On the Road Again
I grew up with the open road.
Both my Grandfather and my Mother had a penchant for it.
No trucking here.
Just a fun car and a long highway.
We spent lots of time in small towns out in the middle of nowhere.
Places where the old American roadside still lived.
You know, drive-ins, gas stations, and motels — sometimes, even remnants of the real wild west.
Now, you might be thinking, there are still fast food restaurants, gas stations, and motels.
It's true, but not often like they used to be.
The places we drove through had survivors from the '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s. Places with interesting, colorful signs and unique buildings, often operated by people who'd spent their entire lives there, having never stepped foot out of their own little worlds. Each locale had their own unique, sometimes very dated, and even extremely backwards cultures — replete with bits and pieces of local customs and beliefs dating back a century or more, untouched by the modern world.
These places had real flavor.
There were routines like getting the car ready — not merely packing. Because cars of that vintage didn't just hit the road. They had to have fresh maintenance done. You know, hoses, belts, and windshield wipers replaced, brakes inspected and/or replaced, tune-ups done, oil changed, tires inspected and/or replaced. The list went on.
And there was no A/C. It was just 100 degrees with all the windows down and no relief from the heat in sight.
Even at the destinations and stops along the way, restaurants and motels didn't always have A/C and it wasn't unusual to go days without stepping foot in one.
Now, you might be thinking that things have improved dramatically since then, and in some ways you're not wrong — but if that's what you're thinking, I'd take umbrage.
That was when going on a summer road trip was an actual adventure. Almost everything was fascinating, different, and new. There was also a very real chance of being stuck in the middle of nowhere without getting any help because there used to be a lot more distance between towns and people just didn't drive down some of those old roads very often. It made keeping the car topped off with gas a necessity — we often had no idea when or where we'd find it next.
In fact, we were regularly heading into situations we had no idea about.
There was no internet to do research, no recommendations or ratings. We had a paper map that didn't warn us about construction work or congestion, nor was it even guaranteed to be current. We experienced unexpected detours in the middle of nowhere that sometimes took us hours out of the way. We even ended up at some very surprising destinations.
Road trips like that required real know-how. How to plan. How to travel. How to avoid weather and the effects of scorching heat or freezing cold. How to adapt to unexpected change and come up with creative, effective solutions on the fly. How to repair and maintain a car — sometimes without the right parts or tools and under terrible conditions.
That was real vacationing — that kind of uncertainty made for real adventure.
As I sit here relaxing, my motel room no escape from the heat of the sweltering summer day, staring at the Cobalt in the parking lot of the West Glacier Motel — a place built in the 1940s that remains an unmolested representation of all those old places — I'm reminded of all the wonderful experiences I grew up with and find myself a little wistful that all that flavor and adventure is almost gone from the road, today.