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 16, 1969: Even More Hippies!

Golden Gate Park Photo by Robert Altman

Took a hike around Mt. Tam—gorgeous view. Dropped Jim off to see an AUSA man. We went to Golden Gate Park & saw the fly casting pool, Japanese garden, playground, Sears & then met Jim and walked around Chinatown. Ate at Shanghai Low—Tim had squid. Noisy people in camp.

Marge Binder, July 16, 1969

Mom’s post speaks for itself: a pretty full day. A hike on Mt. Tam, dropping Dad somewhere, hitting several different areas of GG Park, dealing with Sears, dining in Chinatown and returning to a noisy campsite up a mountainside. All with three boys in tow. For Mom it was Wednesday.

Sears

Mom’s diary contains numerous references to Sears. Rarely though does she detail the needs or transaction. It just seems like an all-purpose reference to procurement and frustration. In one instance she talks about “doing battle” with Sears, which has me imagining her facing down her mortal nemesis, while scoring some new Keds for her youngest.

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 13, 1969: That Iconic Photo

Dad took the photo of Mom on Pismo Beach 50 years ago. It is my favorite and a family treasure. It captures what Mom must have been feeling after four weeks in the car with three boys and a tent. When I think about her looking at Dad behind his camera, she was definitely having a real moment: funny, exasperated, resigned, authentic. And, of course, she’s beautiful!

Every Christmas Eve almost ’til his passing, Dad would put together a slide show, usually four or five carousels full of his latest photos and the classics. When this one hit the screen — which it did every single year — the room would light up. Oohs and aahs and hoots and whistles. Even now, it lights up my day

More normal—cold. Rented a spot at the deluxe campground and they swam in the pool and we all took showers. Jim and I walked up the beach.

Marge Binder, July 13, 1969

July 12, 1969: “It never rains in Southern California…”

Clamming, Pismo style. I guess it all can’t be surf ‘n’ sun.

Maw still hums this song every now and again. The data agrees (see below), at least for July. We learned a very different lesson back in ’69.

Speaking with Maw a few weeks ago she recalled this day in detail. I added up all of the challenges: thunderstorms, heat, tent camping, laundry, more rain, power outage with soaked clothes. That must have been the worst! Mom was like, meh.

Actually had thunder and rain – then a fairly hot day. Went to San Luis Obispo to buy Tim a new rod. They swam. Another shower in the evening and the power went out just as I was finishing the laundry.

Marge Binder, July 12, 1969

July 11, 1969: My Brother Mike

Foggy ‘till late. Bought groceries. We all went to San Luis Obispo and visited the mission. The boys swam and then took a long walk up the beach. Doug and I cooked supper. Mike shut his finger in the car door.

Marge Binder, July 11, 1969

When I first read this entry from Maw’s diary and saw, “Mike shut his finger in the door,” my reaction was, “Yep, that’s Mike.”

I felt bad, for sure, but things like this were always happening to my brother Mike. I think he’d agree today: thus has been his existence. Mike is the middle child, and he possesses much of the pseudo-psycho baggage that goes with that (along with the virtues like leadership and modesty). But that’s just the beginning.

I don’t think my joints do that anymore. Now I know why.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen that we stopped every seven days in one little town or another to get Mike an allergy shot. Later on in the trip, he’ll get poison ivy and visit a hospital in Illinois for an ear situation. In the years to come, Mike will suffer bouts with more allergies and god-awful plantar warts. Being in the room when he was having one of those things removed was terrifying for me; I can’t imagine what it was like for him.

(Mike and I share a few bum knees too, but I am grateful that our family didn’t suffer anything more nefarious. Very grateful.)

In her diary, Mom seems to cluster Mike and me together in many situations. Even though he was eight and I was four, Mom referred to us as “the little guys” in one entry. We swam while Tim fished. While Tim fished we swam. And on and on.

The scout befriends a native.

But Mike and I were very different kids. He excelled in math and science. I relished the liberal arts and sports. He was obsessed with “Star Trek.” I made appointment TV with “Wide World of Sports.” He studied his ass off. I did what I needed to get by. Mike became an Eagle Scout. He put himself through the University of Virginia (which he didn’t have to do) by driving buses around Charlottesville. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, got several advanced degrees, researched at CERN in Switzerland and then got another degree in architecture.

I have a BA in English.

We are no longer the little guys. For 50 years we’ve charted different courses, chased different dreams, and we’ve somehow got more in common now than ever. We are both creative and artistic, curious, considerate and compassionate. All traits we no doubt learned from Mom.

Yet, differences remain. I consider my big brother Mike to be one of the most honest, modest, sincere and hard working persons I have known in my life. Something I can only aspire to.

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).

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/07/07/driving-cross-country-was-crazy-idea-an-army-convoy-set-out-show-it-could-be-done/?utm_term=.1cbc4d7f0ace

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.