August 15, 1969: Homeward Bound

Loaded up and got started about 9:30. Ate cheese sandwiches on the way and reached Youngstown about 5. Set up and “built ourselves a tommy ache” of ice cream. Then swam.

Marge Binder, August 15, 1969

We camped at the same place every summer, right off exit 16 of the Ohio Turnpike: The Ohio Motel near the Pennseyvania border. It was mostly a campground, with a small and stately structure for those incapable of fending for their own shelter under canvas. Sad.

It had an arcade with the latest (and oldest) pinball machines, and we’d squander the spare change we’d earned for keeping quiet during that day’s drive.

Fronz

The “‘tummy ache’ of ice cream” could be gotten at Fronz (sp?), a place that made its own ice cream and candy. It was in a strip mall a few miles down the road from the Turnpike. We stopped there pretty much every summer. The owner was a friendly guy, a stocky Wonka type, sans top hat and libretto, who remembered us and gave us tours of his operation. Impressive!

A rite of passage (that I’m sure I never even attempted) was to wolf down a Belly Buster, a massive sundae of some 10 or 20 scoops. Heck, it could have been 31, I can’t say. I’m sure Tim tried, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he succeeded one day.

In constructing this blog, I’ve not been able to unearth a single shred of evidence that Fronz ever existed. That is really sad.

“…Then swam.”

Wait, have we learned nothing on this trip? I hope we waited an hour after the ice cream to take this swim.

Homestretch

We arrive home tomorrow, after 62 days away. Come back for an interview with the Marge Binder of MargeBindersEpicAdventure fame, as well as to share in some of the excellent feedback and accolades her trip received via this blog. Thank you for that!

August 5, 1969: The ER!

Mike snorting and snuffling. Ran into rain in Omaha (yesterday). Crossed the Mississippi. Camped near Utica, Illinois. Tim fished. Mike swam. Had to take him to St. Mary’s LaSalle emergency room for his ears.

Marge Binder, August 5, 1969

We are officially back east, now that we’ve crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. Even with the typical daily activities of Tim fishing and Mike swimming (where was I? Knitting?), Mike also found time to snort, snuffle and eventually visit the ER. I would agree that this post’s headline is a little sensational for an ear ache, but this is — shockingly — the only ER visit cited on the entire trip.

Below is a postcard of the hospital in La Salle, Illinois back when people sent postcards of hospitals they visited. Actually, my brother Mike would have been a prolific mailer (sorry, Miko!).

August 3, 1969: Bulldogging and more

Packed up and drove across Colorado and Nebraska. Stopped at Gothenburg and Mike swam in the municipal pool. Tim fished. He is breaking out with poison something again. Watched men practicing bull dogging.

Marge Binder, August 3, 1969

Mike swam. Tim fished and got “poison something” again. I’m not accounted for, so I’ll assume I was sold to the rodeo to become a bulldogging master. I guess that didn’t work out.

Bulldogging is steer wrestling; duh. If you’d like to learn more about the sport, or even how to become a bulldogger, click here.

Roadtrip Movies, Part 4

The bulldogging got me thinking about roadtrip movies again. Both are very American institutions. This correlation reminded me of the rodeo scene from “Borat…” but I’m not making that part of the official record. It is one funny movie though.

Let’s consider a few of the most fun roadtrip films out there. Sure, movies like “The Blues Brothers” and “Smokey…” are really fun, but I cited them for (auto) body count a few days ago. I also considered “Beavis and Butthead Do America” and “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.” Both fun, in their way, but…

Herewith…

Honorable Mentions: Fun Roadtrip Films

Do yourself a favor: Watch the accompanying trailers and clips.

“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” 1963

Screwball comedy meets American greed meets the splendor of the open road as an ensemble cast from the 50s and 60s races to find hidden treasure (350 large!) in the desert. Spencer Tracy surrounds himself with the likes of Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman and so many other legends; that alone is worth your time. (Speaking of time, the original cut was three and a half hours long!)

“Cannonball Run” 1981

It’s an homage to the classic ensemble road films like the one above, with an all-star, odd-ball cast including Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Mel Tillis, Dean Martin and of course, Burt Reynolds and Dom D. What makes it extra-special: it opened on June 19, 1981 — the same day as “Superman II” – at Roth’s Tysons Corner 5 Theaters in Virginia. I was one proud usher/concessionaire whose 16th summer – armed with a shiny new driver’s license and the keys to the family’s green Buick station wagon — was about to go epic.

“The Hangover” 2009

The premise is shaky: four guys gin up a bachelor party in Vegas just two days before the wedding – instead of, say, three months out. Once you accept that, the rest of this movie falls right into place. Is this a roadtrip film? I say yes, because the drive to and from Vegas makes it so. And during their escapades in and around Vegas, cars of all kinds figure prominently. Leave that aside. This film is so incredibly clever, profane and unpredictable, you could stretch these gags out over 5,000 miles.

“Flirting with Disaster” 1996

With a cast including Ben Stiller, Tea Leoni, Patricia Arquette, Marty Tyler Moore and Alan Alda, and directed by David O. Russell, this has got to be good. It’s chock full of surprises, mistakes, misunderstandings and bad choices, but it doesn’t feel like a screwball comedy. It’s smart, and it just keeps going relentlessly to the heart of the story: finding one’s home. The fun never, ever stops.

“Dumb and Dumber” 1994

No matter how hard I try, I cannot deny that this is a roadtrip classic. Sometimes it’s okay to have no redeeming social value. Fun is fun.

August 2, 1969: “…head under water…”

Was going sightseeing but discovered a hunk of the trailer tire tread missing when I washed it so had to get a new one. Doug getting his head under water. Tim killed a scarlet king snake.

Marge Binder, August 2, 1969

In a place like this, I know Mom got us out and about on the adventure trail, especially on a Saturday. On this day, thought, it appears she had to first deal with a missing “hunk of trailer tire tread.” That sounds bad and I’m positive that I was of absolutely no use in righting the matter.

This picture appears to have been taken later than 1969. My eyebrows were finally started to fill out.

Maw also writes about me getting my head under water. I don’t know if she meant that this was the first time. My memory is that it happened much earlier in this trip, hence all the subsequent swimming. But I didn’t memorialize it in writing, so I guess I lose in the history books.

Here’s my take, corroborated (and much embellished) by Tim over the years: There was a boat ramp covered to turtle poop. We three were cavorting about in the shallow, as we did, and I was strutting along, chattering some smack. And then I stepped off the side of the ramp and “PLOOP!” I was under water. Tim recalled that when I went silent he turned to see only a little tuft of dark hair bobbing on the surface. Then I emerged, lungs gasping at full born-again vigor.

No matter when it actually occurred, I can still feel the sensation: frigid and foreign immersion. Because we glasses-wearing Binders were practically blind when we swam, all I saw was darkness and little bubbles. I wasn’t scared; I think I was more stunned by my atmosphere changing so completely and abruptly. At some point, probably about a second in, I chose to go back to the life I had above the surface, and so I flailed about in whatever madness might hasten my return.

Let’s do that again!

August 1, 1969: “Ate steak for lunch.”

Got Mike’s shot, washed the car, the washing and picked up money from Jim at Western Union. Ate steak for lunch. Shopped at a shopping center—got Doug new camping shorts. Letting him wear his summer “peaches.” The boys swam. Called Dort but couldn’t get her.

Marge Binder, August 1, 1969

There’s a lot to unpack here, no pun attended.

Dort

My Aunt “Dort” Dorothy was the oldest of my Dad’s siblings. She was a judge in the Denver area and a revered character in our Family. She was a protector and champion of Dad since childhood, and Tim greatly respected. She passed away just last year. Sadly, I never met her.

“Peaches”

Not a clue what this means. Mom claims not to recall. It’s probably best we leave it at that.

A Different Time

How much the world changed since 1969, some of which we’ve explored on this scroll. One detail of today’s diary entry references calling [Aunt] Dort but “couldn’t get her.” That’s what happened back then, before even simple technologies like answering machines. You call someone, they don’t answer, you move on. In this case, you drive on home another 2,500 miles and don’t see them for decades.

And Western Union is a blast from the past. I’d practically forgotten about them.

Money Handling in 1969

This is the first time Maw cites a means of finances — a stop at Western Union to pick up a money wire from Dad. Western Union (or WU, as it calls itself in its umpteenth rebranding since then) was the world’s largest provider of telegraphic services — telegrams. In doing some cursory research for this blog, I was surprised they’re still thriving in niche but modern markets.

As for how Mom managed money on this long trip, she offered some insights recently. Credit cards were not so in vogue yet. Debit cards were still 25 years away. I was surprised that Maw didn’t use travelers’ checks on this trip. She traveled with a checkbook but few banks would cash them; the big chains didn’t cover the whole country yet, or were few and far between, or were open only during “banking hours.”

Maw tells me she kept a few hundred dollars in cash to cover things, from gas and food to lodging and doctors. I suppose that’s a pretty straightforward way of doing things, but it certainly doesn’t feel secure by today’s standards — as ironic as that sounds.

Also, note in Mom’s diary what happened right after fetching the cash: “Ate steak for lunch.” That’s just how she rolls!

ATMs and Beyond

Can you imagine living without ATMs? This Gen-Xer cannot. 25% of Boomers, though, don’t use them at all.

A Chemical Bank on Long Island brought America’s first ATM on-line in 1969, advertising the occasion thusly: “On September 2, our bank will open at 9:00 and never close again.” (Get ready for the 50th anniversary of that next month!) The machines were first called Docutellers after the company that innovated the technology, Docutel. Today, there are more than half a million ATMs in the US, one for about every 650 people.

These days, of course, lots of people can live without ATMs, thanks to mobile apps, blockchain and even cryptocurrencies. I’m sure their recollections of these innovations 50 years from now will sound as stale as my defense of the ATM.

Party on, people of the future! And Peaches!

July 31, 1969: A Kid Drowned!

You can see (kind of) that much of the interstate construction was not complete in this area of the country.

Also, I spoke with Mom today, and she recalled that the “mountain stream” she describes here made her uneasy. She’d seen flooding before and she worried that, because we were perched on a bend, just a bit of a rise might wipe away our tent.

More Wyoming then Colorado—short day for a change. Set up on rocky ground next to a mountain stream at Eldorado Springs. Mike & Doug swam in a big pool there and saw a drowning.

Marge Binder, July 31, 1969
This appears to be a recent photo of the “nationally known swimming pool,” and it still has a diving board!

This episode I (think I) remember. Great pool, lots of kids, lots of activity, Mike and me splashing about. And then everything stopped. Silence. Something weird was going on.

It’s one of those memories, like the Redwoods and “Bomb Cambodia” a few weeks back, where I might be melding it with others. As I recall, this sad occasion is when Mom offered the advice: Don’t swim for an hour after eating. If it did happen like this, it was brilliant of her, because I still subscribe to that advice today.

Mom picked a great place to spend a few days (note the three Ws in the ad below; that’s Woodall’s highest rating!). I don’t remember anything else, but her diary lists out Mike’s allergy shots, shopping and some car maintenance. I have to think there was also plenty of hiking, playing and other things that make childhood childhood in a place like Colorado.

Sorry for that kid though.

I love that the ad for the campground welcomes “wagons.” I’m picturing a wagon train emerging Brigadoon-style from a dust storm on the prairie and finding this place most welcoming. Act II: Everyone is strung out on “modern restrooms” and “sanitary.” Act III: We’re staying.

Also, as I mentioned above, the place had a “nationally known pool.” Gotta say, the only other that can boast that is the Reflecting Pool in DC. I don’t recommend diving.

July 28, 1969: Eastward Ho!

From Paradise to Farewell, with a Splash of Pee.

Doug kicked over a full [pee] can. Packed and drove across Oregon all day. Camped at Farewell Bend State Park on the Snake River. Kids swam and fished but it was a miserable site—slept in the car because of wind.

Marge Binder, July 28, 1969

‘Twould appear from Mom’s musings that I might have caused the toppling of a full jar of urine in the tent. I don’t remember that, and I’m not copping to it. When you’re the youngest, a lot of bad stuff gets pinned on you. It’s a real burden, it is.

If Mom’s account is true, I’m sure I had a reason.

“Es mejor que nada, baby!” Part 2 (or more likely Part 54)

Mom is not one to complain. Especially after six weeks on the road with three boys, one of whom recently tipped over the pee jar (or was unjustly implicated). So for Mom to call this campground a “miserable site” makes it clear: It must have been a new low.

Camping in a tent is typically not that comfortable. I haven’t done it in a while so I don’t know what tent innovations have been made. Back then, our tent’s floor, made of some sort of thin poly-something (cancerous? we’ll see), took on the contours of what was directly underneath. If it was jagged rocks, so was the floor. Concrete begat concrete. We had cotton/flannel sleeping bags that provided warmth, but not much in the way of support, aeration or water resistance.

I don’t remember this, but Mom recently assured me that we also employed air mattresses, inflated using the Chevy’s engine. She conceded, though, by morning the mattresses had deflated.

In the case of Farewell Bend, turns out we slept in the car anyway, due to the weather. For Maw, sleeping in the car with three boys must have been a whole ‘nother level of restful bliss.

The above photo is likely NOT the Farewell Bend misery that Mom describes. I think she’d actually consider this a better-than-many situation — flat concrete slab, a garden bed, and there was an outhouse right there!

I know I’ve gone soft, but every time I look at this photo, my mind conjures up the lobby bar at any W or JW.