Bill Kirby

Online news editor for The Augusta Chronicle.

Years ago, travel was about getting there

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Travel teaches toleration.

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– 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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Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 06/10/12 - 07:25 am
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My family and I are soon to

My family and I are soon to embark on our own summer "road" vacation. Sadly, there won't be a back window "ledge" that one of the kids can lay on, there won't be a back "hump" that one kid (usually the youngest) will have to lay over while the other gets to enjoy stretching out over the entire back seat (unless that window ledge is being used!). We probably won't see any of those service station bathroom keys with the big thingys attached to it, used to discourage people from forgetting to return them to the nail in the service station office wall. Sadly, there will be many other things that our kids will miss out on. But one of the things our kids will do that we also loved to do....whenever we passed one of those big-rig trucks, we'd wait until we could see the driver and give him several of those "pull-down" moves with our arm, letting him know we want him to blare his horn at us!! And then we'd get a great grin and laugh and giggle until we saw the next big-rig!

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