July 10, 1969: When A&W Ruled

Got Mike’s shot and new tennis shoes. Packed and drove along the coast thru L.A. to Pismo Beach. Set up at state beach park. Ate at the A&W.

Marge Binder, July 10, 1969

Though there was a McDonald’s in our little hometown of Vienna, VA, we didn’t patronize a single one on this entire journey — at least not according to Maw’s diary. As I’ve observed before, there were very few fast food chains back in the day. And the ones that existed like Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and even Taco Bell were limited in area and number. Dave Thomas was still four months away from opening the first Wendy’s.

Here’s a little wiki-history of fast food that reaches back to ancient Rome. Good luck getting them to “hold the pickles, hold the lettuce.”

We were an A&W family. Papa Burgers, Mama Burgers, Teen Burgers, Baby Burgers, Olive Burgers, so much selection! Of course, the A&W root beer was second to none. A root beer float passed into the backseat at one of their drive-ins? Sugary, creamy, carbonated heaven. And such convenience!

Here’s a little history of A&W, not including the fact that the Mama Burger is now only available in Canada. Canada!

Fun Fact

A&W celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1969, meaning that they are now 100 years old!

Un-fun Fact

A&W doesn’t even rank in the Top 50 fast food chains anymore. It has fewer than 600 stores in the US (only about 300 stand-alones), compared with 14,000 McDonalds and more than 25,000 Subways. [insert Sad Burger emoji]

July 9, 1969: Happy Anniversaries!

I had originally titled this post “The Sea Slug” (see Mom’s entry below). But then this Washington Post story came across my feed yesterday (as well as a second sighting by Steven Pine from the NYT).


For those keeping score: in 2019, San Diego is celebrating 250 years, the first “successful” coast-to-coast roadtrip happened 100 years ago, and our little jaunt turns 50. Btw, Mom made better time, served better food and planned for more swimming and fishing than Ike & Co.

Went on a 2 hour harbor cruise. Had pizza and walked and drove around a bit. Tim and the others swam and then caught more sharks, rays and a sea slug. I got the oil changed and did the washing, etc.

Marge Binder, July 9, 1969

I don’t think that’s a “sea slug.” And I don’t think the photo is from this trip. But that is Tim holding something gross and dead. So it fits Mom’s narrative.

July 8, 1969: The Zoo

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.

July 6, 1969: Once Upon a Time…

“…in Hollywood.”

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.

Casting Call!

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.

What about Uma? Pretty badass. That’d work too.

Mom wasn’t really a smoker, but she knew how to get a laugh.

July 4, 1969: Memories

“Misty water-colored memories…”

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.”

June 30, 1969: Part 1

“25 miles north of Azusa…”

…A place which will live in infamy.

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.

That “terrible road.”

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.”

June 29, 1969: Food & Drink

Baked cornbread, visited the store, rested. Took the little guys to Crystal Lake to swim and try to catch minnows and polywogs—several hundred people there. Later Tim came too but couldn’t go out in a boat for fish—under 18. Everyone left. Threw stones and toasted marshmallows.

Marge Binder

Back in the day, there weren’t interstate exits teeming with fast food drive-thrus for road trippers to inhale as they blew by. It was mostly gas stations and mom’n’pop shops in small towns miles off the highway. Mom makes a few references in her diary to stops at A&Ws (a fast-food chain pioneer and still a family favorite, if you can find one), as well local finds like Perry’s back in Grove, OK.

For the most part, Mom had to shop almost daily (again, in local stores) and then serve up to three meals a day, plus snacks and treats like the cornbread and toasted marshmallows she describes here.

When in camp, there were campfire meals like breakfast and burgers, as well as things cooked on the “balky” Coleman stove. For lunch on the road, the staple was American cheese on white bread with mustard. What could be more American in the 60s?

Mom kept things organized with the Chuck Box that Dad built. It housed all of the utensils, condiments and some non-perishables. She also kept a cooler stocked with cheese and less-perishable goods. For meats, Mom would buy and cook it on the same day.

That’s the chuck box interior, taken on an earlier trip.

In short: No one starved.

Dad’s hat in the foreground, proof that he was an able (if not alway eager) outdoorsman.

…and Drink.

As for Drink, the only references in Mom’s diary are to the Kool-Aid I threw up onto Tim’s back (spoiler alert: We celebrate the 50th of that tomorrow!) and some champale she describes on two instances late in the trip.

She recently confided that she enjoyed a little champale every night of the trip. And deservedly so. Cheers!

June 23, 1969: Happy Campers

Packed up. Breakfasted at Perry’s again. Drove through Oklahoma, around Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We were grateful for the air conditioning. Set up at Foss Reservoir State Park in Okla. Great waves in the lake.

Marge Binder, June 23, 1969

Life at the campsite. Car and tent surrounding the picnic table with Mom’s nice table cloth, the camp stove, chuck box and cooler. And nature in every direction.

From Maw’s diary, you can see that the typical travel day involved packing up, driving, eating, arriving, putting up tent, swimming, fishing and eating. I asked her recently what would happen after that, between dinner and bedtime. She told me that the three boys would do everything to stay awake and active, while she just wanted to sleep: “I was so exhausted every night, but you guys just wanted to play.”

Conversely, in the morning, we’d resist Mom’s efforts to get us up and at ’em. Mom shared something else that I didn’t remember: We would inflate air mattresses (using the car’s cigarette lighter) and lay our sleeping bags on top. By morning, though, they were “flat as pancakes,” according to Mom, and we were feeling every contour of the rocks and needles underneath.

Since this 1969 trip I have experienced quite a few other sleeping situations while traveling. Of note: the Heavenly Bed line of mattresses, available exclusively at Westin Hotels worldwide and for purchase here.

June 22, 1969: Perry’s and History

Hot and windy. Slept in the car because storms were all around us but none hit here. Had breakfast at Perry’s in Grove. Washed the car, trailer and tent. The boys swam a long time. Tim caught some channel catfish.

Marge Binder, June 22, 1969

There are a number of references Mom makes in her diary to businesses that no longer exist, not even on the internet.

In putting together this blog series, I reached out to various chambers of commerce and historical societies in places like Grove, OK and Lomita, CA without much luck. I also scoured Pinterest sites for like-minded amateur historians. That’s been fun but largely fruitless. And to those who assumed that this project involved me physically retracing the steps and stops of the 1969 journey I say: I’m obsessive to learn more, but not that obsessive.

If you’re interested to learn more about Grove, OK in the 21st Century, click here. And enjoy this postcard that captures Grove’s colorful history.

June 21, 1969: Stormy Weather

Did the washing. Grove has 10-cent double dip ice cream cones. Windy. The sky turned green about noon and it blew down the tent. Had to get a pole fixed. The boys swam. Barbecued chicken and made s’mores.

Marge Binder, June 21, 1969

This day I do remember. The tent was not small or lightweight, so it was quite a violent sight when it blew apart. We were still in the first week of this trip so I’m impressed (and inspired) that Maw kept moving west, seemingly undaunted.

And I love that Maw chose to chronicle the 10-cent double dips in Grove; it’s amazing what discount ice cream can do to a person’s disposition.

Visit this site

This graphical piece from the Washington Post is pretty spectacular. It doesn’t stretch as far back as the 60s, but you can see how increasingly robust are the nation’s extreme weather events. Looking back, I’m amazed that we didn’t encounter more instances of violent weather crossing the midwest. (These days it seems like lightning, tornados and flooding are a daily occurrence, at least according to our nation’s Doppler-armed and sensationalized meteorologists.)