Road Trip!

By Cornelia Read

I’ve been thinking a lot about driving, this week. Mostly because I had to do all that grownup paperwork stuff that owning a car requires–the kind of thing I suck at deeply and profoundly. I got a speeding ticket on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut last week, then got pulled over in New Hampshire Sunday… and Monday. The New Hampshire stops were because my inspection was out of date. And then Wednesday I went to traffic court for a speeding ticket I got last November. Yea! Not!

Today I’m driving down to New York again, to do some pre-college stuff with my lovely kid, and see my little brother, and hang with the beau, and generally relish time in a city where there’s decent Chinese food and bagels. Yea! Really yea!!

I got that ticket on the Merritt driving my stepmom and half-sister up to New Hampshire from Brooklyn, to look at colleges and stuff.

“Are you sure you want to come all the way down to New York?” my stepmom had asked.

“Absolutely,” I’d said. “I LOVE driving.”

She laughed and said, “well, you come by it honest.”

Which is very, very true. Both my parents were huge road trip people, as were both sets of grandparents. My mom’s father hated flying–he got on an airplane once in the Thirties and swore he’d never do it again. Not because he was afraid they’d crash, but because they locked the doors and he had wicked claustrophobia.

“I’d have no problem with it at all if you could fly with the doors open,” he often explained. But as a result, he and my grandmother went everywhere by ship and train and car, forever afterward.

My father’s father was rather infamous for driving like a maniac everywhere he went, especially when he was going from lower New York up to the Adirondacks. Family myth holds that he was once passing another car on a blind corner when a logging truck suddenly appeared, hurtling towards him. He played chicken with it and it drove off the asphalt and on into the woods. With about five of my seven uncles in the car with him at the time.

My parents were big on cross-country road trips–separately, of course, since they split up in ’67. Mom was the leisurely sort, taking at least two weeks to drive from California to New York at the beginning of most summers. We stayed with friends of hers across the country, or camped out at KOAs along the way. And stopped at every garage sale and junk store she could find for all three thousand miles.

In ’72 we made the trip in a 1967 Ford Country Squire wagon she’d bought for $150–me, my little sister, my little brother, and our favorite babysitter at the time, who’d been over for dinner the night before we left so Mom invited her along for the hell of it.


I remember putting a silver spoon on some railroad tracks somewhere in Iowa, because we’d forgotten to bring a knife for our picnic meals. The train squashed it into an excellent slicer/spreader thing, which was way cool.

Unfortunately, Mom had ignored the garage guy who’d suggested she get the brakes done as she was buying the car from him in Monterey. She rear-ended a nifty little red Alfa-Romeo convertible in New Hampshire, that July, and I hit the back of the front seat with my bottom teeth.

We stayed in this place that looked the the Tucker Inn from Seventies Cool-Whip commercials that night.

(And I did not know until Googling for a picture that Mrs. Tucker was played by one of the nuns from The Flying Nun. Cool!)

Mom instructed me to go downstairs to the coffee shop and order a “frappe” with an egg in it, since that’s what they called milkshakes in New England. This was my dinner, as the dentist at the ER had had to pull my two bottom front teeth forward with his fingers from their flattened position over my tongue, and had then given my four stitches on the inside of my bottom lip.

The waitress looked at me kind of funny, and I noticed that my beverage still had lumps of ice cream in the bottom of the glass when she served it up. I figured I could eat a lump of ice cream, so drew one up to the top of the glass with an iced-tea spoon, only to discover that the woman had put a hardboiled egg into my drink.

Dad was more about distance than garage sales, the times I drove with him. We did the California-New York jaunt together the following summer in four and a half days–only stopping in Elko, Nevada for an afternoon because they had a great Volkswagen repair place and excellent “broasted” chicken across the street at a Dairy Queen. Dad lived in his VW camper in those days, so we could just pull over wherever we were when he got tired late at night and sleep in the back.

This mostly worked out okay, except for the night we crossed the Continental Divide and were coming down the eastern side of the Rockies around midnight.

There are not a lot of places to pull over, when you’re going downhill that fast for that long. There was some kind of gorge over to our right that put kind of a premium on parking spots. Finally, when Dad was really bleary and wiped, we saw a sign that said “Garbage Cans, 500 Feet.”

He wheeled the van into the little spot and set the parking brake and we crashed hard on the mattress behind the front seats, both exhausted and immediately falling into comatose sleep.

Until suddenly the entire cabin of the van lit up with a bright light and we were simultaneously blasted by a very, very loud train whistle.

“Cornelia… do you remember if I pulled across any tracks?” asked Dad, rather calmly I thought.

“Um…” I said, racking my brain and pretty much ready to puke on my own feet with terror. But I didn’t have time to finish the thought as a very long freight train suddenly rocketed by, about four feet to my right.

We hadn’t seen the tracks because they were slightly below the level of the highway. Luckily.

I guess travel is in all of our blood–Mom’s maternal grandfather ran a shipping line, and Dad was named after a family friend who opened a bunch of hotels near train stations throughout the Southwest: Fred Harvey.

I did a lot of driving cross-country myself, when my girls were little. I can advise you from actual experience that it is a REALLY REALLY bad idea to drive from Colorado to California along Highway 50 with a pair of two year olds in your back seat. There is a reason it’s nicknamed “The Loneliest Highway in America.” Also, it is really flat and boring. And if one of your kids should happen to do a face-plant into a concrete outdoor bench at a Dairy Queen along the way, you will be lucky if it’s the day the travelling doctor shows up in town that week to run the clinic. Even if your kid doesn’t need stitches.

Anyway, more driving today… and it’s awfully nice to have my iPhone tunes playing on the car radio instead of having to listen to “Brandy” on an AM station all the way across Iowa or Nebraska.

Do you come from a car family? Any great road trips when you were a kid?

23 thoughts on “Road Trip!

  1. Louise Ure

    My parents took all five of us kids on a road trip from Arizona to San Diego when I was six. One time. They never again tried a vacation or dinner out with all of us. Can't blame them.

  2. Karen in Ohio

    That is so funny about the hard-boiled egg. No wonder she looked at you askance.

    Podcasts are also good for long trips; This American Life is my favorite. Thank heavens for iTunes, and/or satellite radio. The middle of the country is a vast wasteland of crap.

    The only car trip I ever took as a child was with my aunt and two cousins, from Ohio to their home near DC. Uncle Bob was on a submarine for six months, and he came home while I was there, so we went to the station to pick him up. Where I witnessed the most romantic embrace I've ever seen, anywhere, between my aunt and uncle. It was a fun trip. My aunt took my cousins and me to a lot of historic places like the Shenandoah Valley, Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a lot of other places. I also discovered Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine on that trip when I walked to the drugstore one lazy afternoon.

  3. Eika

    They call milkshakes frappes in my state? That's news to me… frappes have coffee in them.

    Mine wasn't a big road trip family, but that's at least partly because A: our relatives all lived four hours or more away, so just visiting family WAS a road trip, and B: I got car sick. Ah well.

  4. Micki D

    I LOVE road trips.. wish I could take one every month. As a child we didn't get to go on too many, Dad owned his own pharmacy. All the pics he took always seemed to show our backsides. After I got married, his second lifetime, we did long road trips every summer. When our daughter Kelli came, we left her one time with my Mom and Dad… and discovered never again. The first time we had a VCR player… by the time that trip was over we all were quoting lines from The Jungle Book… from Texas to Jasper,Alberta, Canada and back again — I miss those days. We did learn something, when locals said the pool temperature is warm — DO NOT BELIEVE them.. it mean that it is just above freezing!!!!
    So go on any road trip you have a chance to go on. Enjoy the day

  5. Sylvia

    We had to make the trek from Northern Michigan to Lima, Ohio a few times a year to see Grandma. 3 kids in the backseat of whatever was being driven at the time – Lincoln Continental, Ford Thunderbird, Chevy Monte Carlo.

    It was boring 8-hour drive with the usual stops along the way: "Lights" restaurant in Lansing, MI (now closed) and depending on the route, sometimes a stop at Bill Knapps to eat (now closed). We would stop in Bowling Green to walk the campus of BGSU where my Mom went.

    On the summer drives there was always a sense of country air when we would drive into Allen County at dusk with the corn fields waving in the breeze.

    The winter drives I recall spending a few times in the ditch waiting for a tow-truck to pull us out after a tailspin in the blizzard.

    Thankfully that was the extent of road tripping with the parents. I can't fathom my 3 kids in the car for an extended period of time – and we have the DVD entertainment system, iPad and iPhone. My husband has taken three kids cross-country on planes by himself – better him than me!

  6. Fran

    NEW YORK SALT BAGEL!!! *whimper* Lillian and I are madly, deeply jealous. New York salt bagel. Oh my.

    I love love love road trips. One of the reasons Lillian and I knew we were right for each other is our overwhelming love of driving places, seeing new things, having adventures together. We each notice different things, and it makes even ordinary trips fun. But settling in to the car with our iPods and munchy stuff, camera at the ready, suitcases and laptops in the back, and the prospect of "what treasures will we find this time?" ahead is one of my absolute favorite things to do.

    Sadly, however, with the price of gas, we can barely afford to make it to the transit center to take the bus into the City. Bah. And humbug.

    So have an extra bagel for us, please, Ms. C! And enjoy your road trips!

  7. Perry Wilson

    I love road trips. I've done the Vancouver BC to Las Vegas 5 or 6 times and taken a slightly different route each time, My fave is the Vancouver to San Francisco run.

    I've also learned how not to get pulled over for driving Canadian on one of the trips. I drove to Vegas and was in the Zappo store using my Visa. The cashier asked for a second piece of ID. I reached into my wallet for my Driver's license and…. oops it was at home. That was the first trip I didn't get a speeding ticket and the start of a series of non-ticketed road trips.

    Road trips kind of sneak up on you. I realized a few years ago that my European holidays were road trips I had to fly to :). We fly over, book our first and last hotel night then cruise the roads for a few weeks.

  8. Rae

    You brought back some very fond memories, Miss C. However, not of the road trips I took as a child. They sucked (it wasn’t the trips themselves, it was the people I was with. Yuck.)

    But I did have an all time great road trip during my senior year of college. Although I was a sorority gal, my favorite hanging-out pals were the guys in the nearby fraternity. (I was so tight with them that they made me come to all their rush meetings.)

    My three best pals and I went out drinking most nights of the week, and on one auspicious night we got bored, thusly:

    Pal #1: “Where should we go next? Idaho?” (We were just across the border, in Washington. Imagine two university towns just a few miles apart, each with the full complement of dive bars and burger joints).
    Rest of us, muttering: “No, we’ve been there every night this week.”
    Pal #2: “Well, then, what should we do?”

    I don’t remember who had the idea first, but one of the guys got that evil Calvin and Hobbes twinkle in his eye: “You know who we haven’t seen in awhile? Jaime.”

    “Yeah”, says I, “But he’s in California”. (He was in Bodega Bay. His parents had got tired of his carousing ways and pulled him out of school.)

    We all looked at each other for about 15 seconds. I had a car and a gas credit card from my parents. One of us had a couple hundred bucks. About an hour later, we were on the road from Pullman, Washington to Bodega Bay, California. We called Jaime on the way, but he didn’t believe us – did I say we were pretty drunk when we left? – and didn’t start believing us until we knocked on his door. We spent the next two days scaring San Francisco and having a blast.

    Great road trip, great memory, thanks for reminding me of it 😉

  9. Reine

    Eika, hi! But no no. New England Tradition (except in chains like McDonald's and Starbucks, even) frappes have ice cream in them. Milkshakes are just milk and syrup, whipped thick. A chocolate frappe would have chocolate syrup, milk, and either chocolate or vanilla ice cream. You could vary these to be a black and white frappe with vanilla syrup and chocolate ice cream or chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream. These days, I admit it is sometimes difficult to find a restaurant or coffee shop that knows this, but they do exist still… yay Mr. Bartley's in the square!

    My favorite childhood road trips were north to Lake Champlain in the summer. Always involved a stop in Essex Junction for a fresh strawberry frappe (leave out the strawberry syrup)! And don't say "frappé" like at Starbucks, or they'll laugh at you.

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    OMG, that car. My best friend's family had that exact wagon.

    My family did a summer road trip, usually all the way across the country, every year for about 15 years. We took different routes so we could see different parts of the country, stayed at different National Parks. I'm still most at home on the road. Well, and on the dance floor. Loved being followed by a carful of CIA agents the summer we gave a ride to some of my father's Russian scientist friends. That's the kind of thing that makes a thriller writer.

  11. Reine

    Cornelia, will you send me on those bagels, please? Just put it on the plane at Loan in one of those lobster packs, okay?

  12. Reine

    I cannot write. Of course I don't want you to put me on a bagel and send me to Tucson in a dry ice pack with a live lobster. Oh picture it! I just want the bagel.

  13. Brenda Buchanan

    My family's long road trips when I was a kid started at our home in Massachusetts (yep, frappes have ice cream, milkshakes don't) and ended in Tennessee, where my father's family lived. As we cruised down Interstate 81 (can you spell interminable?) in our ghost gray 1962 Dodge Dart station wagon (the model with the push button transmission) my sisters and I had a silent, constant battle over who had to sit in the middle of the back seat. Nudges. Pinches. Elbows in the ribs.

    My best grown-up road trip was in 2008 when my partner and I spent three weeks on the road exploring Newfoundland. Amazing doesn't cover it. The only down side was the gas prices. Remember how a gallon of regular cost more than $4 in the US that summer? The price in Atlantic Canada was higher, and Newfoundland higher yet. But the scenery and the wonderful and crazy people we met made every expensive tank worthwhile.

    Brenda B. in Maine

  14. Catherine

    As a child we didn't do epic long distance road trips as Dad couldn't get away from his business for long. Mum and I recently discussed a trip which probably took about 4 hours to my great uncle's holiday house. It was close to the Queensland Sea World.

    The topic came up because my Great Aunt at 93 was up visiting my Dad's eldest brother in hospital. It was in the context of yeah I remember Aunt Marie she was married to Uncle Vincent…the one that had carpet in their bathroom. Mum looked at me and went,' really you remember that?' 'Yeah I also remember having to stop to pick up the key and we waited in the car, and you made me go in Judi's potty behind the front seat…'( my toddler sister at the time)….

    Mum's recollection was that when Dad came back to the car she said to Dad. 'I'll be glad to finally get out of this car, as we've all got wet pants now.' The look on Dad's face apparently was priceless as he sort of looked at Mum aghast and went, 'I understand the girls but why have you got wet pants?'

    Apparently there had been some sort of toddler wrangling going on in the front while I was protesting loudly the indignity of potty time in the car and the milton baby bottle disinfectant stuff got knocked and soaked Mum from the waist down.

    Maybe this was part way the reason we seemed to do mostly 2 hour trips from then on. Maybe it also guided how I'd plan out pitstops on road trips down to the Hunter Valley wine region. It would take about 11 hours. Partly because of the stops…

    We'd leave early, drive a few hours and have breakfast in a town where they bred good pigs, and we'd have a truckers size meal of local bacon and eggs. Swap driving duty and drive to a town along the New England highway where there was long stretches of the land which seemed stripped of trees more thoroughly then we'd managed in QLD at the time. There was a nice park we'd stop and have our ploughman's lunch at where the leaves would usually have started turning.Swap driving again. Sometimes we'd stop at Scone for a scone for afternoon tea…swap again, and we'd know we were getting close to our destination when we'd see a massive sign saying ' Life is too short to drink bad wine.' Which reminds me that I really should do this again.

  15. Chuck

    We didn't have much money (and five kids) so our road trips were usually short. One year we went to Gatlinburg, in Tennessee. What made it memorable was the ride home. My sisters had seen a cartoon in the motel, and one of the characters repeatedly said something that sounded like JA-ALA-PA-OONA. As you might imagine, they began to repeat this on the long ride home. Over and over again. JA-ALA-PA-OONA. JA-ALA-PA-OONA!

    My father was very even tempered. In fact, I can only recall him giving me one spanking in my whole life. (But boy do I remember it.) Anyway, after hearing that dreadful phrase for several hours, and warning them to stop, he finally pulled off on the side of the road and delivered a helping of corporal punishment to their hind parts.

    Kind of a silly story, at least thirty-five years old. But to this day, if you were to say JA-ALA-PA-OONA to anyone in my family, they'd know exactly what you were talking about.

  16. pari

    Not when I was a kid, but as a young adult I drove from DC to ABQ and it was a great trip. I was by myself and took all the time I wanted. I loved every minute of it . . . right until I got sciatica.

  17. PD Martin

    Done a few great road trips! Although one I was really looking forward to was driving from Adelaide to Ayers Rock with my Irish hubby when we first arrived back in Oz to settle down. Even though I was 30 at the time, I'd never seen Ayers Rock. And he was 'fresh off the boat.' A road trip was in order!

    But after 2 or 3 hours we hit desert. Long stretches of completely flat land. And 2 hours later it was the same…and 2 DAYS later it looked exactly the same too! The little 'towns' on the map were actually just petrol(gas) stations – that's it.

    I think the best road trip we've done is San Francisco to Vegas via Death Valley and then on to San Diego via Joshua Tree National Park and then up to LA along the coast. And we got the Grand Canyon in on that road trip too. Stunning!


  18. Reine

    Hi Phillipa,

    I love that road trip. We used to make it with the kids and go camping in Death Valley and the Grand Canyon. We lived at the edge of Death Valley in China Lake (dry) for a number of years. Now we are in Arizona. We go back to the Death Valley area twice a year to visit our daughters and to the San Francisco area to visit one of our sons and our niece. We don't always go through Las Vegas and northern Arizona anymore. I'm not much for LV but do love the northern part of Arizona and the drive through New Mexico – Colorado too. I've never been down your way. Is your desert awfully different from ours, then?

  19. JT Ellison

    What a fun flashback! Yes, my family roadtripped – we did the Colorado to Florida through Texas 3 days from hell twice a year – me sandwiched in the back with my brothers "not" touching me and doing all the gross things brothers do. Sigh. Fun times!

  20. Micki D

    Reine: that route AZ , NM and CO is beautiful…. when my husband was alive we would do that drive almost every time to get up to Canada,,, it has been over 15 years since I visited that area. Would have gone again but my daughter got married.. sigh… but I do have 2 beautiful grandkids!!!!!!!!! really makes up for not going!!!!! lol… all y'all enjoy the day!!!!

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