Friday, November 4, 2011

Western History, Breathtaking Monuments, and Great Balls of Twine

A Friend with a gas station horse.
He couldn't find the quarter slot.
The first time I drove across the country, I was ten years old and shared a cramped back seat with two brothers and a sister. Our comforts included an evaporation cooler locked in place by a rolled up window, stale sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, and a static-prone radio that kept losing stations. We saw lots of the good ol' American West, but in truth, the highlight of the day was picking a motel for the night. We drove up and down the main drag of some small town along Route 66 checking out places to stay. Would the motel be a real Indian teepee, or a fort right out of Rin Tin Tin, or just a boring row of doors in an L-shaped building with parking slots in front. Did the pool have a diving board? If during the day we had kept our arguing to a minimum, maybe we could stay in a prehistoric cave with dinosaurs as lawn art? As we cruised back and forth, the four of us in the back seat would shout out our preferences, but our parents whispered some adult secret stuff to each other and we soon found ourselves bouncing into a driveway.

Families don't travel across country by car anymore. I wouldn't even do it with my kids. The trend was already leaning toward flying to vacation, and then the Griswolds ruined the family road trip forever.

Except … a few ol' timers still want to see fly-over country from ground level at a comfortable speed. We just did, and we had a blast. With a couple of good friends, we toured Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. When you slow down to a leisurely pace, you discover a great country filled with great people. Pioneer and Western History reminds you what it means to be an American. Monuments like Mount Rushmore and the Dakota Badlands are more impressive than the latest iPhone app. Really. And if you have a taste for Great American tacky, you can still find plenty of it along the road. The thirty-foot dinosaurs may be gone, but you can still sidle up to a six-foot garishly painted horse.

A road trip across the country still presents hardships. I think we ran out of ice once for our evening cocktails. It surprised me that a thirty-eight foot diesel-pusher wouldn't have an automatic icemaker. It had everything else, including a satellite entertainment system that could pull in countless radio and television stations. I don't believe there was a roll of wax paper either. The motorhome did have a full kitchen, with an endless supply of wholesome and unwholesome food, but we used zip-lock baggies to store leftovers. Our roomy vehicle leveled itself, kept the temperature perfect, and had a sound system that would make a concert hall envious. We did have to make our beds in the morning. What we didn't have to do was cruise up and down the main boulevard looking for a place to eat or park for the night. A pair of iPads made researching the options for the next few hours or days an enjoyable pastime.

The trip was reminiscent of my youth, but somehow better. We had fun, relaxed, enjoyed good company, and learned a lot about our country. If you get the chance, hit the road. 

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