Many of my childhood summer family vacations consisted of too-long family truckster car trips to unglamorous destinations where my father had secured a consulting project. He worked on cable TV systems, the “head-ends” for which are usually on the outskirts of sleepy towns where, I am confident, most Americans do not vacation. Utica, NY. Gadsden, AL. Charleston, WV. Houma, LA. Midland, MI. I’m sure these are perfectly nice places to live – but once you’ve seen one Days Inn motel room, you’ve kind of seen them all.
Usually my father drove and my mother sat in the passenger seat. We’d load most of the suitcases into the middle of the station wagon, and then my brother and I would inhabit the “way back”. Sometimes we would climb over the piled suitcases in the mid-section and get horizontal as we cruised down I-95.
This was in the days before iPads and built-in DVDs, so on our drives from home in Lawrenceville, NJ to Commerce, GA (our frequent first stop when heading south), we had to amuse one another. When we got thirsty, we’d ask my mother for a cup of iced tea; she’d dispense a cup from the cooler that she’d filled that morning with an ample supply of Shop Rite’s own brand of powdered, sweetened iced tea.
This image came to my mind in a flash the other day when I found myself behind the wheel on the New Jersey Turnpike, Nova to my right, the kids in the back seat, on our first-ever road trip as a family. We are in the Outer Banks, so it’s not quite Meridian, MS, where I did once spend a few days at what I think was a Rodeway Inn. But it was eerie just the same. The familiar buzz of the highway flying past, the blinking white lines in the middle of the road, the faded Stuckey’s billboards and constant lookout for radar trips all only added to the sensation.
About 300 miles later, we crossed the Chespeake Bay Bridge tunnel. It’s a long stretch through Virginia and then out of nowhere, you are flying across the Chesapeake. My kids had the same experience I did the last time we crossed it as a family almost 40 years ago: sheer boredom followed by 20 minutes of wonder. My father was driving, of course. It is strange to think of him as so in command, which back then was all I knew of him. A confident man in command.
My kids certainly have the sensation in front of them as well of discovering how fragile their father really is
As a circle of life moment, that flash on the New Jersey Turnpike is a minor one in the life of a Sandwich Generation father. The sweet tea memory is a mundane one, in some ways. But then I suppose that those are the ones that sneak up, and stay with you.