Years ago, travel was about getting there

Travel teaches toleration.

– Benjamin Disraeli

 

Kids have it easy these days.

To them a summer vacation is the destination. Someplace expensive or exotic or maybe even educational.

To us, it was the journey.

I barely recall where we went each summer. I only remember getting there and coming home.

Our generation traveled grudgingly, usually in overpacked cars filled with too many people, driven by men who had fought in wars and been transported in troop ships, all of which explains why you went to the bathroom before you left because you weren’t going to stop for a long time.

Did I mention we didn’t have car air-conditioning until I was in high school?

I have mentioned it to my son, who responds with uncomprehending puzzlement when I describe heading out for our overheated holiday in a vehicle in which the inside temperature was close to a 100 ... and you kept old towels under the seat because the steering wheel could burn your hands and the dark metal dashboard could fry bacon.

I often traveled with a family of six. Some years we added a grandmother. One year we took a cat, which was the last year we took a cat.

And we drove. And drove. And drove.

Interstates were years away.

If you were lucky, you got a four-lane highway.

If you were unlucky, you got stuck on a two-lane behind a gravel truck. Or a coal truck. Or a log truck.

We traveled with understood rules: Don’t complain. Don’t fight. Don’t bother the driver.

The driver was always my father, who chewed gum with grim resolve and glared at the road ahead.

The children were not to talk to him directly, even though he could obviously hear you. Instead, we went through an intermediary, usually Mother, asking rhetorically how much longer it would be before arrival ... or lunch ... or a bathroom break.

Through some mysterious parental telepathy, she would pause for a moment, as if reading a thought message from my father, then answer: “He says, ‘Count to 3,000.’ ”

So count, we did. Why not? We had no video games. No onboard TV or movies. There was a radio, but it seemed to be tuned to the static channel.

The best you could hope for was a window seat. Window seats were valued, not only for the proximity to a slipstream breeze, diverted by a cupped hand, but for spotting stuff.

Brothers and sisters spent hours competing at spotting stuff. That’s how you got points. First one to spot a red car got a point. First one to spot a Holstein cow got a point. First one to spot a yellow roadside flower got a point.

At the end of 30 minutes, points were tallied. Then points were disputed. Then the game was suspended ... until an hour later when boredom inspired another round.

Stops were rare (see above) because road food was pricey. Sometimes we were sustained with packed sandwiches or cookies washed down with water poured into Dixie cups from a communal jar.

And we ate these treats with gusto, then smiled and smirked with the child’s joy of realization that journeys – no matter how difficult – were adventures.

And an older passenger might look over at her grinning grandchildren and say, “You kids have it so easy these days.”

Kids always do.

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