In the summer of 1977, my family and I took a month-long trip across the United States. I was 15 years old, my brother was 14, and my sister was 9. She sat in the front seat between Mom and Dad (this was back before car seats… I don’t even know that we wore seat belts) and Steve and I sat in the back. We drove a Plymouth Volare that my dad bought used for $2000, and he was very proud of the car: it was bright blue, it had air conditioning, and it was a lot less beat up than our usual.
I think the idea was that I would probably get a job the following summer to start saving for college, and if we were going to take a trip as a family, this was the last time that we would all have the time to do it.
We drove out to California via a southerly route, and then came back across the upper middle of the US. We wandered around a bit, but managed to visit 26 states, averaging about 3 tourist stops a day, and staying in inexpensive hotels and motels across the country. When we wanted to splurge, we stayed at a Best Western, which we saw as the height of luxury compared to where we often stayed.
My father was an American History teacher, and my mother was similarly fascinated with American History, so we stopped at EVERY presidential home, presidential library, battlefield, cemetery, and historical marker across the states. Additionally, we went to museums and national parks and national monuments. I told my father that I had never before heard of History being used as a form of torture.
I was not a pleasant teenager, as I have hinted before, and the trip in a small car for 30 days with my family sent me over the edge. I packed a pillowcase full of used sci-fi books we had gotten at the flea market for 25¢ each, and I read them as we drove all those miles across the US. (I’m usually stricken with car sickness, but I got over it on this trip: boredom trumps nausea). When we got to the Grand Canyon, I was so tired of being stuck there with everyone, that I stayed in the car and read my book. That was NOT met with equanimity, but I was adamant.
As with many things from my teenage years, I look back and can’t believe how awful I was to my parents. They didn’t have much money, but they saved up to have our family have this experience together. It was a wonderful time for them, and they loved seeing the sites across our country. I just wanted to be by myself and away from all of them.
There are a few experiences that stand out in my mind from that trip. One was, when the car broke down in Tennessee and we were sweating outside in the sun while the car was being fixed, my mom gave me a dollar to go get us a couple of cold cokes from the machine. I went to the cashier’s desk to ask for change, and she had to ask me to repeat myself to understand what I was saying. Then her reply – that she couldn’t open the register without a sale, and she had to wait for the manager – had to be repeated several times for me to understand her. I had never before realized how dialectical English could be.
I loved seeing the open markets of Native American jewelry and baskets and other items in… Phoenix?
I surprised myself by really enjoying the Cowboy Museum.
I thought the Great Salt Desert in Utah was amazing, even though the drive seriously taxed our car’s air conditioner as we drove through it. We taped newspaper up on all the windows just to block out some of the sun and the vast whiteness of the land.
And, I really liked Meteor Crater in Arizona. I remember it was out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing else around for miles that anyone could see, and it was an immense hole in the earth from where an angry god had struck the planet in a rage. It was fascinating.
We went to Disneyland, and we had been coached the night before at the hotel where we were staying to get there at opening time, and head straight to Space Mountain. It was described to us as the most fun and amazing ride ever, and the lines filled up fast, so go there first. We all went there, and were amused by the signs about not to ride if you had heart trouble, which we naively interpreted as hype. My brother, who is severely autistic and mentally retarded (I no longer stay abreast of the politically correct terms: he is what he is, whether it’s “emotionally disturbed” or “childhood schizophrenic” or “exceptional” or “special” or whatever else) was terribly frightened by the experience and whimpered when we went on any other rides throughout the day, even the kiddie ones.
It poured while we were in Disneyland. One of those amazing downpours, where the brick street down the center was flooded with about 4” of water and everything and everyone was soaked. Each step was a splash. The whole place sold out of umbrellas and rain gear, and people dressed in big black trash bags with holes cut out for the head and arms. It rained all day.
I whined, of course, that maybe we should just come back tomorrow when it wasn’t pouring. Dad sighed, shook his head, and said that there wasn’t enough money in the budget to come back: this was it. That was one of the first times that I had enough insight to feel sorry for my parents. They were trying very hard to have this family experience for us, and between car trouble and weather and bad luck, we kept having things go wrong. I think, if there’s a moment that I can point to when I began – slowly – to mature, and to appreciate my parents and not just think about myself… that was it.
One of my friends went with her family out on a trip to the Southwestern US a couple years ago, and as they were planning the trip, I talked about Meteor Crater. The husband, who is an amateur geologist, immediately seized on the idea very excitedly and added that place to their plans. When they came back, my friend glared at me and said, “Don’t you ever tell us about places to go again. We spent all darned day there and the kids and I were bored out of our minds.”
Obviously not everyone can enjoy the place, but my husband has always been jealous of the fact that I got to see it. He’s had it in his mind to visit Meteor Crater for years. We’re talking about taking a trip out there, just the two of us, maybe in the spring.
In any case, as I slowly progress on my Whirring Wheel multistrand (I’m up to 17 strands right now, and I think this will be my last row) I’ve been thinking about that summer in 1977 as I braid and lace around and around this large circle. I think I’ll name this rug Meteor Crater, in deference to that wonderful/awful experience, and to my parents for their kind efforts.