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 30, 1969: Pedal to the Metal

Drove across Wyoming all day and camped at a barren spot outside Rawlins. Took Mike to swim in the town pool. Found some more pine cones.

Marge Binder, July 30, 1969

Close observers might have noticed that Mom is hauling butt back east. 370 yesterday, 352 miles today.

What better time to revisit some roadtrip movie classics! We started all this back on July 25 with some introductory fluff and five roadtrip films that led nowhere. On the 27th, I rolled out a few of the crash-worthiest (in terms of body count, both human and auto). So far we’ve covered:

  • About Schmidt
  • Almost Famous
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Duel
  • The Great Race
  • The Hitcher
  • Sideways
  • Smokey & the Bandit
  • Thelma & Louise
  • Tommy Boy

Since Mom is driving us across Wyoming today, minus 50 years, how about we look at some roadtrip movies that are flat, dry and forgettable.

Okay, okay, there is some art in here, as well as some teenage angst, ribald college humor, forbidden romance, lepers and subtitles. Herewith…

Roadtrip Movies, Part 3: A Hodgepodge

“Little Miss Sunshine” 2006

I forgot all about this one. Greg Kinnear does that to me. It’s a fun little ditty that features Steve Carrell as a suicidal Proust scholar and Alan Arkin as an elderly heroin snorter. They, along with Tony Collette and Abigail Breslin, pilot a VW van to a kids’ beauty pageant. Some critics decried its undertones of child pornography and pedophilia. As I write this paragraph, I wonder how I could possibly have forgotten about this movie.

“O Brother, Where Art Thou” 2000

Is this really a roadtrip movie? I say yes. It’s a quest to get somewhere, loosely based on The Odyssey (which is not a roadtrip, per se). Updated for the 20th Century, the characters make their way across the South availing themselves of trains, trucks and cars, including one driven by Baby Face Nelson. Admittedly, I am biased to this Cohen Brothers’ opus; it’s one of those movies that I will watch any time, no matter where in the film I might tune in. Fun, smart, soulful, surprising and occasionally profane.

“Motorcycle Diaries” 2004

There are some nice moments in here, fueled by what makes a youthful roadtrip so thrilling — freedom, the open road, beauty and mystery. I know it centered on a young Che Guevara; that’s all I really, truly remember of it. And there were lepers.

“Y Tu Mamá También” 2001

NSFW

Another subtitled film that I mostly remember because I watched it in an air-conditioned art house in NYC that I frequented on many summer days. It’s rather saucy with an art-house-appropriate level of sexual tension and exploration. Still, it’s no “Little Miss Sunshine.”

“Road Trip” 2000

Tom Green is on the poster so I very nearly left it off the list. The title, though, made that hard to do. My advice: if this happens to come on your screen while you find yourself in traction, and the remote is out of reach, go ahead and give it a watch. It’s got some laughs.

“The Sure Thing” 1985

This epitomizes the 80s teen rom-com; interpret that for yourself. What’s at stake, initially, is unabashed prurience (in the visage of Nicolette Sheridan). That was aok back then. Of course we will grow and learn along the way, conveyed most acutely by a mirthful — and angst-sprinkled — three-minute montage, set to one of the decades most tender songs. (I actually don’t remember if that happens in this film, but how else would we have learned and grown?) Warning: John Cusack. Even so, it’s directed by Rob Reiner and the soundtrack is pure 80s bliss.

July 27, 1969: Drive Safely!

Photo credit here

Waited for Tim & Doug to return from fishing. Drove to Jo’s and we went to the beach for a picnic—2 hours plus drive but it was beautiful. Saw 2 accidents on the way home. Tim stayed at camp and caught several more large bass.

Marge Binder, July 27, 1969

This is the first time Mom mentions car accidents along the way. The data in the chart below shows that Americans are driving almost 3-times the miles we were in 1969, and traffic deaths are less than half of what they were. Some of the other numbers aren’t as encouraging. For more happiness, check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.

Some other fun facts: When it comes to the deadliest states for highway travel, you might want to avoid South Carolina and Mississippi. But I probably didn’t have to tell you to avoid those places. You’ll drive more miles without dying in a fiery collision in Minnesota and Massachusetts.

Bliss Sign

For cocktail chatter, mention Henry Bliss, the first person killed by a motor vehicle in the US. There is a plaque at 74th and CPW in New York City to commemorate the fateful moment when he stepped off a street car and into the path of a taxi in 1899.


Roadtrip Movies: Part 2

In the post two days ago, I introduced the first in a series recounting the best films about roadtrips. Scroll back to check out some of my Siskel & Ebert psycho babble, the definition of a roadtrip film and some pointers from Aaron Sorkin. You can also review my list of five movies in which the roadtrip leads nowhere.

Given today’s blog topic “Drive Safely,” I thought it’d be fitting to take a look at roadtrip films with a body count — auto bodies and otherwise. Herewith…

Honorable Mentions: Movies with a Body Count — Automotive and Otherwise

“The Blues Brothers” 1980

It didn’t even occur to me to include this when I jotted down a list of roadtrip films a few months back. That might be for two reasons: 1) Is this a roadtrip or a musical? Or both? Are there any other roadtrip musicals? …and 2) the forward momentum of this film is interrupted every few minutes by a car crash of epic proportions. It’s like a Greek tragedy on wheels in Chicagoland: their journey starts at the gates of a Joliet jail and careens through a shopping mall, diners, churches and orphanages, a Nazi rally, Bob’s Country Bunker, Chicago’s North Side and more. Ultimately, in good Greek roadtrip form, the Brothers get themselves to the Cook County Assessor’s Office (near that new Picasso) to pay the back taxes for the Penguin’s orphanage. Mission (from God) accomplished. And then they go back to jail. Along the way, we meet Aretha, Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway, John Candy, an armed and dangerous Carrie Fisher, Twiggy, as well as cameos by Steven Spielberg and Frank Oz. Next time you see me, ask me this: “Orange whip? Orange whip?” Do it.

“Duel” 1971

It can’t be easy to make a full-length feature about a truck chasing a car, especially when neither of them is a Transformer. But if you can make it really suspenseful and scary though, you deserve a long and storied Hollywood career. This was Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut, and the rest is history.

“The Great Race” 1965

This trailer didn’t age well!

I had this one filed under Screwball, but I will play it here. Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, Natalie Wood and an ensemble of greats race from New York to Paris — the long way — and encounter a slew of smoky sabotage and relentless silliness, icy peril and epic pie fights. It has no reason to exist except for pure fun and good old fashioned vengeance. Professor Fate’s “Push the button, Max!” became one of the family’s random references in my youth.

“The Hitcher” 1986

What happens when C. Thomas Howell stops to give Rutger Hauer a lift in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night? Answer: I redouble my resolve to never pick up a hitchhiker. This one had an such an exquisite sinister appeal and a shocking body count, but I don’t remember how many of them were cars. RIP Rutger.

“Smokey & the Bandit” 1977

Great trailer!

To a nerdy 7th grader with horn-rim glasses, braces, acne and b.o., the Bandit was the idol of escapist idols. This film has everything: Burt Reynolds, a Trans-Am, CB radios, bootleg beer, a ride-along basset hound and lots of good-natured traffic violations and non-life-threatening vehicular pile-ups. It’s actually a pretty tight film – go fetch beer and come back —  but it somehow has room for Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Paul Williams and a gratuitous romp in the woods set to a Jerry Reed country ballad. I watched it again recently and damn if it doesn’t hold up after 40 years, if you can forgive some wince-inducing reminders of 70s culture.


And now, let’s drop this morbidity at the next exit and get on with our life-affirming adventure. Eastword ho!

July 26, 1969: 1969 in Dollars

Went to see the Lloyd shopping center. Visited Jo Doty and we took the kids swimming and talked. Went back to camp early so Tim could fish.

Marge Binder, July 26, 1969

A few things here. Jo Doty was Mom’s roommate at Central Michigan when she and Dad met.

As for the Lloyd Shopping Center, it was a big deal! For a while it was the largest shopping center in the country. Huh, an open-air mall in rainy Portland: Genius! Someone finally figured out that a roof might help with the shopping experiences. Happily, it is indeed now enclosed.

Also, Tim fished.

The Price of Things…

It’s no surprise that prices increase over time, whether due to inflation or compassionate corporate stewardship. Here’s a sampling of some key items for families, including the ingredients for a killer cheese sandwich, a roadtrip staple.

ITEM1969 Average2019 Sampling/Average
Loaf of bread$0.23$2.19
Velveeta$0.68 (on sale! see below)$7.98
Yellow mustard$0.34$3.43
Gallon of gas$0.32CA:$3.84 MI:$2.75 VA:$2.49
Dozen eggs$0.62CA: $2 MI: $0.48 VA: $0.98
A&W Papa burger
A&W Mama burger
$0.95
$0.55
$3.99
$2.99 (only in Canada!)
In-state college tuition$1410$20,150
Movie ticket$1.42 $13.49
Annual wageMen: $6,860
Women: $2,250
Men: $38,900
Women: $24,900
Dollar$1$6.92

A late addition here, and I couldn’t get this table to update:

The first KOA in Billings, Montana charged $1.75 when it opened in the mid-60s. I just tried to book at the same place for a tent campsite. $55 a night! Maybe the campground business IS the future!

Back on June 26, I showed you how you could buy yourself a KOA. Too easy? Then check out how to BUILD one.

July 24, 1969: Portland pre-hipsters

Got an early start—8 AM. Stopped at Medford for breakfast then Jim drove 300 miles to Portland. Camp there full so set up at Paradise Point, Washington. Cold & windy.

Marge Binder, July 24, 1969
Here’s a poster for United Airlines from 1969, sans craft beer, man buns, scooters and quinoa.

One of the very few times Mom cites of not having a place to stay. She and Dad pushed on north of Portland for Paradise Point just over the border in Washington. We are one week removed from the hippies, and now we dwell among the hipsters. Actually, I’ll bet Portland was about the exact opposite of hip back then.

Long known as the Rose City, Portland once called itself “The Gateway to Health and Prosperity.” In 1995 it adopted “The City that Works” as its slogan. While the city has attracted some big corporations (I’ve been there for Intel), the mystique has become more of The City that Doesn’t Really Want to Work. Or, as Portlandia termed it: The place where 20-somethings go to retire.

In 2003 the city’s newest (and likely unofficial) slogan “Keep Portland Weird” took hold, inspired,” they say, by Austin, Texas.

July 18, 1969: There’s a State Park Nearby

Packed everything down the hill and were ready to go by 9:15! Drove north to Richardson Grove State Park in the redwoods and set up in Oak Flats. The kids swam in the river. Tim had a narrow escape on a cliff.

Marge Binder, July 18, 1969

I checked with Maw recently about Tim’s “narrow escape.” She laughed and assured me that “that happened all the time.” Tomorrow we delve deeper into that topic.

Learn more about this place and WikiCommons here.

Mom made full advantage of state parks along the way, opting for their modicum of luxury for a discounted fee or even none at all.

Richardson Grove looks to be an idyllic example with all of the right ingredients: rugged terrain, a swimmable river, robust flora and fauna (a stray dog tried to bite Mike), all set amidst the mighty redwoods.

Did you know there are now over 8,500 state parks in the country? Here’s a recent article all about state parks from The New York Times.

Ever think of becoming a park ranger? (I think you know who I’m talking about.) Here’s a good site to get started.

July 17, 1969: Trip Lit = Lit Trip

Feels like the blog needs a little tap on the gas. Might be that all those hippies got us digging our mellow.

Earlier I covered some of the diversions we had for long days in the car, one of which was Tim reading aloud from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Even though we’re a little north of Steinbeck country by now, it got me thinking about some of the other books about roadtrips.

Of course, first we need to agree on what constitutes a roadtrip. Does any quest like The Hobbit suffice? The Odyssey? Huck Finn? I’m going to limit it to books that center on a motorized vehicle and the surfaces laid down for them. That’s going to constrict the scope a bit. But hey, I haven’t read that many books about roadtrips anyway, as you’ll see.

Five Favorite Books About Roadtrips

First off: Honorable Mention goes to Mom’s diary from the 1969 roadtrip. Friends and followers have praised her terse but comprehensive style as of “Hemingway.” Had she not documented the trip on a daily basis (no doubt a task past exhaustion most nights), this retracing would not have been possible or even conceivable. Thanks to her for allowing me to use it as the basis for this 50th anniversary project.

5. Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck. 1960

I jumped on the Steinbeck wagon after reading The Grapes of Wrath in middle school. Travels with Charley featured less angst than Grapes, and a dog. To a nerdy high schooler living in the suburbs in the early 80s, this book made solitude seem like a reward (and I was so winning!). Of course, a lot of us were craving “freedom” at that age; the open road, adventure and experience sounded pretty good. I got the impression from Charley that Steinbeck wasn’t looking for that anymore. That’s why this was not my favorite of Steinbeck’s and, for all the catharsis, I’ve heard it was not a favorite of his either.

Get a copy

4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson. 1971

I didn’t read it. I tried, I really did. But I never found a way in. Same with Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Yep, feels good to admit it. Perhaps I’ll start another blog of all the other staples and classic literature I didn’t read. First up: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. If anyone actually made it all the way through that behemoth, I’d love to hear what it’s about.

Go on, YOU read it!

3. On The Road, Jack Kerouac. 1957

Kerouac wrote the book on, well, roadtripping books. Reading it was an exhausting rite of passage, as most Beat books were, forcing you to wake up, get hip and keep up. It reads like the kind of frenzied work that went into it: three nico-caffeinated weeks typing on one continuously scrolling piece of paper. It oozed with the restless angst that Charley didn’t.

In the end, after all of the drama and adventure, the road leads nowhere and nothing really matters.

“‘Where we going, man?’
‘I don’t know but we gotta go.’”

And that’s the beautiful thing, man. Dig it!

Read it here.

2. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck. 1939

This book made me proud to have read it. Steinbeck was a master of restless dreaming, of seeking out a better life somewhere, someday. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way. It’s the journey that helps us arrive at who we really are. Okay, enough psycho babble. The Joads got a raw deal, and the raw deals kept coming everywhere they turned. There’s plenty of political and social symbolism (and the reality of migration, xenophobia, desperation and human nature) in here, but I always come back to this: Tom Joad was an idiot. I’m sure not everyone would agree.

Get you copy here!

1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig. 1974

This was an assignment for a sociology class during college May session, and it changed my summer and my life. For one thing, it made me a pretentious ass — or, rather, it made me aspire for pretentious assiness. Example: the word chautauqua. For years (and even a recently as last month) I will refer to some occasions five or more people are chatting as a chautauqua. Someone needs to break an acoustic guitar over my head.

After 30 years, a few symbols still resonate with me from this book — forgive the brevity:

  • The road is time: the past, future and the present. Be conscious of which is most important at any given moment.
  • The motorcycle represents one’s life: there is the right way to make it work, and there are other ways. Seek out what is the right way for you. Understand the machine well enough so that when it acts up, you are able to make it right again.
  • “Helmets” (while a good idea, I suppose) prevent us from fully experiencing the world around us. Remove it and see the world with better clarity, feel the wind and breathe it in, and savor the nits and gnats as you encounter them along the way.

What really took me in was the indefinable matter of values and quality that we are immersed in everyday. At age 20, this was an epiphany. The prologue is a grabber:

“What is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good, Need we anyone to tell us these things?”

As for Phaedrus, I still spar my own Phaedrus every day. I’m happy to observe that with age comes wisdom, and so my Phaedrus and I have arrived at a healthy entente.

I encourage you all to meet, know and feed your own Phaedrus.

Really, you should read it.


Though the events of these books are a far cry from Mom’s July 17, 1969 — the laundry and Mike’s shot — I’ll bet she learned a lot about all of the above that summer.

Tim & Jim took a hike while Mike got his shot and we did the laundry. Took us 2 hours to find Dee’s at Hayward but had a nice visit and dinner. Got back about 10.

Marge Binder, July 17, 1969

I’ve been living in the Bay Area for 12 years and have yet to visit Mt. Tam or Hayward. I’m not really proud of that. But there it is.