with Steve McCarthy
This is not the column I wanted to write. My Dad passed away on Friday, 28 December after fighting Pulmonary Fibrosis for more than a year. The steady decline was painful to watch. The irony is that, unlike most respiratory ailment sufferers, he never smoked. Odd for his generation. He was a WWII vet, managed to earn a Bronze Star and four battle stars on his European Campaign Ribbon, was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and was never wounded, yet couldn’t beat this one.
So, why am I dedicating this column to him? Two simple reasons. First, he too was a writer. He earned a degree in Journalism from UC Berkeley and seemed to pass some of his skill with words on to me. Without those skills, I wouldn’t be inflicting my musings on you.
Second, he’s the guy who got me started Road Trippin’. I grew up in the 50s and the Sunday Drive was an institution then. We’d “Go for a Drive”, wander all over, and when the whole family KNEW we were hopelessly lost, there would be Henry’s Rite Spot, Home of Chicken in the Rough, about two blocks from home. Naturally, he never stopped for directions.
We’d make long trips at first from Sacramento to some new place out in the middle of a sea of orange trees called Disneyland, then spend a week at the Balboa Inn, playing SkeeBall and trying like hell to beat my Mom. When we moved down here to Pasadena, we reversed the process to visit my Grandparents in Sacramento for Christmas.
Back then, there was only US 99. The Grapevine had been upgraded from the Spilled Bowl of Pasta of the original Ridge Route, but still, it took skill and a strong radiator to negotiate it in a 1953 Buick, or later, the ’56 Dodge Two Tone Green Station Wagon. My sister and I would each have our cubbyhole wedged with “stuff”, my little brother would be in one of those loop-over-the-back-of-the-front-seat-car-seats with the plastic steering wheel. The only safety device was Mom’s arm.
Back then, 99 went through the whole litany of California Agricultural Towns. Lodi, Stockton, Modesto (Water, Wealth, Contentment, Heath!), Fresno, Lindsey, Shafter, Pixley, Bakersfield and all the rest. “Progress” was judged by which towns were bypassed when, condemning their Mainstreets to oblivion and creating a tectonic shift of the whole town to center on the offramps.
We only stopped for gas, the cornucopia of the picnic basket and the red plaid thermos bottles all the sustenance we needed. Even my sister learned to “hold it”.
We sang “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” and the “Wiffenpoof Song” because AM radio didn’t reach beyond the towns and only played cowboy music.
We made up a car counting game. Every car we passed, earned us one point. Every car that passed us, lost us a point. Pick ups were worth three points and Big Trucks were valued at five. We’d rack up hundreds of points by the time we got home. My Mom would take her shift at driving too. She’d often rack up more points than Dad. Neither hung about, the Holy Mantra was “We Gotta Make Time.”
We never went Back East. Never drove Route 66. We were all California bred and raised. All the family was here in NoCal or SoCal, so our orientation was always North-South. The furthest East we’d go was either Riverside to see my Dad’s folks, of Palm Springs to see my Mom’s aunt and uncle.
So, Thanks Dad for setting me off on the Road Trip of Life. I know you’ve finally found a shady rest stop, and are eating where all the truckers eat, ‘casue we all know, that’s where the best food is.