Happy Motoring! – Humble Oil (Esso) slogan
I love road trips, and can drive for hours and hours. Back when I was a kid, that’s how we always traveled on family vacations, no matter if it took days for us to get to our destination, whether Florida, New York, California, Wyoming or Mexico. Much of the fun and memories came during the journey, both there and back.
Being one of six children, there were always others in the back seat (or even the WAY back seat), to share, squabble or play with. There were no digital games, no iPods, no movies to watch. Nope. We looked at the scenery and played games that required us to pay attention to what was outside the window.
Everybody knows the license plate game. You look for out of state plates on passing cars/trucks and keep score. It’s kind of like “black out bingo” where you strive to see plates from all 50 states. Hawaii and Alaska were the rarest, but seeing a Rhode Island plate also led to much excitement! (Geography lessons…)
And then there’s the alphabet game. We would look for words on billboards and signs that began with each letter of the alphabet. The hardest words to find are the ones beginning with the letter X. Once I spied the word “xeriscaping” on a billboard in San Antonio, but usually I have to settle for the trucks that have “US Xpress” on them. Yes, I still play that game to myself when I drive. (Spelling lessons…)
We would also play an animal game where we’d pit the right side of the road against the left to count how many animals we’d see; certain ones had higher values than others. White horses scored the most points. (Math lessons…)
Of course everyone in the “way back” would try to get the drivers of the 18-wheelers we passed to honk their horns. (Persuasion lessons…)
There was one habit we had, although I’m not sure how it began… when we’d drive over a bridge, we had to hold our breaths over the span. This did not work when driving over the Lake Pontchartrain causeway (the longest bridge over waterway- continuous in the world, almost 24 miles). But I recall dying to breathe when we’d drive over the Lake Charles bridge while driving to Houston from New Orleans! If Dad drove really fast, we could do it! (Physical Fitness lessons)
I feel a little bit sorry for my one and only Shannon, who probably did not enjoy the long car trips by herself in the back seat over the years. But there was that one time we drove to Atlanta in my mother’s car, along with her two cousins, aunt and grandmother. The trip to Atlanta was a lot of fun for her with her cousins in the back seat. But on the trip back to Houston, it was just Shannon, me and Baba.
Baba’s car was a gigantic Oldsmobile station wagon (that looked like the one pictured above), and the three of us all sat in the front seat all the way home. I tried to come up with some things that would entertain Shannon on the long drive home. Here’s what she wrote years later:
“I don’t know what possessed my mother to buy a kit for making balloon animals, but trying to create a giraffe out of a tube of plastic is extremely amusing when you’re bored out of your skull and there’s nothing else to do.
I was eight years old the summer that my mom, grandmother (Baba) and I drove my aunt and cousins from Houston to their home in Atlanta. On the return trip, my mom appeased me by buying a much sought-after ‘Littlest Pet Shop’ set. Then she pulled out the surprise- those blasted balloon animals.
Since I didn’t want to sit alone in the back seat of Baba’s grey, 80’s vintage Oldsmobile station wagon, I sat in between Mom and Baba in the front. Mom was driving in rush hour Atlanta traffic, and was stressed to begin with. Baba and I were twisting those colorful hotdogs like the book told us to, but…
‘Scrunch, skwinch, sckronk, POW!!! AAAH!!!’ (uproarious laughter ensued). Actually mom ended up being pretty good at it and always said that if Dad ever ran off with a floozie, she’d go earn a living making balloon animals in the French Quarter.”
Ah yes, memories are made of this!