WTH was your Mom thinking?

Mom told me recently that she “wanted to go to California.”

She had summers off and, rather than paint a room in the house, she plotted out this excursion with her Family that has been core lore ever since. In short: MOM IS A BADASS.

What did you eat along the way?

Mom provided for three meals for three hungry boys every day. She shopped at local markets every few days, mostly for non-perishables. We had a camp stove and “chuck box” that were the source of some meals at the campgrounds, including some burgers and breakfasts.

Mom also references a number of restaurants along the way. Aside from a few A&Ws, fast food was not part of the diet because it didn’t exist in very many places back then.

And in between all of that were sandwiches of white bread, American cheese and mustard. What could be more American than that?

What did you drink?

Kool-Aid, according to Mom’s diary. Probably some healthy stuff too, or at least some chilled Diet Rite and Tab. As for Maw, she mentions in her diary having champale only twice, on evenings at the very end of the trip. She recently confided in me (to share here) that she had a little bottle of champale every night of the trip.

You’ve been reading you Mom’s diary?

With her permission! Without it, this project would have been pretty shallow. I kept the reading finite to the parameters of the trip. But in doing discovering those parameters, I came across this installment from May 20, 1969: “Had a conference with Pat Franklin who said Doug is ‘so stable she can’t believe it.’ Also smart.” Really, though, is anyone surprised?

Where was your Dad?

Pop was working. He was a few years into his tenure at ARMY Magazine, Vietnam was raging, and he couldn’t commit to that much away-time. This was in the day before internet and cell phones. Hell, this was in the day before fax, Fedex and “unlimited minutes.” But really, it was the golden age of telex.

He joined us for a few weeks in late July, hooking up in southern California and driving up the coast to Oregon.

How much of this do you remember?

I remember that it was a big thing. We were way out there for a long time, and I had never had so many new experiences on a daily basis in the four years before that.

There are probably a dozen solid memories in this series, mostly in times of pique. I remember being lost at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco; I remember seeing a pretty twitchy version of Abraham Lincoln at Disneyland; I remember Mom and Dad trying to explain that “a man is on the moon” as we gazed at it from a clearing in the Redwoods.

And I remember being completely submerged in water after stepping off a boat ramp. As I remember it, it happened in Oklahoma near the start of the trip. But Mom records in her diary that it was much later. So, who are you going to believe: The four-year-old piecing things together 50 years nigh? Or my Mom, who is a saint. Good answer.

How was the wireless coverage?

There was no wireless.


There was no such thing as wireless. No internet either. There were no cell phones, computers, tablets, Facebook, Google, Instagram, Trip Advisor, yelp!public GPS, nothing. There was none of that.

There were no interstate exits crowded with Taco Bells and Steak’n’Shakes. There was nothing, nothing but road and dirt and sky. C’mon people!

We did have air conditioning in the car, which was quite the luxury.

What did you do without wifi?

We talked and we didn’t talk, the whole time.

Actually, during the drive times, Mom would pay us a quarter for every hour of silence. That financed candy and arcade time. The hitch was that you had to be quiet for the entire hour; if you succumb after 55 minutes, the clock started over. I remember Tim trying to get Mike and I to lose it as the top of the hour approached.

HFS! What was WITH you people!?!?

Dude, in 50 years, your peeps are going to be asking you the same question. “What do you mean you lived without Fleugel Blasters and Tronella spread?” Let me know how you answer.

(Of course, by then there will be time-travel, so you’ll just come back here to 2019 and fill us in. Still waiting. Still…)

What kind of research did you do?

A lot, or at least as much as time would allow, dating back to the first of the year. Mom’s diary was the catalyst. My brother Mike had digitized a few dozen photos a while back, so I tried to match them with time and place. I’ll admit that there are probably a few hanging chads in that regard.

Once I had transcribed the 62 entries, I started looking for the places that Mom cites in her diary, places like Conaway’s Party Barn in Indiana and Perry’s restaurant in Grove, Oklahoma. That was hit or miss, and the internet was surprisingly bereft of traces. I reached out to various chambers of commerce, which seemed to cause more confusion than discovery.

I also bought maps and guide books from 1969 on Ebay. I wanted to see how far the interstate highway system had evolved at that point. The materials also showed the relative density of cities and towns and how much that has changed in 50 years. I scanned some of the materials in high res and used them to visualize our progress on a near-daily basis.

Did you consider driving across country to commemorate this anniversary?

Nope. At least not until I started to post some things on Facebook, and peeps invited me to visit them in Michigan and Virginia. And even then, no. But as this notion has settled in my head, at the same time that I’m digging into research and relics of the past, I’ve confirmed that a reenactment would be fruitless. The past that we traversed in this project has buried under the sands of time or washed away by the tides of another cliche.

From the looks of it, your brother Tim fished almost every day. Do you like to fish?


I’m bored. Can I watch a video or play a game?


Why are the youngest siblings the best?

Dunno. We just are.