One of the most memorable summers I spent happened in 1947, when my parents loaded me, (age 9) my twin sister and older brother (by two years) on a road trip that went from New York City to Los Angeles and back—in my father’s Buick—the only kind of car he would drive. Consider: A two month trip. My mother did not drive. Summer. No air conditioning. No interstate highways. Parents up front. Three kids in the back.
We went from NY to Philadelphia, and then on to Chicago, through the Dakotas, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Taos, New Mexico, the Painted Deserted, Los Angeles, (which included a Hollywood film studio making a cowboy movie) then back, through the South, where I recall being horrified to see a chain gang. And much, much more.
I can still recall seeing the carved faces of the presidents in Dakota. Old Faithful sprouting. My first sight of real cowboys somewhere. The oil fields of Oklahoma. A sign that read “Welcome to Los Angeles” in the middle of an empty world
After almost sixty years, my siblings and I can recount almost everything we did and saw. That in fact happened because my mother said we must keep a journal of the trip and each day one member of the family wrote about the day’s events and what we saw. The journal still exists.
We followed maps closely, constantly played games from “silence contests” to “license plate poker,” to endless “twenty question” contests.
Did we read? Not in the car. It made my sister and me car sick. But at night, in endless motels, we all had books. Do I remember what I read? No. But I learned how big and varied America was, and that has never left me.