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 12, 1969: The Zeitgeist, Then and Now.

Went to Alma. Took Tim and Mike to Dr. Williams. Mike is okay. Tim has a bad throat and had to have a shot. Caught up on Momma’s magazines.

Marge Binder, August 12, 1969

We took a drive up Highway 127 for a doctor’s appointment in Alma, the next town north. Old joke: “What do you do in Ithaca on a Saturday night? You go to Alma.” Yeah, that’s right. Tim sounds pretty bad, Mike is okay. And once again with this post, I am wondering why my presence has not been accounted for in a while. Hmm.

Since Mom is catching up on Gran’s magazines today, minus 50 years, I thought it’d be a good time to share some other relevant journalism and essays which have come to my attention in the past few weeks.

Ever heard of Garden & Gun magazine? You should, for so many reasons. Here’s their take on the perfect roadtrip soundtrack. A few spot on, a few curious, a few others. Enjoy!

Below, two guys traced every citation from a dozen or so books about travel (they’re not all roadtrips.) The level of OCB meticulousness puts my own 62-days obsession to shame. Fascinating!

Here’s another 50th anniversary story, this one about Elvis’s big comeback in Vegas. Amazing to look back at how much Las Vegas has changed in 50 years. It’s actually amazing to see how much that place changes in five weeks.

And finally, for today’s reading, here is The New York Times finally catching up with the crazy woke trend of celebrating anniversaries. Welcome to the game!

August 11, 1969: “Sick and…cross”…

…So let’s go to the Movies!

We are on Day 57 of Mom and her boys spending nearly every waking moment together. This the first time she cites any hint of acrimony (besides her ongoing trials with Sears). I hope it didn’t take too much of a toll.

Mike bought a “power sub” and we got back to Ithaca in the afternoon. Tim sick and the others cross.

With folks out of sorts, perhaps this is a good time to escape into an afternoon of movie watching.

Roadtripping Movies, Part 5: The Best

In the past few weeks I’ve revisited a few favorite films about roadtrips. You can click on the Movies & Books link to the left to find those posts. To catch you up, here are ones that have been covered:

  • About Schmidt
  • Almost Famous
  • Beavis and Butthead Do America
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Cannonball Run
  • Duel
  • Dumb and Dumber
  • Flirting with Disaster
  • The Great Race
  • The Hangover
  • Harold and Kumar go to White Castle
  • The Hitcher
  • It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Motorcycle Diaries
  • O Brother Where art Thou?
  • The Roadtrip
  • Sideways
  • Smokey & the Bandit
  • The Sure Thing
  • Thelma & Louise
  • Tommy Boy
  • Y Tu Mama Tambien

Choosing my favorites was pretty easy, once I laid out a list of the 25-30 to be included. The Top 3 were there all along.

5. “Easy Rider” 1969

This is a no-brainer, like listing out the best presidents: George Washington just shows up there. I get that he was a statesman, a brilliant politician and a war hero. But he was also a bit of a pretentious bore, even by that era’s standards. It’s only when he meets up with Jack Nicholson do things get interesting. That applies to pretty much everything. Extra credit for this film’s release coinciding with our roadtrip. As you might remember from our July escapades, we too communed with some hippies.

Watch this trailer. Just do it.

4. “Rain Man” 1988

This one was late to the list, and I had a hard time writing commentary about it. It’s a good movie, maybe a little too sentimental in places. For sure, the road, car and destination are all central to the plot. So why doesn’t this feel like a roadtrip? Maybe this one looks great through the windshield, but you don’t smell the fuel or feel the pavement.

Or perhaps the Oscar-winning performances overshadow the simple romance of a roadtrip. It won four of the biggies (best picture, actor, director, screenplay). I don’t think the other 20 or so movies listed in this blog have four Oscar between them. For sure: “Kmart sucks.”

Wild Card: “The Shawshank Redemption” 1994

Wait, what? But they were in prison the whole time! Hear me out. The lure of the road is often born of routine and boredom, of feeling confined and trapped. In the case of Andy and Red, they had been hobbled for 30 years. Great quote from Red, riffing on Andy’s love of rocks: “Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it really takes. Pressure and time.” What happens once that pressure escapes?

Andy “squares” his accounts and hits the great, wide open road — with the top down and the wind in his hair — and beelines to the Pacific coast of Mexico. Red follows a few years behind him, going Greyhound with the windows open and the sun in his face. They are delivered to Eden, and we want it to last forever.

“You get busy living, or you getting busy dying. That’s goddamn right.”

Shawshank might be the most perfect of roadtrip films.

3. “Midnight Run” 1988

In addition to this being among the best roadtrip movies ever, it’s also one of the best buddy pics as well. The chemistry between DeNiro and Grodin is surprisingly rich; thank God they didn’t try to reprise. Instead this is a one-off piece of pure fun, great storytelling and brilliant roadtripping from coast to coast. Final scene: Deniro stands on the curb at LAX, newly rich but unable to get a ride, “Looks like I’m walkin’!”

How they made a 2-minute trailer without an expletive is beyond me.

2. “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” 1987

Another buddy pic as the foundation of a roadtrip, this time with two legendary comedy acting who didn’t need to stretch to make this work. Five or six unforgettable sequences and lines (e.g., “Those aren’t pillows!”), as well as direction by John Hughes, helps this films stand up to time. In fact, we screened it last Thanksgiving for a multi-generational audience to rapt attention — until the last scene. In its Hughes-ian way of blending warm light, longing looks and an alt-80s ballad, it always felt a bit much. The youngsters agreed, groaning “that’s pretty cheesy.” Okay, but Neal and Del deserved some cheese.

1. “National Lampoon’s Vacation” 1983

Two reasons for calling this the #1 roadtrip film: It’s about a family, as opposed to a buddy film, and it aspires to be no more than a silly roadtrip film — no lessons, no mission, no purpose. Clark & Co. just want to ride rides at their favorite amusement park. Along the way they encounter a series of unpredictable but mostly familiar tropes: urban crime, crazy extended families, an empty dog leash on the bumper, a mad aunt’s corpse tied to the roof of the car, urine-soaked cheese sandwiches, hot blondes in convertibles, and so on.

Written by John Hughes and directed by Harold Ramis, the film colors generations of family roadtrips with the legacy of the Griswolds, the magical allure of Walley World, and the trusty and reliable Family Truckster.

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.

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 29, 1969: Chitty-Chitty-Wuh-Wuh?

Drove across Idaho all day. Camped at a KOA in Pocatello—still windy and threatening. Washed, bought groceries & went to a drive-in to see “Chitty-chitty-bang-bang.”

Marge Binder, July 29, 1969

50 years ago tonight we screened “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang” at a drive-in near Pocatello, Idaho. As some readers might know, I’ve spent a couple of blog posts talking about roadtrip movies (and there are a few more posts in store as we head home). CCBB would seem to qualify: car and road. But I’m going to leave CCBB out of those posts and cover it here. And there is a reason why.

For decades, I was of the opinion that this film was a classic — a kid’s fantasy. There’s silly old people, candy factories, flying cars, a toy maker, a child-like king, humanoid dolls, fun sing-along songs and some scary-making moments: when that fugly guy with the gnarly nose reveals himself to the children not as a candyman but as a twisted, pervy kidnapper…that’s haunted my conscience ever since. It was so risky and revolutionary, right up there with Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and anything from Disney. Or so I thought.

So when I learned recently that Mary had never seen it, I was eager to fill her in on something very special, a gaping hole in her childhood.

WTF!

The plot is all over the place — literally and figuratively! Suspend all the disbelief you want, this thing makes no sense. I can’t imagine the chatter in the edit room, assembling this scene of a pontoon with that of a castle, this crude visual effect with that out-of-focus piece of stock. And no one in the movie seems fazed by any of it, no matter how ludicrous or random. Where is this going? And when will it stop?

I want to scream at the screen: “For the love of God, Dick Van Dyke, look into the camera and say, ‘I KNOW! But it’s too late!'” Just give me a sign that no one spiked my Kool-aid!

CCBB is less a roadtrip than an acid trip. A really bad acid trip. The kind that should scare you straight.

This place closed in 2007. Pocatello’s famous Sunset Drive-In Theater!

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!