51 years ago, my Mom loaded her three sons into our brand-new Chevy station wagon and lit out from Virginia to California to Michigan and back. Maw called it 62 days under canvas.
Last summer I put together this blog to mark the 50th anniversary. I’d intended it to be nostalgic. Now that the world is where it is, this has taken on all-new significance — the great outdoors, exploring new cultures, lots of personal interaction. Nostalgic indeed.
It’s is a day-by-day recounting of the nine week trip, including excerpts from Maw’s diary (with permission), old-timey paper maps and AAA tour books, as well as photos and impressions of those who were transported and transformed.
Note: This is NOT a new road trip. It is a recounting of the one that happened 50 years ago.
Visited the San Diego Zoo. It is tremendous. Ate lunch in Balboa Park. The boys swam at the campsite. Barbecued hamburgers. Tim caught several sharks and a manta ray.
Marge Binder, July 8, 1969
I’m gonna say this is the San Diego Zoo because Dad would have been there to take this pic. It could be Marineland. Or it might be the National Zoo in DC. Know what? it could be anyplace that kind of looks like a zoo. No matter, I grew up to dislike both zoos and aquariums. But I thank Mom for trying.
The 60s were a thing. Lots of mystique and tumult, triumph and tragedy. War, assassinations, race riots, civil rights, the moon landing. The Beatles. JFK. The Summer of Love. Freedom Rides, MLK, RFK. My birth.
As I was preparing this blog, I looked back at the events of 1969 to see if there was a way or a reason to correlate the events of our days with the events of the day. Turns out, 1969 wasn’t the s**tshow of the previous two years.
In fact, June and July 1969 were surprisingly un-60s-like. Yes, troops were still in Vietnam and Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge. The Stonewall uprising happened, but it wasn’t in the news outside New York for a while.
The one current event Mom includes in her diary is the moon landing in July 20.
Woodstock happened in August. It was three days of rain, drugs and misery that have been romanticized into something altogether different. That same month saw the Tate-LaBianca murders in Benedict Canyon, at the hands of the Manson clan. This is featured in yesterday’s post.
By year’s end there would be death at a low-rent Woodstock wannabe (Altamont), which some people cite as the end of the Age of Aquarius. Conveniently, that was also the end of the 60s. The 70s, to me, were the hangover (and puberty).
As for the 80s. The best decade. Ever. News-wise, I know that’s debatable.
Packed, washed and headed for San Diego. Found the state beach park full so we settled at Mission Bay in an unfinished Camplands. Took a drive around.
Marge Binder, July 7, 1969
Another Deluxe Campground
Maw says that she called ahead to some of the campgrounds, especially if she was in need of a deluxe experience (i.e., showers). This one was a beauty, and the unfinished Camplands looks to be thriving today after 50 years. Happy Anniversary!
Took a drive around Beverly Hills. Had hamburgers in Hollywood. The boys swam at Redondo Beach.
Marge Binder, July 6, 1969
In addition to it being the 50th anniversary of Marge Binder’s Epic Adventure, this summer also marks 50 years since the Tate-LaBianca murders at the hands of the Manson family. That’s why there is a picture of Leo D on this page: he’s starring in a new Tarantino movie about the crime. Looks good, except for it starring Leo.
Tomorrow’s post looks at other memorable events of 1969. Spoiler: It was a pretty good year, compared to the previous few.
Here’s a thought: If Quentin did a movie about the roadtrip, who would play Mom? Too bad MTM has passed. She was Mom: fun and smart, a loving wife/mother like Laura Petrie. A trailblazer like Mary Richards. And as pretty as they come.
This is the end of the line. Route 66 (and now Interstate 10) merged with Colorado Avenue and then ushered (dumped) you onto the Santa Monica Pier. Fun Fact: The carousel scene from “The Sting” was shot here.
Washed. The boys played miniature golf and went on a big slide. Drove to Santa Monica where they played in the surf. Ate out of the cooler plus treats.
Marge Binder, July 5, 1969
Thirty-four years after the original Epic Adventure, Maw reprised it in the passenger seat alongside daughter-in-law Gina and grandkids Richmond and Helen. They made better time and stayed in motels (and I hear the kids didn’t think much of the Grand Canyon either).
It was joy to host them at my place in Santa Monica, a place I dreamed of living since my first visit in ’69. (Yeah, yeah, BS. But it was a wonderful few years living in Santa Monica, right off Montana Avenue and five blocks to the palisades and the beach!)
Here is Maw reenacting her 1969 visit in 2003, along with the grandkids.
I’ll admit it: I have no recollection of this day. Chances are I was still fretting over the sad fate of Mr. Lincoln. Or perhaps the Disneyland fireworks were still popping inside my brain.
Actually, I don’t remember most of this trip. So when I started tinkering with the idea of recounting it, I knew I needed some meat. What a revelation to find Mom’s diary (thank you, Helen Binder!) and to get her permission to use it. The surviving photos offered some assistance as well (Thanks Miko!). But the actual memories are few and far between; I’ve conveyed them in here when applicable.
I’ve also attempted not to co-mingle memories from other trips and similar experiences. So I didn’t include a picture of Mike and me in the Redwoods in 1969 because — as I discovered a few weeks ago — it wasn’t taken in the Redwoods in 1969. It was, in fact, taken in the early 70s in front of very Redwood-looking trees towering over north-central Michigan.
One of my other distinct memories I had attributed to this trip was at Pismo Beach, where Mike and I stormed the surf, throwing rocks and yelling “Bomb Cambodia!” (We Binders were a hawkish bunch back then.) Mom recently set me straight: Bomb Cambodia happened somewhere in Ohio a few years later. Figures. Mom remembers best.
Got the car washed. The kids swam twice at Redondo Beach. Had fried chicken and toured Ports of Call at San Pedro.
Marge Binder, July 4, 1969
I almost forgot! Here’s an interesting article about “childhood amnesia.”
In my head: “Wait, I’m pretty sure that dude is dead. He definitely has some issues with mobility and speech. Poor Abraham Lincoln. Let’s go ride the train.”
Seriously, this show freaked me out. We boys had been immersed in American history in our few years in Virginia, so I was one confused little 4-year-old.
I don’t remember much more of that day at Disneyland. I was too small to ride the Matterhorn (something I finally checked off my list 25 years later). I have the feeling my first day at Disney was a strictly A-Ticket affair.
FUN FACT: E-Tickets Matter!
Those old Disney ticket books could be worth big coin! Even if you just have a few individual tickets from way back when, Guest Relations at the parks can calculate what they’re worth and pay you on the spot. If you have complete books in good condition, Ebay can calculate what they’re worth, and the sum total might be worth college tuition to a decent, in-state school.
Had a time getting Mike’s allergy shot but finally managed. Picked up Jim and got to Disneyland about 12:30. Had pancakes etc and visited everything. Stayed until 9 o’clock fireworks. Big crowd.
Marge Binder, July 3, 1969
Disney and Life
This was my first Disney park experience. I wouldn’t return to Disneyland until 2001.
In the meantime, I was introduced to Walt Disney World just a few months after it opened in 1971. As I do the math, that was a scant two years after my Lincoln freak-out. No matter, WDW became a big part of my youth; Mom and Dad arranged for the Family to spend every other Christmas there for years. More fond memories of roadtrips and camping and so much more. (Blog-worthy, yes, but not nearly as epic as this journey we’re on.)
When I worked at WDW in the 80s, in a number of capacities, I thought of my Mom whenever I dealt with families in distress. They’d planned, they were protecting family, they just wanted to enjoy the experience, but sometimes things don’t pan out as they’d hoped. If I had the ability to make things right (which I most often did in Guest Relations), I would, because I know what it would mean to Mom.
That empathy made me really good in those WDW jobs, and I think it affects my approach to work and people to this day.
Did battle with Sears but still couldn’t get top poles. Visited Huntington Park. Drove to Burbank, getting lost often, to take the NBC studio tour. Had pizza and visited Jim at the Sportsman’s Lodge. The boys swam and we all had ice cream. He stayed. We came back.
Marge Binder, July 2, 1969
My memory of seeing Dad at the Sportsmen’s Lodge is mesh-melded with the episode of “I Love Lucy” when they road trip to California and get put up in a swank Hollywood hotel (perhaps marking the first-ever shark-jumping moment in television).
In my mind’s eye, the furnishings and view from the Ricardos’ room is the same as Dad’s, but Dad’s place is in color. He resided there a few more days, while Mom and the rest of us slunk back to the tent in Lomita. As Mom put it: “He stayed. We came back.”
I think that’s when I started appreciating the five-star hotel lifestyle over other modes of lodging.
The Sportsmen’s Lodge is still there. According to its website, it is “The Soul of Iconic Hollywood.”
Mom moved with Gran and Uncle Harold to Los Angeles in the early 1940s, soon after my grandfather’s very untimely passing. She was about 12. All my life, she’s shared her fascination with southern California, recounting tales of the trolleys and buses that ferried her all over. There were still plenty of orange groves and a feeble infrastructure back then, but it sounded pretty glamorous to me! She recently mentioned her discovery and love of artichokes; something else she missed when they all returned to artichoke-deprived Michigan after two years.
Mom and I visited again in 1980 (a whole other story, including bunking at Howard’s Weekly Apartments on the way-sketchy Hollywood Boulevard, a day of Family Feud and an evening with Lynda Carter and Tom Jones!).
It was always my destiny to live here. Accomplished, if only for a half dozen years.
No smog in Lomita but lots of refineries. Spent 2 hours at Marineland. Mike & Doug swam in swim club pool. Washed and restocked. They all had a romp in the ocean, then a shower.
Marge Binder, July 1, 1969
Here’s a screen grab from the Lomita website. I love the illustration of a proud and bustling Lomita surrounded by the fields that would soon rise high and shut out the bright lights of mighty Los Angeles.
The Tick Tock
While this location doesn’t appear to be ideal, Mom says it was convenient to everything, especially the beach. One of the highlights I remember is a place called the Tick Tock (or TikTok) that neighbored the campground. Most mornings, Mom and Dad would entrust Mike and me with several dollars to retrieve coffee, donuts and whatever else caught our fancy.
Like so many monuments of our 1969 trek, the little market is gone and forgotten, at least by the internet and chamber of commerce.
Had trouble pulling stakes & had to leave several. Drove down that terrible road. Doug threw up his crackers and kool-aid when we got to Azuza. Visited Uncle Russ & Aunt Marge. Had lunch. Phoned campgrounds. Set up at Lomita trailer park. Visited the Pacific.
This is the road Mom references. Looking at it, I’m feeling the kool-aid and crackers gurgling up even now!
Seriously, what could go wrong when you load a four-year-old up with crackers and Kool-Aid, stuff him in the back seat and then traverse this serpentine nightmare?
As I recall (which might have been a dream), I erupted forth with a smooth pink sloosh into the front passenger seat, right down Tim’s back.
Ever since, Mom considered this episode a highlight and a low point of the trip and my childhood. To this day, Mom refers to this moment by its exact geography: “25 miles north of Azusa.”
This terse observation belies what must have been an “arrival” for Mom. I hope she took a moment to reflect on this achievement: In two weeks she had safely transported her three boys across the country and delivered them to an ocean they’d never seen before. She battled the elements and endured the sometimes-cross nature of boys, and there were still plenty of surprises and challenges ahead.
I’d like to think, as she looked out at the Pacific that evening, she was thrilled to be back in Southern California, a place she revered since her short time there as a teenager. To this day I think Mom identifies as a Californian; a lot of us do.
The champale probably tasted especially good that night.