I backed My Life’s Editor’s molten orange CRV into a post yesterday in St. Augustine. The good news is the boxes with cupcakes and brownies from the Casa de Sueños B&B survived undamaged. My justification for backing into the post was that herself had brought up a map on the “Driver Information Interface” screen, rather than the backup camera. The map did not show the post which had snuck up behind us in the parking lot during the night. She pointed out that Honda supplies a rearview mirror for such events. Rearview mirrors are so old school. My Mini Cooper, in the same situation, would have beeped anxiously at me: “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!” The trip home was uneventful, but for a few moments of terror caused by tailgaters on I-95 and the rural sign on Route 70 reading “Only God and Donald Trump can save America,” terrorizing me in a different way. In all, we covered six hours of driving in air-conditioned splendor with only two rebukes from the nanny brain of the Honda, informing me that I was inattentive and distracted. The drive led me to think of my childhood and the trips my family took without driver aids, other than the observations of my mother from the passenger seat.
In 1955, fresh off the boat from a military tour in Germany, our family purchased a snazzy blue 2-door Customline Ford for about $1900. It had a front bench seat, a column gear shift, an AM radio, crank windows and no air conditioning, as in zero. Long car trips were few; they taxed the family budget. But one stands out in my memory. In the fall of 1958 the entire family – parents, three sisters, and I, minus Colonel, our dog – piled into the Ford to drive to Middletown, Delaware. I was being delivered, sight unseen, to St. Andrews, an Episcopal boys’ boarding school, where I was to be molded for the next four years, a scholarship student. We packed a basket of food for lunch – tuna sandwiches, chips, and apples, washed down with a thermos of lemonade. There were no McDonalds, Cracker Barrels, or IHOPS. Howard Johnson restaurants, featuring fried clams and 28 flavors of ice cream, were an expensive proposition for six mouths. An army issue, dark green footlocker stenciled with my name, joined the basket of food in the car trunk. The remaining necessities were AAA maps and a roll of toilet paper. At 55 mph and with many two-lane roads, the overland trek took three hours. Not covered wagon conditions with Indian attacks, but there were hostilities.
In the front seat, skirmishes erupted between my mother, the map reader, and my father, the wagon master. “Bill, we should have turned off at the Baltimore exit!” “Dammit Peggy, I thought we were going to avoid Baltimore! I’ve got to pull over and look at the map!” “Here, you take the darn map!” etc. Wedged between the wagon master and the map reader on the front seat, the smallest member of the entourage squeaked, “I have to pee.” As there were no roadside loos in those days, peeing en route was an alfresco affair. Those who needed to pee would pile out, car doors left open for a modicum of privacy, and business would be done. Hence the TP.
In the back seat, I was squished between my two older sisters, all of us sweltering in the heat. I wore pressed khakis, a white, short-sleeved nylon shirt, a tie with a Siamese dancer, and a sport coat recently bought at Robert Hall. Their advertising jingle remains to this day an irritating earworm:
“When the values go up up up/And the prices go down down down/Robert Hall this season/Will show you the reason/Low overheads – Low overheads” etc.
The totally inorganic coat erupted with tufts of nylon thread from snags on anything rougher than a baby’s bum. Hot and itchy, I wriggled between my sisters. They objected strenuously to management in the front seat. Hostilities abated when my father pulled off to the side of the road and threatened confinement to barracks upon return. For the remainder of the trip, vertical lines reaching to the moon were drawn between backseat combatants. Any object passing through the plane, invading a neighbor’s space, brought outrage and further supplications to the adults.
We arrived at St. Andrews School hot, disheveled and a quart low on family happiness. We slid off the sticky car seats, got out and gaped up at the ivied walls that were my future. That fall drive in 1958 was a one way trip for me in more than one sense. It was a trip from which I would never return.