January 30, 2008

Follow Me, Don't Follow Me (I've Got My Spine, I've Got My...)

I've written about this several times. Forgive me if I repeat myself. I know, however that at least the last time I mentioned this, I got a fact wrong. Which one is not important.

When I was a kid, my parents and I took road trips. Epic road trips.

We'd log 3,000 to 3,500 in a summer and blow through towns like Denton, Texas; Raton, New Mexico; Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming. There were deviations, of course. We'd break way from the standard route to hit the Grand Canyon, swing through Vegas, stop in Santa Fe or see Mount Rushmore. Once, we even drove from Wyoming to San Diego then back to Houston. We'd spend three nights on the road before reaching our destination. The first stop would inevitably be in Texas - unless you've lived there and have driven through it, you have no appreciation for how big it is. It's hard to escape the gravitational pull of the state in a single day. The next night might be spent in New Mexico or Colorado or Arizona. The third closer to our destination in southern Wyoming. On the way back, of course, we'd blow through states in an effort to get home, to get back to our beds. We'd spend 14 or 16 hours on the road and conquer the West in two days.

Aside from our destination and key touristy spots along the way, we rarely had reservations. We'd just stumble into any motel off the highway when we were done driving. This was the late seventies and eighties. Interior motel design came in two standard-issue color palates - orange and brown or green and brown, the green being far less common. At least that's how it seemed to me. And most rooms ended up being orange - brown shag carpet, beige and gold wallpaper, orange and white comforters. They all looked like the set of The Match Game and you half expected Charles Nelson Reilly to jump out from behind the curtains that inevitably looked out over the parking lot and, hopefully, your car.

One afternoon, we'd covered the stretch from Houston to Wichita Falls in 120-degree heat. It was miserable. And we'd made the journey in a little Mazda 626, the air-conditioning of which seemed to be powered by two under-fed hamsters both of which refused to run in their little wheels in such extreme heat. When we got into the motel room, we found we could exit only by wrapping bath towels around our hands to open the door. The metal door and doorknob were just as hot as the air outside. My parents and I filled the bathtub with cold water followed by what little ice there was left inside our cooler, jumped into the tub and drank orange Crush.

It's a simple little moment that had no real significance at the time other than the drastically lower temperature and avoidance of heat stroke. But it's a nice little moment. Family, a bathtub, a long drive and orange Crush. No deep meaning. Just kinda nice. And I'll always remember it. I guess that's actually the significance - you never know what moment will linger forever so make all of them count. That sounds to much like a greeting card. But you know what I mean.

What are your favorite little moments? Or tales from the road?

Posted by Chris at January 30, 2008 6:24 AM

I grew up in OK, and my parents were from Colorado so we did the similar road trip many times. Big Impala station wagon and three scrappin' kids.

My dad never approached a road trip as fun though. It was a MISSION. To be ACCOMPLISHED. So, one of my memories of him being grouchy behind the wheel? My little brother having to pee in a coke bottle since my dad didn't want to stop. The funny thing? My mom didn't seem to have a problem with this.

Posted by: DebbieDoesLife at January 30, 2008 6:51 AM

First time we visited Florida we drove. My dad had passed away earlier in the year, I was 14, and my sister and brother 11 and 7. My mom wanted/needed to drive straight through because our budget didn't include a hotel stay. It should have been a 20 hour trip.

Mom got too tired by the time we got to Georgia. We pulled into a rest stop and hung towels over the windows for privacy and to block some of dawn's early light. We awoke TERRIFIED by some really big guy knocking on our windows. He wanted money. FROM US. Now, come on, we're sleeping in a car. Does it seem likely dollar bills are hanging from our rears?

If nothing else, that woke us all up quickly. Mom was quite ready to drive and we boogied on out of there. I don't know if it was the next day or several days later we learned that people were being killed at rest stops. While it probably wasn't the guy who knocked on our windows, it spooked us enough that we DID stay at a motel on the trip home.

Posted by: ocdcontrolfreak at January 30, 2008 7:02 AM

Did you enjoy the road trips or just endure them? We never did that as a family so I feel like I missed out on something. Do you plan on doing road trips with your own family one day?

Posted by: Shelly at January 30, 2008 7:45 AM

Hey! Are you from Houston? I am a fellow H-towner!

Some of my favorite childhood road trips were our family vacations in New Braunfels & all the floating down the Guadalupe and Comal rivers. Good times! Good times!

Hey, great reference to REM!

Posted by: Alli at January 30, 2008 8:07 AM

Umm, Scottish over here. We run out of country after about 400 miles. Does that even count as a road trip??

Posted by: Loth at January 30, 2008 8:17 AM

First of all, its funny that you mention Denton and Raton. I have been to Raton and live 15 minutes from Denton. I havent done epic road trips like you, but I do my fair share of driving. Dallas to El Paso. We did as a family travel up to White Sands to do a little sand surfing. My favorite moments are driving home in the Spring and seeing all the wildflowers on the side of the road, the endless fields of cotton, and the calves walking along side thier mothers. Nothing beats driving through all that with the windows down and watching nature in progress.

Posted by: Elizabeth at January 30, 2008 8:36 AM

I live in south, south, south Texas so I fully comprehend the gravitational pull of the state. We didn't do large scale road trips when I was a kid and I always feel (just a little bit) like I missed out on something special.

My husband, son (age 12) and I logged our first major one this summer. 4,500 miles in a Mini Cooper from TX to DC to CT to OH and back to TX again. It was great!

Going through LA we made a side run through New Orleans - the northeast side of the city is still a devastating mess. It looks like a bomb exploded. I think that had the biggest impact on my son.

He was also completely enthralled by the Lincoln Memorial.

Posted by: wendy at January 30, 2008 8:36 AM

We had this blue maxi-van that was previously used by my dad for his 100 duplex management company. It was huge. There were two bench seats, and behind those, enough room to set up 4 lawn chairs, or have two kids run around in circles. We did both at some point.

I remember our trips to Grandma's house, 2 hours each way. My sister and I would create some game to play with each other using board games, but not following the rules. We had the best time playing in that van, and the only thing we had to entertain ourselves was some cardboard and our imaginations.

Posted by: Brad at January 30, 2008 8:53 AM

It's the little moments in time that mean so much.

Posted by: Maribeth at January 30, 2008 9:02 AM

Mom driving us to York Beach on a hot summer day, me in the passenger's seat with headphones on listening to Def Leppard (Pyromania), chewing blueberry Hubba Bubba, and reading Jaws.

Posted by: Poppy at January 30, 2008 9:10 AM

The year was 1990, I was 11, and our family was still reeling from the death of my 7yr old brother. My parents decided to spend Christmas in Disney World. We drove from St. Louis to Orlando in a Dodge Station wagon. We had a good time in Disney World. On the way home we drove through some of the worst fog I have seen. We would come up on the cars in front of us an not see their tail lights until we were about 10 feet from them. The best part about it was our car was so packed with luggage and stuff we had purchased in DW that our car was "dragging ass" and the headlights were pointing in the air rather than at the road. Every so often my dad would pull over and try to adjust the headlights down, but that just made it worse, the lights ended up point up and out. Family road trips are great.

Posted by: Josh at January 30, 2008 9:18 AM

The only road trip I've ever taken with my family was from Philly to Orlando (all in one shot) and back again. H-E-double hockey sticks. I do remember my then two-year-old nephew's first experience with highway funk, a frantic "What me 'mell, Mommy?! What me 'MELL?!" as he attempted to cover his nose with his shirt. It was probably just a dead skunk or something, but he seemd to think it was the gates of hell opening up or something. It still cracks me up to think about it.

Posted by: Fraulein N at January 30, 2008 9:20 AM

I remember on long road trips my parents taking me into those road side rest diners late at night (it felt like the middle of the night to me but it was probably like 9PM) in my PJs. I was so embarrassed, wanted to be a big girl but instead was walking around in my footed pajamas. Oh the shame. How I wish I could get away with that now.

Posted by: Greta at January 30, 2008 9:23 AM

icy bathtub, & orange crush. That sounds like a great memory.

You've tripped my memory too. I think I'll write about it on my blog :)

Posted by: amy at January 30, 2008 9:24 AM

When I was a kid, we were also travel fools. My parents had no money for motels, so we used the roadside rest stops for sleep. At least my dad did. When he got too tired to drive, mom hauled the three kids out and into the wide outdoors. Dad would take a snooze while we played made-up games on the grass for hours. My mom was a saint. I don't know how she did it, keeping us entertained for hours on end, often in the middle of the night, when we were also tired and cranky. I just know it was those times I remember. I think my dad had the good end of the deal!

Posted by: Tera at January 30, 2008 9:30 AM

I wrote a similar piece last summer for my paying gig, so rather than reinvent the wheel, here's a link to it. It's a PDF, I'm on page 11:


Posted by: Jeff St Real at January 30, 2008 9:36 AM

For the rest of this comment, my step-father will hereafter by referred to as 'The Genius'.

When I was about 11 and my siblings were 7 and 3, The Genius convinced my mother that it was time for a family road-trip. For this road-trip, The Genius went and found an old beat-up station-wagon. If this car had been a horse, it would've managed to somehow print the words 'Kill me' on a sign and taped it to its side. So, we set out from Ohio on our way to Washington state. What followed could've been written and directed by Wes Craven because it was horror. The only enjoyment I remember from this excursion into hell was watching The Genius periodically stand in front of the car's engine spraying water from a gas-station's hose onto the smoking hulk of his shame.

God, I need a drink.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at January 30, 2008 9:47 AM

when I was a kid, we used to drive from DC (where we lived) to my grandmother's house in Louisiana. We always drove it in two days and the schedule would be that we'd get up and leave really early, then stop at a Holiday Inn somewhere in South Carolina about 3 in the afternoon so us kids could swim and get all our energies out and get to bed early and start all over the next day.

Most of the actual road trip part was spent arguing over which of the three of us had to sit in the middle of the back seat. I'm pretty sure it was me most of the time as I was the smallest. Or maybe my memory is just biased.

Posted by: kalisa at January 30, 2008 10:22 AM

The extent of my childhood road trips were from Santa Barbara to San Diego (4 hours max) or from SB to Disneyland (2 hours maybe. The joys of having a workaholic teacher for a mom were that our only vacation times were between school and summer school.

My favorite road trips were when a group of us, all drunk, decided that we needed to drive to San Francisco. After postponing for 24 hours (I had to work, heh like mother like daughter) we took about 14 hours for an 8 hour drive, stopping at every tourist-trap that looked inviting. We got there at 1 in the morning and everything was closed. We visited a friend of a friend, had some Mexican food, and came home.

There is nothing like a spur of the moment road trip. Except if you have a kid, more than likely.

Posted by: rai at January 30, 2008 10:23 AM

I think the thing that surprises me most is that when I was a kid we used to drive to lake george. I remember it taking like 5 hours to get there. If I drove it today, since I live in the same town i grew up in and I have a friend that lives near there, it takes me 2 1/2... Did my dad just suck at driving???

Posted by: Darren at January 30, 2008 10:28 AM

I dream of 120 F ! Just for a few minutes, that is terribly hot. With the wind it's between -45 and -50 in my part of Canada this week. So cold I can't even think of a tidbit from my past. But there were many, many hours spent in the car and later the van to go see grand parents on the west coast, skiing in the mountains, the country on the other side of Lake Superior. Loved it !

Posted by: Heather at January 30, 2008 10:45 AM

Most of our family road trips (another only child here) were from College Station to visit my Grandparents near Dallas. I remember many a Christmas shoved up against presents in the backseat. We used to take day trips to Houston to go to museum exhibits or an afternoon performance at Jones Hall.

The seemingly insignificant memory that your title provoked wasn't at all related to road trips. Summer of 1988 or 1989, I danced like a fool to "Stand" - - trying to be certain to face north - - under a metal pavillion at camp in the piney woods near Waller and Navasota.

Posted by: sarah at January 30, 2008 10:55 AM

The summer between 2nd and 3rd grade, we went on a motorcycle trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, stopping to camp every night. One day, we were caught in the rain, and it was very, very cold. After riding in it for a good part of the day, feeling pretty miserable, we stopped at a campground, and it finally stopped raining, but we were still wet and cold. My mom went to the campground store and bought some Hershey's bars and milk, and my Dad started a fire. Sitting around that fire drinking homemade hot chocolate is one of those great memories, and believe me, with my childhood, there aren't very many! Thanks for for post, which caused this to bubble up from the depths of my dusty "good memory" space -- it may save my mother's life this week! :)

Posted by: at January 30, 2008 11:37 AM

We never did roadtrips when I was a kid, but we did get to go to Germany a lot. I love the time I got my leg slashed in Germany and recieved 4 stiches when I really should have had 50. I have a huge scar on my leg to show for it. But mainly I remember Haribo gummy bears, hanging with my cousins, walking in the mountains, swimming at the water park. Really awesome trips.

We are determined for Declan to have a mix of big flying trips and roadtrips. Thus our Grand Canyon loop last Spring Break.

Posted by: Aimee Greeblemonkey at January 30, 2008 11:54 AM

We never had road trips when I was a kid, so when I was 34, I dumped my two dogs in the backseat and took off for 5 1/2 weeks (from Houston no less!), saw all the big national parks of the Great American West (save Yosemite), hit Canada, then over to the East Coast, and finally home again 17,000 miles later. Again, like your family, no real schedule, just freedom, a map and the steering wheel. Fabulous!

Posted by: Heather at January 30, 2008 12:22 PM

I love orange pop - I don't drink pop but if I did.....

My memory involves twix candy bars -- I'll try to draft something before I leave for SF this weekend.

Posted by: chantel at January 30, 2008 12:40 PM

Road trips are fun. But not when you're a horrid eleven-year-old who is too cool to be in a car with your family, and who is making everyone so miserable, that they actually cut the trip short so instead of Winnipeg to Vancouver like the trip was supposed to be, the trip becomes only Winnipeg to Banff and back as fast as humanly possible, arriving home a week early, surprising the 20-year-old friend of the family that was asked to look after your house while you were away and who took that as an opportunity to play house with her then boyfriend (soon to be fiance). Not that that ever happened or that I was the miserable 11-year-old. No, not at all...

The moment I knew I could marry Mike and that no matter what things would be fine? - on our way home from our road trip to the maritimes this summer. We didn't fight once, we had an awesome time, and loved every minute of our 10 days together with only each other. We're now planning a camping/road trip to Vancouver for our honeymoon this summer. I plan on being in a much better mood now that it's 22 years later...

Posted by: suze at January 30, 2008 1:22 PM

My family did the same types of trips. We once did 13 states in 16 days. I saw the majority of the US that way. With my mom in the back of her little Mazda that I swear had 300,000 miles on it when it finally died and with my dad and the steps in the back of a Suburban.

Two favorite memories...as I had two families, are these: With mom we were somewhere in New Mexico and a hail storm blew thru. We were camping in the middle of nowhere and are tend literally blew apart. So we sat up in the car all night and told each other ghost stories. I couldn't have been more than 12 years old, but it was the best night of my life.

The other was with dad in Hawaii. We were in Maui and drove up the horrible rode to Hana. I swear it's like a 9 mile road, but it's only one lane and is so curvy that it takes two hours. We had an absolute blast in the car on the ride there. Funniest thing is that my dad had the video camera on the entire time. He didn't know that it was on and it's just a view of the outside trees...but it has our entire conversations on there. He has it on DVD, but he's replaced the trees with photos of our trip.

Posted by: Phoenix at January 30, 2008 1:45 PM

My maternal grandparents had a tenuous relationship with my father, and they never forgave him for moving their daughter and grandchildren out West from Chicago. It didn't stop them from coming to visit us, and Dad would look for things to entertain them (not an easy task). One year, he decided we would all pile into the Pontiac and drive my grandparents up to the Grand Canyon. We drove 5 hours with my grandfather smoking cigars in the car the entire time, and we stumbled out of the car half dead from the cigar smoke by the time we got to the Grand Canyon. My father stepped out of the car and announced to my grandparents that the canyon rim was just a few yards away. My grandparents got out, walked to the rim, peered over, and announced "Very Nice." They turned around, walked back to the car, and got in, ready to make the return trip. My mother had to restrain my dad from blowing up. We stayed about 10 minutes more, and turned around to make the 5 hour trip back! I can still see the expressions on my parents' faces.

Posted by: Confessions From The Sandwich Generation at January 30, 2008 1:46 PM

We used to drive to Nebraska from SoCal every summer...23-25 hours...and we would not stop. Long, long days...

By the way, did you know that the 1/2 way point between Houston and San Diego is...El Paso? That is a crazy big state!

Posted by: Bogart in P-Towne at January 30, 2008 2:19 PM

The thing I always wonder about, is what moments are my kids going to remember? There are so many peculiar moments I remember from growing up, alot of them my parents don't remember when I ask them. It will be interesting to hear about when they are older.

Posted by: Fabs at January 30, 2008 2:24 PM

Went on a road trip to Texas from Orange County with best friend at the time, her sister, and her parents for her mom's family reunion in some small town Texas. The whole trip was full of small stories, but the best one is this. I was introduced to homemade deer sausage at breakfast. Ever the adventurous one, I had some and liked it quite a bit. While noshing on that, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a few deer waltzed onto the front yard to graze.

No, I didn't throw up my breakfast. And yes, I continued to have deer sausages the rest of the trip.

Posted by: oakley at January 30, 2008 2:54 PM

Raton, NM! There is a street in Raton called Sperry St. My great grandfather built every house on that street. :) My mom's family are from Raton. Most people don't even know it exists.

We used to drive from Atlanta GA to Glorietta NM every year. One of my favorite memories involves the endless drive across Texas. My dad thought it would be really funny to open our windows via the front controls right when we were driving past a stockyard. Of course he forgot that HE would be smelling the rank stink as well. A great joke that we always remember as HILARIOUS but of course my dad doesn't think it's as funny. :)

Posted by: tulip at January 30, 2008 3:45 PM

I used to make my brother sleep on the floor because he was littler.

This was before seat belt laws.

It also came back to haunt me when I was in my 20s and my brother was bigger than me.

Posted by: Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah at January 30, 2008 4:47 PM

I have a theory about long-term relationships.....if you want to know if you are meant to spend the rest of your life with someone, go on a road trip with them. A really long one. While dating, my husband and I went on several road trips and loved every minute of them. Shortly after getting married, we drove straight from Houston, TX to NYC. Straight through....no overnight stays anywhere. It was the best 32 hours of my life. A year later, we drove to the Grand Canyon...and now we travel all over the U.S. with our kids in tow as well. As kids, we only visited family in TN and TX. We never saw much else of the country. Our kids have already seen both coasts and much in between. I would like to think we are creating some pretty interesting memories for them.

Posted by: Jen at January 30, 2008 5:21 PM

I loved the story Chris.
Being the oldest of 4 girls taking road trips was not fun when someone had to go pee every 30 minutes. I remember many a times my dad blocking our bodies with the old Chevy Impala's door so we could go wee along hwy41,99 and I5 in the middle of NO where.

Were driving to Texas in July this year. Yes you heard me right, we are brain dead. The mates cousin is getting married and I was going to buy tickets but I decided instead to make this a family trip from Cali-Texas. I'll be sure to post pictures and share the good/bad times.

Posted by: Michele at January 30, 2008 5:27 PM

Great story.
When I was little we used to take road trips every summer (both of my parents were teachers). We would either drive to Pennsylvania to visit my aunt and uncle, Texas to visit the maternal grandparents or California to vist the paternal grandparents (I grew up in Albuquerque).

From PA we would drive to the NJ shore and rent a house on the beach for a couple of weeks.
Best memory of the PA trips would be driving to Monkeytown and my younger brother calling the statue of Jefferson Captain Marble.

I have great memories of going to Disneyland and Universal Studios in the late 70's. Looking back we stayed at some skeevy motels while in LA.

We had a big camper that was on the back of my dad's truck and we always stayed at KOAs. To this day I can't eat Fruity Pebbles and deviled ham...the staples of our journeys.

Posted by: kali at January 30, 2008 6:27 PM

Have I told you about drowning? It's very similar to this (strangely).

Every year, we'd vacation in Oklahoma. We'd rent a cabin and spend the week paddling down the river or whatever else we felt like. It was low key, inexpensive and we loved it.

So this one year, my friend and I are in one-man kayaks, and my parents are in a canoe. In front of us are some small rapids. My friend sailed down them with ease.

Now - we're on a river - a big, wide river - and in the middle of this river is a giant tree. There is PLENTY of room to go around it. Naturally, I ended up running into it, turning my kayak perpendicular to the river.

The water is rushing over me. Meanwhile, my parents are stuck on a rock. The situation is going from bad to worse, and I moved swiftly from "calm" to "holyshit" mode. I was screaming bloody murder. Despite his own troubles, my dad says, "What are you so afraid of?!" and I screamed, "DROWNING!" cause, duh, incase you hadn't noticed, I seem to be doing it...

It was at this point that my wise father yelled, "Stand up!" I wiped my eyes and stood up in the two feet of water, re-situated my kayak and floated blissfully down the river.

Sometimes, you can't see even the easiest solutions, and even now, we laugh at that day.

(BTW - You seriously drove from Houston to Wichita Falls? Wichita Falls is not a destination!)

Posted by: Emily at January 30, 2008 7:48 PM

John and I did a cross country drive (well, I only joined him for part of it, and the car broke down in Nevada, so it was really only a part of the country drive) and things went so splendidly (prior to the car breaking down) that we ended up in Yellowstone a night early. Did you know that it is impossible to get a hotel room in Yellowstone if your reservation is for the next night? We had to sleep in our car in a parking lot, and I was furious at John about it for some reason, even though it wasn't really his fault. However, because we were in the car, we got to hear wolves howling in the night which was very cool and spooky, and we were up before dawn so we got to see the park as the sun came up and before it got crowded, which was magical. So it ended up being just perfect, even if I did have to brush my teeth in a McDonalds bathroom at 4:30 am.

Posted by: bad penguin at January 30, 2008 8:09 PM

My grandparents lived in Wyoming, so growing up I spent at least a week or two in the mountains, typically in the Denver area (we rocked the Jellystone, I'm not ashamed to admit it), but my favorite stories from the road didn't start until I got older, particularly when my father and I began making yearly treks up to Casper in May each year to help my grandmother get the house ready for summer (read: "help my grandmother" means "do everything while she sits and drinks"). Dad and I could make the trip in one day but it meant we left very early in the morning. By the time we reached western Kansas (hell), we were both a little punchy. So we'd tune into the local Spanish-only station and make up words to the songs or my dad would imitate the Bible-thumpers on the various Christian stations we stumbled across. When Dad got really sleepy, I'd sprinkle ice water from the huge thermos onto his bald spot to wake him up (his idea, not mine). My mom always bought us an obscene amount of Hot Tamales for the trip and it has become my official candy of roadtrips.

Then there was that one time we were at a rest stop in Colorado or Kansas and we pulled in next to a VW bus...the side door was open and guess what? Hippie sex! In broad daylight! FTW!

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at January 31, 2008 9:18 AM

For sure, the time I drove from Denver to Phili for a cheesesteak, and sucker a rabbit up in my turbo, and had to put-put-put my car to the nearest dealership, in DC, and then got stuck on Cobb Island in Maryland for a week fishing and pulling in crab pots. It was divine.

Also, driving through the Tetons with Ritual De Lo Habitual blaring and jazzed up on way too many Arizona Green teas. In January.

Third place? Cranking The Offsprings first album while driving around the Mormon tabernacle in Salt Lake City. That was AWESOME.

Posted by: Mr Lady at January 31, 2008 10:08 PM

Whenever I eat poptarts, I'm reminded of how they used to come in boxes of three. My mom got a pack, my dad got a pack, and I got a pack. They were literally the ONLY thing we could divide evenly.

Then they added a pack. I felt betrayed.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 1, 2008 1:03 AM

It's good that people are able to get the loans and this opens new chances.

Posted by: MARIBEL24Byers at September 17, 2010 4:57 PM