Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Van Winkle Plans a Vacation

It's that time of the year. Many Americans are hitting the open road for their family vacations. Here at The Van Winkle Project, we're about to do the same.

Planning phase.
America is such a large country with so many roads and sights to see that it invites this kind of diversion. All you need is a car, money for gas, and a hotel or campground to stay at when the end of the driving day comes.

I grew up in a family in which the parents had a vehicle especially well suited for the road trip: a station wagon.

By the time it was over we would have owned two Ford wagons, each with all that luxurious space behind the passenger seat for three small boys to spread out in. And unlike a mini-van, which was yet to be invented, a station wagon rode just like a car.

Cruisin' and smooth!

We made 18-hour drives between Wyoming and Oklahoma. We drove to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

Trusty vacation road machine: Our 1957 Ford Country Sedan...

After we moved to Alaska long road trips would cease by necessity. Places in Alaska tended to be connected by airplane, not asphalt. Motivated by the lure of salmon to catch, though, we still made plenty of 100-200 mile day trips in the last of those Ford station wagons, the one we boys called "the Golden Pig." We hauled our aluminum boat on the rooftop.

How We Did It
Preparations for road trips in those days were fairly simple. My dad bought a case of motor oil because the 427 engine in the '57 wagon had a leak in the valve cover and we had to pull over every couple of hours and add a quart. He got some maps at the gas station.

Part of the vacation "goodie box." Disgusting,
metallic tasting store-brand soft drinks.
Cheaper than Coke or Pepsi, our parents considered it
a "bargain."
 As for our mom, she prepared the "goodie box" which contained chips, cookies, and soft drinks.

And, of course, she packed our suitcases, standard hinged affairs with snap locks.

We loaded up and we hit the highway.

Our second car, the famous "Golden Pig" which
took us on trips in Alaska.

There was very little in the way of radio stations to listen to. We had no battery-powered devices to help us out. If we had a breakdown, we would have to stand at the side of the road and look pathetic because there was no such thing yet as a cell phone.

But we had a good time.

In the back seat, my brothers and I squished together in a fraternal way we were long used to. We read books, dozed.

I used to stare at the blur of landscape and try to hear symphonies in my head. Time's passage was a slow, aching bruise, but I think somehow we were better able to bear boredom in those days. Having very little to do seemed closer to the daily norm than something exceptional and unbearable.

Gotta Get Away
So there's this family reunion we're heading to in Branson, Missouri, a place I will not write about at this time, even though there's much that could be said about it as a tourist destination.

The reunion begins this Sunday.

For a variety of reasons we're going to make our way north slowly,  never driving more than 300 miles at a time over the next four days.

For entertainment on the road we have:

  • Sirius satellite radio*
  • Great Courses lectures on CDs
  • Music CDs
  • Music stored on an iPhone
  • MP3 player
  • Books
*NB: The Van Winkle Project travels with me, so there will be no news or sports programming allowed to reach our ears.

Where will we stay? In the old days my dad hardly ever planned for such eventualities. It would have meant the difficulty of digging up the information about a hotel in another state, then making an expensive long distance phone call to get a room reservation. 

So we looked for a hotel when the time came, usually an hour after the sun dropped below the horizon and we started seeing the highway courtesy of our headlights.

Vacation research question: Will this Comfort Inn
really be comfortable?
But I don't like to subject us to chance and roaches.

Last week I spent hours reseraching lodging on-line and read guest reviews. Then I booked us rooms for each night. Even eating options have been noted.

Of course, one could just hop in the car and see what happens. Which seems to me a major difference between 21st Century road travel and the 20th Century's version of the same.

These days we have way more choices about how to approach our adventure.

Will we be like Columbus who sailed off with nothing more firm in his mind than that surely he would eventually reach India (about which he was completely wrong). Alternatively, will our road trip be more like a NASA moonshot with every possible contingency planned for?

Or perhaps something in-between?

I suspect many readers can testify that their best road trip moments have happened after a wrong turn. Or unexpected weather. Or an encounter with a stranger.

Mystery should be part of the lure of leaving home, too. Let's close the travel guide for a moment, fold up the maps, and just wonder. America's a big country. What is out there that I can't even imagine? - V.W.


1 comment:

  1. On your last line, just realize that for all you know, you may not even live in America anymore.

    Daniel Massey