Monday, December 21, 2009

Kings of the Road


When I was growing up, my family took two trips a year, one in summer, one in winter. Lucky us, we found the four corners of the earth in North America, so our mode of transportation never varied. No planes or trains, strictly automobile.

It’s fair to say our family suffered in the area of short term memory. Weeks before each trip we’d be bouncing off the ceiling with excitement, forgetting the hours, days, we’d spend on the freeway, trapped in a car with each other and dire consequence. We’d forget Dad would lose his explosive temper, mom would take blame for navigational mishaps, and we kids, confined in the back seat, would bicker, pinch, scratch, bite, and sucker punch one another until somebody finally cracked and took a grievance to the front seat. We kept that wheel spinning until...

“You want me to pull off the road now? Is that what you want? You want me to turn this car around and go home? Is that what you want?”



Last week I walked a length of the Foothill Freeway -- the Freeway that splits Pasadena in half and claims responsibility for some of the city’s current prosperity and decay.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, the interstate designers and engineers were kings. They promised and delivered freedom to families such as mine. We reciprocated by hitting the open road and patronizing whatever towns came between us and the Grand Canyon.

Interstates were designed for travel -- to distract and delight the car-bound family with hillside vistas and the comfort of a six or eight-lane freeway. Interstate designers wanted us to see the USA in a Chevrolet, or a Ford or a Mercedes. These great freeway architects and engineers, they cared about us; they wanted to create the best ride and views their boundless popularity and power and our money could buy.

They cared about us, but only so long as we stayed in the car.

They cared about us least when we were at home. Particularly if that home stood in their way.

46 comments:

  1. I had no siblings so there was no one to argue with. I'd get plenty bored though and ask when we'd get to our destination over and over. My three kids hated the middle back seat and would whine and fight over who sat there. We finally settled all arguments with a middle seat assignment we posted on the driver's visor. But it didn't stop the noise.

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  2. Sure you had a funny childhood, but what about Christmas, more funny today?

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  3. This sounds like Part One.

    I've gotta hand it to my parents. We did the road trip thing, too. Not every year, but when we did it, we stuck to the two-lane roads. J and I still do. I love road trips. You can still see the USA that way.

    My WV is "fading."

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  4. monochrome. Just like I pictured it.

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  5. I Spy is good for 15 minutes. Then the license plate game, maybe another 15. That leaves only 20 or 30 hours without sufficient carbound diversion.

    GG

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  6. Sometimes, you let me see the things that I read of when young, though never really experienced. We had no cars, or trips. Though, occasionally, a horse drawn wagon would come down the streets selling wares and ringing bells. The extended highways of the Eisenhower years were yet to be built. Dad would occasionally go, “down home” for a couple of days, packing a box of chicken, biscuits and a glass milk bottle filled with water. For us it was a long trip . . . waiting for him to return and tell us about it. Though I don’t recall anything he later said. Later, I found I could drive “down home” in about an hour.

    But I read stories about people who did go on summer and winter trips. I never envied them, but liked reading about it. It was as close to me as Tom Sawyer or "Miracle of the Bells". You just took me back, again. It was a soft, nice touch. Thanks

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  7. Every summer it was six hours by car to South Padre Island where we body surfed and sunburned ourselves into summer delirium. Then, six hours back of grousing about how long it took to get home.

    This is wonderful stuff, Karin. The whole idea of bulldozing through neighborhoods to make freeways is particularly touchy for we South Pas folks. Also, the neighborhood I used to live in over in West LA was one of those bulldozed to make the 405. It was weird to see the little bungalows pressed up against freeway dividers and wonder what the back yards USED to look like.

    I'm rambling. THen again, I've been drinking wine for an hour now...

    WV: stawity I'm getting stawity from all this wine.

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  8. Kids in your day must have been well-behaved, 3Dot, especially if their dad took them along.

    Freeways/interstates were inevitable. Location was not. For awhile, especially in the 60’s and 70’s, designers had free rein to grab and clear any stretch of land that promised a smooth ride and good view.

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  9. Your comments have been heart stopping. Funny how we don't think about these things after they happen and don't affect us anymore.

    With my brother and me: "He looked out my window!!" followed by "He's still looking out my window!"

    Sadly, I curse freeways when stuck in a traffic jam. If only I remembered the beginning. Thanks for these thoughts, Karin!

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  10. OK, as you know by now I can't just have my say and boogie. Here' s my first installment:

    As a child, most summers I went to North Little Rock ARK for about 3 weeks with my grandparents. We always packed a cooler of ham sandwiches ( with crust cut off), stuffed eggs ( deviled eggs) and Coca Colas in the original bottles. Oh wait, potato chips. We stopped in Memphis at a Ford dealership because of the clean bathrooms. What a life!

    I'll be back with the HORRORS of traveling with my (ex) husband and two children for 18 hours to Iowa. I will need some medication before I can tell that one.
    V

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  11. I was wundering what was going down when I heard last weak on a radio traffic update about reports of, "a young woman dressed in a mini, tiara, & hiking boots," was attempting to hike the 210 FW.

    Now it's all making cents.

    I think it's time to rename, freeways to some more appropriate word.

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  12. KB, thanks for the nostalgic journey. I spent my entire life, until I was 23, constantly traveling: cars, ships, trains, planes, the works. All I remember is the good stuff.

    GG, we have a game we play in the car. You see a yellow, non-commercial vehicle you yell, "Banana!" My husband is really good at it, he has some kind of radar system and it totally pisses me off. Out son got us started on it. Adults take it very seriously but it passes the time and gives people reasons to be crabby about something else besides being stuck in traffic.

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  13. Cafe---I was thinking the same thing as I read she'd walked a stretch of the 210... especially right there where the pix were taken---that's dangerous to DRIVE, let alone walk!

    I grew up with that 210 and the 2 expanding...that 2 ramp, going to no where, just dangling always scared me and to this day, I've yet to take that ramp---for two reasons 1) that whole dangling thing and 2) a friend was killed and 3 others were hurt on that ramp some years after it was completed.

    I agree with Laurie on the whole splitting a town in half...SoPas'ers understand that only too well. After having visited a friend's backyard who bought their house 25 years ago...only 12 or so years ago, a proposed freeway finally went thru and their backyard sounds like it is in the middle of the freeway, despite being blocks away. And Laurie, I'm 5 fingers into Glenlivet due to a really crappy afternoon...you've *got* to catch up! ;-)

    Anyway---I was also an only child. We'd head out to the family cabin, Styrofoam coolers squeeking away. I learned early on how to try to quiet them as much as possible with mom & dad in the front seat yelling at me to shut it up "back there" and yelling at each other for traffic and directional mishaps. I am not sure I ever unclenched my butt-cheeks on those trips.

    lol...wv: nongrapo...my "cheeks" were nongrapo'ing the backseat for the entire trip, I was soooo tense

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  14. I'm gonna sit here and drum my fingers 'til Virginia comes back with her next story.

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  15. Yes!
    A VW Microbus. Me and my three kids, 8, 10 and 12, minus their mother. It's, maybe, day 35 of an all summer jaunt from Ohio to St. Helena, CA via the SD Badlands and Black Kettle's last battle and back.

    I look in the rear view mirror, usually a mistake. The van is trashed, they're punching one another spilling pancake syrup on the sleeping bags. I scream "CLEAN IT UP--DAMN IT!!!!"

    Silence. Temporarily overcome with remorse I give them the thumbs up. "Hey Linc" they call out sweetly. I peer into the rear view mirror, usually a mistake.
    Each wears a rat face. All proudly wave the digitus infamous.

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  16. I do great with roadtrips because I sleep. Less now than when I was a kid. Now I realize there are Things to See when you're out on the road. Or Things to Photograph.

    We took roadtrips from Ohio to South Carolina every few years. Me, my sister, cousins, aunts, and best friends of the moment. Every trip was guaranteed to involve crying, getting lost, yelling, and a round of "she looked at me funny."

    Ahhh memories.

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  17. I'm sure I have some meaningful social commnet to add, but I'm still laughing too hard from "Do you want me to pull off the road..." to think of it. This is funnier then American Vacation (and I laughed a lot for that one.)

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  18. What must that be like, to make a home somewhere and be told you have to give it up, no choices about it. There's a charming Australian movie called The Castle about a family who takes on city hall to protect their home {which isn't a palace ~ but it's home and it's theirs!}

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  19. Right, what were some of the other backseat wars? Stop touching me -- I didn't touch you. And You're on my side -- No, you're on mine. And Do you have to breathe so loud?

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  20. OMG, I had the exact same parents and the same 'vacation' experience. Except, in my case, there was also car sickness. Is that where the expression "Hell on Wheels" came from...?

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  21. I'm an only child-I never knew until now what I was missing.

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  22. Just what question: How did you in the backseat of our Buick, and will keep your hands on your space? Are we almost there yet?

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  23. As I said before my grandfathers house stood in the path of the Foothill freeway (so did Titley ave). His was a little white clapboard that was arranged in the center of a rather sizable property by California standards. The land was used as a place to grow fruits and vegetables. My father used to refer to such properties as goat farms and the San Gabriel valley was full of them (Las Tunas still has a few left). Those long lots have been replaced by two story Mc Mansions placed side by side. If it wasn't the state it would have been a developer.

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  24. Well I left a teaser but guess I deleted it by mistake. Just as well. The teaser left almost nothing else to say. This isn't all that great but I've never watched "Vacation" without thinking about it.

    In a nutshell: Mr. Cheapskate (Cheap Bastard) slips off and trades in our nice Ford with AC for a Pinto Wagon without it. We lay the seats down so the kiddos , age 1 and 4 can roll around unrestrained in the back. To add insult to potential injury, we hange a large hanging basket with begonias back there for his mother!!! Off we go into the wild blue yonder for our 18 hour trek from B'ham to Iowa in JULY!! CB doesn't like to stop for a nice meal so we roar through various Dairy Queens on the way. A marriage made in heaven I tell you.

    BTW Bandit, I think you and I were the all time lucky ducks. As a kid, I had that whole backseat to myself. My momma put a quilt and pillow for my little head and I didn't have anyone to fight for it. I guess the trips later in life made up for that rollilng paradise.

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  25. Virginia, have you kept a diary or a journal? Or are you writing a book? I'd pay money to read your stories, in your inimitable style.

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  26. Petrea,
    Nope. I'm a lover not a writer! :) But thanks for that compliment. I think I write like I talk...blah blah blah blah blah! !
    V

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  27. LOL Virginia---you ought to write about all that---make some money off the CB after all these years!

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  28. P,
    In retrospect, I've been pretty much out of luck in the former category for the last.. ahem.. number of years, so maybe I should look into writing as a way to while away the hours.
    V

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  29. It's still a good view.

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  30. Some writers go to school to learn to write like they talk, V. You're a natural. Do it if you enjoy it, don't it you don't.

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  31. Maybe if I could spell WILE, I could be a writer P! Pardon!! ( I need to 1. find my glasses 2. proof my stupid self before I click PUBLISH!)
    V

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  32. I'll be your editor, V. "While" is correct. See? Your instincts are good.

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  33. I've always thought of Virg as a Southern Elizabethan.

    I purchased a tiny book of Shakespeare's quotes as a gift, and I'll have a hard time giving over the leash because I love this puppy. Par example:

    "Many a good hanging
    prevents a bad marriage."
    (Twelfth Night)

    But I'm equally fond of this, but haven't found the place to use it yet:

    "She adulterates hourly."
    (King John)

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  34. I've been humming that tune in between Christmas Carols ever since I read your post--

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  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  36. A while is a period of time.
    A wile is a cunning strategy, as a "feminine wile."

    I while away my hours, Virginia, but I wouldn't be surprised if you wile yours. Not sure what the Hiker does--probably wilds hers away.

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  37. Oh dear, our first quarrel.

    “Wile away” is an idiomatic expression meaning “to spend time pleasantly.” “While away” would be an incorrect understanding of that expression with imagery attached to it...

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  38. Oh dear, we are quarreling.

    Well, I'll cede to a higher authority. Is there one we can look to to settle for us? Strunk and White? Bartleby? Anyone?

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  39. None of these are S&W, but:

    http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-whi3.htm

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=466

    http://www.yourdictionary.com/wile

    So we're both right. And my WV is "cootiona." It doesn't get any better than that.

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  40. Unrestrained kids in the back of a station wagon under a hanging basket? Virg, please write your memoirs!!!

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  41. Oh I forgot the best part. That Post Traumatic Shock Sydrome effect I guess. The one year old had a leaky Pamper and we had to evacuate the car at a reststop and air the "playpen" out !

    And hey, I"m not quarreling about spelling. I must use the online dictionary thingy a hundred times a day and then start typing and make typos all the time, especially when I blog without my glasses. I depend on this crowd to set me straight! The French delegation keeps in toe/tow on PTML!

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  42. Yay, P & I are friends again. (I thru about six of these meself last night and determined the same thing. According to one, the first recorded use of "while" in this context was about 100 years earlier than "wile," so maybe you're even righter, writer.

    Virg, I think I've finally figured it out. He must have been really good lookin'

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  43. One year we drove from San Francisco to Cleveland. My dad, at the suggestion of someone, put a piece of plywood in the back seat so we could play on a flat surface, like Virg described. It was ok, but I can't imagine it today. My mom brought a cooler full of ice water, with little paper cups. My little sister had to try every bathroom on the interstate.

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  44. Both writers are right. And I thought both explanations we found on the web made sense, once I read them. Whew! Friends again. Gotta love research.

    Yeah, Virg, he must have been a looker. I'd be lyin' if I said I never made that mistake big-time.

    We grew up in Illinois. Every few years we'd get in the station wagon and visit all our relatives in the west. My best memory is of driving down Highway 1 along the California coast. I was about 8, my sisters 12 and 6, my brother 6 1/2. We sang an opera to the ocean, my brother in his deepest, little-boy bass. My parents must have wished for a tape recorder (or ear plugs).

    Oh! My WV is "squable!" Hee.

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  45. Well he was ok, but I've seen much better in the so distant past. Let's just leave it at that. :)

    Mr. E, I knew you could relate. I do want to go on record as stating that the backseat playpen was pre-mandatory real carseats. We were not Bonnie and Clyde seeing the USA in the Pinto wagon. More like Dumb and his wife Dumber.

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