t wait, but that’s a story for another day).

Now, I have no idea if it was even legal to sit with dad like that but, knowing him, it’s highly likely that it wasn’t.  After all, this is the same man that staunchly defended his right to not wear a seatbelt and for years, disabled any dinging, chiming, device that dared remind him to “buckle up”!  I can still picture him, on his hands and knees, leaning inside the front driver’s door of a brand new car, grabbing at various wires and cables, yanking them out until that infernal chime was silenced.

I inherited my love of driving from my dad.  Because of his passion for the open road, our go-to activity on his days off, or on any holiday, was to pile into the car and head out on the highway.

Which brings us back to the fateful Boston road trip.

We lived in Toronto, Canada and my dad’s brother Ray lived in Boston with his wife Audrey and their large brood of kids.

My Uncle Elmer and Aunt Beulah lived in Toronto as well and it was decided that we would travel with them and their two boys, to Boston, for a visit.  So, my mom and dad, my sister Kathy and brother Karl, plus Elmer, Beulah and our cousins, Gary and David, piled into the station wagon for the long ride.  Sandwiches and snacks were packed for the journey ahead.

We left in the evening and the plan was for the dads to take turns driving the through the night so we would arrive in Boston by morning, minimizing bathroom breaks and meal stops. The open rear cargo area was where four of us, the youngest in the bunch, lay like cord wood, on a pallet of blankets, pillows and luggage, for the long trip ahead.

It happened without warning.  Somewhere between Toronto and Boston, in the dead of night, my cousin David bolted awake and barfed…everywhere.

That’s right.  We were rudely awakened by the unmistakable sounds, smells and… sensations of puke.

We quickly pulled over to the side of the road, and the four of us kids spilled out of the back tailgate – crying, screaming and gagging.  We stood, bleary-eyed in our pajamas wondering if we were caught in the middle of some sick, smelly nightmare.

My Uncle Elmer, blustering and annoyed, came barreling and hollering out of the car to assess the damage and give David a piece of his mind.  He didn’t make it within three feet of us before he proceeded to lose his lunch in the gravel on the side of the road. Around the same time, my mom came around the corner, looked at the group of us, then over at Elmer, and joined him in a little barf-fest.

In case you’re not counting, that’s three down and four to go.

Fortunately, calmer minds and less queasy stomachs prevailed.  Dad and Aunt Beulah managed to hold it together and helped clean up the nasty mess.  I’m not sure how much they were really able to clean up, standing by the side of the highway, in the middle of the night, with no fresh water, Purell or disposable wipes within sight.  Somehow, they managed to wipe up the mess as well as they could and we piled back in the station wagon with the acrid odor clinging to our nostrils.

The windows were cranked allll the way down and Karl, Kathy and I huddled as far away from David as was humanly possible, in our cramped quarters.

The rest of our little holiday was relatively uneventful and most of our time away is lost in my memory. But three other things stood out in my mind, besides the disgusting barf-fest on the side of the turnpike.

When we drove into Boston, we couldn’t find my uncle’s house.  Without cell phones or GPS (hard to imagine, I know), we needed to find a phone to get directions.  We pulled over to phone booth after phone booth and discovered the phone books had been ripped out of the wall and in half of those phone booths, the receiver had been yanked out as well.  I have no idea why we didn’t have my uncle’s phone number written down somewhere but apparently, a phone number and address were not on the list of ‘things to bring on a road trip’. While driving through the gritty Boston streets, it slowly dawned on me, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!”.

The second thing that stood out in my mind was when Aunt Audrey announced, at eleven o-clock at night, that she was going to the store to get groceries. I was incredulous. “What kind of crazy, American invention is this?  A grocery store that’s open 24 hours a day?  You mean, you can buy Cap’n Crunch at two o’clock in the morning, if you want?”
Mind.  Blown.

The last thing I remember is, that weekend I smelled weed for the very first time.  We were sitting in the living room of my uncle’s house when I sniffed a peculiar, sweet odor.  I asked my cousin what the smell was.  He laughed and told me his long-haired brother was smoking pot outside.  My naive, blond pony-tailed 8-year-old self was shocked and a bit thrilled to be related to real, live hippies. I’m not sure if that was before, or after, they mentioned that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang had just rolled into the neighborhood.

We had a nice visit and it was good to spend time with family that we didn’t get to see very often, but I was left with a very distinct overall impression from that road trip. It is an impression that has stayed with me for years.

Boston was bad-ass and we were not.

70s family photo

70s photo, family picture, vintage photograph

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