The Rambler

The Rambler

What I remember about the years before I started school was camping, camping, camping. Our family traveled all around the country visiting all the places you’d ever want to see in the great old United States of America. Gas was much cheaper back then, probably not much more than a quarter for a gallon. We weren’t the only ones doing it either. There were plenty of families just like us with their station wagons loaded up and all the kids in back taking off for the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park or wherever sounded like a good adventure. Before we got the VW camper we had a Rambler station wagon that broke down on the side of the road somewhere in Alabama. We pulled over for a pit stop and it got stuck in the gravel and we were stranded. It was my birthday in 1968 and Robert F. Kennedy had just been assassinated the night before. In the motel my parents watched it all on television like the whole country. We were probably on our way to Mexico. We left our home in New Jersey as the summer was kicking off and drove through all the states before we got to the border at Texas. Every time we entered a new state it was a reason for a mini-celebration and we’d hoot and holler when we saw the official State sign welcoming us. Sometimes we passed through states so quickly we could do a few in one day. We went through Ohio and Illinois and Kentucky and Tennessee and Mississippi and I remember it very clearly. My parents would drive all day and sometimes into the night. They had a plaid thermos of coffee up in the front with them and they’d take turns driving and switch as fast as they could. Sometimes it seems like they didn’t want to lose time stopping the car and pulling over so they’d try to switch places while still driving. Is that possible?
We stayed in a million campsites. Sometimes it was just for the night, but a few times we found a place and stayed for a few days or a week or longer. I wasn’t in charge of the itinerary and I’m not sure how set our schedule was. It seems like there was plenty of flexibility to change our plans or our route and take a detour to wherever tickled my parents’ fancy.

Now when I look back, I’m trying to assess my parents’ motives for all those trips and all the territory we covered. Since so many other American families were doing their own road trips at the time and it was a real national pastime maybe my folks were just being competitive and trying to rack up more more states than the Jones next door. I don’t really believe that was the case, and the reason is that they continued to camp and keep the same car and my mom is still driving down to Mexico by herself these days, while most Americans have given up cross-country travel by automobile. So there must have been something in their spirit to want to ramble on to the next exciting destination, simply for the thrill of it. My father was already retired at this point and had traveled all around the world by ship. He had been to South America and India and the Middle East and sailed the Seven Seas for most of this career. It was my mom, however, who I think had a genuine wanderlust and she still can’t settle down even now at the age of 84. It was because of her insistence and good planning and careful budgeting and organized packing that we were able to successfully navigate and enjoy all the places we visited. She logged every mile and counted the change for every tollbooth and my father seemed to only drive and go along with what she suggested. He used to get impatient about mom always packing the car so full. But when we pulled in to a campsite at night, he had his tea the way he liked it and his special cheeses and crumpets and our favorite blankets and his books