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 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.

July 15, 1969: More Hippies!

Hippie Tree Photo

Before we get to the hippies, there’s another thing that happened this day. I got separated from the family at Fishermann’s Wharf. I have visual memories of the terror: strange crowds and cars and noise and movement in every direction; and no Mom! Maw says she was equally freaked.

We were reunited soon enough because I followed my parents’ advice: “If you get lost, just stay put and we’ll find you.” Or maybe they taught me that after this episode. Anyway, it makes sense.

Okay, now on to Dad’s favorite people: hippies!

https://allthatsinteresting.com/san-francisco-1960s-photos

Hippies were everywhere by 1969, but the Bay Area was still the epicenter of the peace and love action. They seemed nice enough to me, a little dirty and odiferous. For Dad, though, hippies represented a culture counter to his own. He was an establishment man and a veteran of WWII. As the editor-in-chief of ARMY magazine, he was working with a positive narrative on the events in Vietnam. It’s a topic we hashed out many years later; much to my fascination, Dad was both clear-eyed and clear of conscience.

And for all his disparagement, I think Dad liked being around them at Bootjack. I think he found them fun-loving and non-threatening.

We have a beautiful view and the road isn’t too bad. Went to Tiburon and then S.F. Had fish at Fisherman’s Wharf and saw several ships & a museum. Took a cable car & taxi ride. Many hippies at Bootjack.

Marge Binder, July 15, 1969

Dad also liked to recount an event from this day that Mom glosses over in her diary. As he tells it, we were preparing to jump aboard a cable car. While he waited for one to slow, he saw Mom in his periphery hop aboard the runner with me dangling from one arm. Somehow he managed to get aboard, along with Tim and Mike

July 14, 1969: Hippies!

This must have been a spectacular drive along the coast; it is indeed “scenic.” We passed within a few miles of where I live today. In fact, in one of the earliest posts in this blog I cited Interstate 280 as being among the most scenic and sinuous of highways. But back in 1969, it wasn’t yet finished. So up Highway 1 we traveled, along its twisty, hilly, white knuckle contours overlooking the Pacific. (Note in the AAA guide book: the roads are “not recommended for the timid driver.”)

So when it recently come to light that I spent the day with a bucket in my lap, I can’t say I was surprised, given my track record with projectile car-sickness.

By the end of the day, we were ensconced on Mt. Tamalpais north of San Francisco, communing with hippies!

Packed up and got an early start. Took the scenic route along the Big Sur coast and Doug got sick again. Went through San Francisco and got a spot on Mt. Tamalpais—Bootjack Camp. Had to carry everything in.

Marge Binder, July 14, 1969
https://calstate.aaa.com/via/road-trips/-mount-tam-mill-valley-day-trip
From 1969 edition of AAA Tour Book, California-Nevada

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 7, 1969: The News of 1969

1969: A Good Year…Comparatively.

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!

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 28, 1969: Navigating 1969

Got the wheels balanced. The Guys had a swim before we left at noon. Also cooked a big breakfast in spite of a balky stove. Stopped at Sears in San Bernardino. Drove way up in the mountains to Crystal Lake, a federal campground.

Marge Binder, June 28, 1969

In preparing for this blog, I purchased a number of maps, atlases and guide books from 1969. It’s astounding to see what people are selling on Ebay. And it’s equally astounding what people are buying there. What a country!

Maps. (before apps, Google, GPS, etc)

Back then, every gas brand had its own maps for sale, usually limited to that state or region. Book stores might have a broader range of full US maps and atlases.

As I reviewed these maps, I found it interesting (and a little frustrating) that each brand of map was slightly different in scale and symbols. Assembling “one” map of the trip from this disparate collection yielded a few incongruities that I hope you’ll forgive. For instance, on July 21 we will cross from California into Oregon; the California map is a AAA brand, while the Oregon map is Standard Oil’s Western US map. Hoo boy, you can just imagine my conundrum!

Part of the library I amassed for this project. Even with these books and the vast internet, some locations and businesses are lost to the ages.

Guide Books

There were guidebooks too. AAA published regional guides that listed restaurants and lodging, town by town (but not on a map). These were often less than a smattering of what was actually available. And because it was heavily advertiser-supported, it seems suspect to me. Plus, the AAA guides didn’t cover campgrounds, so these books weren’t very helpful in this project. Btw, there were no apps like Yelp or Trip Advisor, as if I needed to remind you.

Triptiks!

AAA also created Triptiks. These were customized, hand-marked and -assembled pamphlets of maps bound together in order of the trip. One page would get you from point A to B, the next from B to C, and so on. The pages had an odd configuration such that the route always went from top to bottom or vice versa, no matter the direction you were actually heading. Mom didn’t use a Triptik on this trip because I think she wanted to be open to diversions. She did call on them plenty of times for later trips.

Mom’s bible was Woodall’s 1969 Trailering Parks and Campgrounds ($7.95 on ebay, plus shipping). At over 1200 pages, this no-nonsense guide included seemingly every strip of land big enough for a tent to stake claim anywhere in the USA.

While Mom preferred the cheaper state parks for most nights, she would research a “deluxe” facility every third night, for comfort and hygiene.

To book these campgrounds, Maw would use pay phones along the way, a day or so in advance.

Believe it or not, that was an innovative approach back then — long distance calling! — if we are to believe this ad from Ma Bell in one of the guide books.

At least the lady is letting the man do the talking(!). Hello 1969.

“How to read a road map”

“It’s very simple.”

I could imagine seeing this headline on any print map in 2019. 50 years ago, though, such a skill would seem to me to be basic, like reading an analog clock or writing cursive or surviving gluten.

The Best Navigation Advice I Ever Received

“As long as you have a tongue in your head, you will never be lost.”

Marge Binder, throughout my childhood

I recall Mom adding adding something about a dime or a quarter in her advice — things required to make a phone call back in the day — but I’ll keep it pithy here.

June 25, 1969: Life on the Road

I’ve long held the belief that, if you want to really know someone, travel with them. Even more so: go on a roadtrip together. Such events led to more than one breakup back in the day.

Of course, as a car- and tent-confined Family, we Binders had to coexist. Here are a few of the rules and procedures we followed, along with a few ideas from the good people at AAA.

Quiet Hour

For every hour a child stayed completely quiet, the parents would bestow 25 cents. We could use it for anything, usually candy and arcade games at the next stop. Thing is: You had to be quiet for a full hour, not 55 minutes. So as the clock ticked down to the magic moment, the boys would begin trying to sabotage each others’ progress, making faces, tickling, general intimidation. But, like I said, they were Family, so we couldn’t leave them at the next rest stop and move on.

The Pee Jar

Yes, it is what it sounds like it is. I imagine it worked because we were three boys sans modesty. It was always there, on the floor of the backseat, and when nature called we would get low and take care of business. There was an incident explained in Mom’s July 28 recollection where something bad happened to the pee jar. Boys! Amirite?

Art & Diversions

I don’t recall for certain, but I’m pretty sure Mom loaded us up with pens and paper. All three of us were budding artists (but none of us followed our bliss), so I can imagine some competitive doodling and sketching along the way. Tim was the illustrator — faces, animals, fish. Mike visualized sci-fi scenarios and architecture. I worked in long form, mixing scrawl with sketch. Like so much of this trip, the evidence is lost to the ages.

I seem to remember some “I Spy” and license plate bingo. Mom recently described some other games that I don’t recall, but they do sound plausible! Something about points for seeing cows: white cows were low scoring, black/brown better, and spotted cows were prime point sources.

Mom recently recalled that Tim would read aloud from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley (in Search of America) and the last of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. We also listened to the radio in the car, whatever AM stations we could find for as long as we could keep their signal.

Travel Tips 1969 vs 2019

Here’s what AAA suggested families do for traveling with kids back in 1969, before video games, tablets and seat-back video screens. And phones, internets, etc. etc.

In my entire childhood, I never heard of any of these activities.

I was surprised recently when I came across this story from Travel Channel; the diversions they suggest for roadtripping with kids includes quite a few non-tech activities. Bravo!

Had breakfast at the Cattleman’s Cafe. Had a “tail” picnic for lunch (that’s Doug-ese for “tailgate.” Camped at Bluewater State Park in New Mexico but it was miserable cold and windy so we slept in the car.

Marge Binder, June 25, 1969

Note Mom’s amusement (nay, astonishment!) at me coining terms like “tail” instead of tailgate. What a little marketer.

I’m seeing a pattern here: Every place we stopped seemed to have abundant fishing opportunities.

Here’s some more about Bluewater State Park.