Teenagers on the Autobahn
When I was a senior in high school my good friend ,Jeff Young, and I wanted to go to Europe for a graduation trip and drive the autobahn. That was about the entire point of the trip was just to get on the autobahn and drive a rental car as fast as it could possibly go. So we got our parents together presented the idea to a resounding no. Ne took that absolute denial and transitioned it over to a somewhat – though scarcely – more reasonable request of driving the entire United States. This became the plan
We would spend two weeks driving 5,000 miles around America. I mean, it wouldn’t be that bad as long as we didn’t drive to Florida, right?
We Can Actually Go
Now, there were some mitigating factors that made it a little more reasonable to send two 17-year-old boys on such an insane odyssey. i’ll address these one at a time
The first factor was that this was not Germany, and we would not be driving a rental car – that we probably wouldn’t have been able to rent anyway – down the speed unlimited Autobahn. This was America, the home of the double nickel speed limit.
Then there was the agenda. we would spend the first night of our journey with my cousins, the Andersons, in Albequerque. our second stop would be with my friend’s neighbor’s relative near Dallas, then we’d stop with my Reed cousins in Houston. The next stop was with Junior Miss Alabama, who Jeff had met at some BYU thing. From there we were unsupervised until we arrived at my family friends, the Eihmann family in Sioux Falls, then finished up with more family friends in the Wulff family in Wyoming.
On the Road
Something that I learned this trip, that has held true on every road trip that i’ve taken since is this: the first day of a road trip is the longest. It may not have the most miles, or the most time in the car, but it is the longest. Your body hasn’t adjusted to the rigors of sitting for four hours, standing up long enough to fuel the car and eat a meal, then repeating. That takes some discipline. This is the trip where I first learned to develop that discipline. Even so, we took lot of unnecessary breaks on the first day.We did, however, survive Route 666 through Colorado and New Mexico. Unfortunately, I will never again be able to drive that road, as it was renamed a few years a back. I have driven the same asphalt, but it is just not the same as driving the highway of the beast. first day. After passing countless large trucks, we ended the day with my cousins in Albuquerque. They took us on a tour of their city, with the native American craft area, and Tramway Bouldvard. Cool first day.
An Alternate Ending
So, what brought this story to my mind right now? I spent a little time recently with a friend who had a very similar plan for her Senior trip with her best friend. While I was driving Route 666 into New Mexico, they were traveling I-80 across a the salt flats of Utah. Their trip ended abruptly in a violent crash on that first day. I’ve thought many times how blessed I was to have made my trip safely while two friends did not, and had their whole lives change abruptly that day. Seeing her again brought that NAC to me. It also brought back his whole trip. Let me now return to my tale.
On the Road, Again
Jeff took the driving on the second day, and I took shogun. We crossed west Texas very quickly, apparently too quickly. Somewhere just outside of Wichita Falls, Texas, we got pulled over. Jeff quickly pulled down the radar detector, and acted all repentant. We heard the trooper say into his radio, “We caught that out of state offender.” I guess that the eyes of Texas had been upon us all day long. We covered the ground from there to Dallas a little more slowly.
Not the actual car, but just like the one that I wanted to put longhorns on.
Somewhere in Texas, I had the brilliant thought to get a set of longhorns and mount them to the front of my car, a 1988 Acura Integra. While I had hoped this would give my car the vibe of Boss Hogg’s Cadillac from Dukes of Hazzard, I think it would not have translated so well to a Japanese “rice burner”. Fortunately (in the long-term), we never found a spot where we could buy the horns for the car. It was really a bummer at the time, however.
Somewhere else along the way, but probably on a different day that we decided to buy longhorns, I discovered that you can find country music anywhere in this country. As we crossed vast expanses of nothing, we used the auto-tune feature in the car’s radio. This found the six strongest radio stations and put them on the presets. Every time this scan brought in a selection of country music. For a couple of New Wave lovers like us, this was a major disappointment every time we tried it. We found country music on FM radio, long before XM brought music to every inch of America. Oh, what we would have paid for this technology to be crated and implemented 20 years ahead of its time.
The trip from Dallas to Houston was quite fun. We packed a picnic and stopped at a roadside rest stop. We listened to endless trucker banter on our CB radio. Yup, you read that right, we used citizen band radio. Never heard of it? Ask your parents, or look it up on Wikipedia.
In Houston, my Aunt Susan hooked us up for a date with two of the young women in her ward. We went to NASA’s mission control. Since Apollo 13 hadn’t come out as a movie yet, we didn’t even know that we should tell Houston that we had a problem. I think that we made it to Galveston too, very briefly. It was fun to hang out with a couple of girls for a day. Hmm… I wonder why I never kept in touch with them. I’m sure at least one of them made it to BYU.
If you’ve never driven across Louisiana, you really should once – although I have – but you really should experience it once. You don’t need to do it again after that. But, the bridges on the Interstate as it crosses the swamps and bayous of Louisiana make for some incredible driving. The exits seem to drop directly into the water of the swamp. See it once in your life: it’s worth it. After enjoying that part of the day we then completed the longest leg of the trip to Dothan, AL.
Remember how I said that the entire trip wouldn’t qualify as totally insane as long as we didn’t go into Florida? The trip became totally insane on a Saturday. We went with our hosts from Alabama to a cave in Florida. That’s right: we drove from Salt Lake City, Utah to Florida. The cave was cool, and Jeff thought that our hostess, Junior Miss Alabama, was cute. I let him flirt, it seemed harmless. (It turns out that it was harmless, once Jeff saw her at BYU the next winter, completely shielded from the cold like the Michelin Man, all bets were off.)
Dothan was where we stopped for church. I learned there that it is common practice for multiple churches in the same town to all let out at noon. The church that lets out first, gets its parishioners to the restaurants before the lines. We joined this strange pilgrimage on this particular Sunday. There are a number of churches in Dothan, all clustered together in the town; we drove past the emptying parking lots of each as we sped from church to the restaurant of choice of our host family.
We drove through the fog in the Smoky Mountains, past the Jack Daniels distillery. We wondered what they’d do with a couple of minors who stopped int to tour, but kept driving. We got to Nashville around dinner time ad grabbed the first roadside hotel that we found. It would have been a lot more fun to look for something closer to the city, rather than taking a rough neighborhood in the suburbs. Hey, we were only 17, remember? What did we know about choosing hotels? Or about booking in advance?
When we stopped for gas just outside of Nauvoo, Illinois, we discovered that one of the front tires was down to the steel belt. How that happened without our noticing previously is a mystery. But, we figured that we should probably replace the tire. Just because wee were 17 didn’t mean that we were stupid. So, we got some advice and the next morning visited a tire shop in Ames, Iowa. I don’t remember if we were able to replace just the one tire, or if we had to replace both front tires, but either way, at least they could help us, because we hadn’t worked an extra day into the trip for car maintenance. You have to remember that this was in the days before cell phones. We couldn’t just call home to check in or update our itinerary. We would have to get to a home before we could make contact. Did the tire wear completely from the trip? Probably not. It as most likely wearing out before we left, but because the wear was on the inside edge of the tire, none noticed it. Three thousand miles of use certainly didn’t help solve the alignment issue, however.
We left home with a Chevron card for gas, my parents’ credit card for emergencies and some cash for the rest of the trip. We quickly learned that the Chevron card was useless east of New Mexico. Our “emergencies” card ended up fueling the car almost the entire trip.Having grown up in Utah, we had no idea that Texaco, Shell, Esso, and other gas stations dominated the South and Midwest. Between that and the new tires, we owed my parents a lot of money by the time we got back.
As we drove through Iowa, we stopped in the city where I was born. I thought it would be cool to see the house that I lived in before I had any memories. However, it was only as we pulled into the city that I realized that I had not brought an address with me. I don’t know what I was thinking: if I thought that some instinct would guide me back to the place of my birth, or if it was just the inexperience of youth. We did try to find a pay phone to call my parents for some assistance, but somehow that call never came about. Even if they had been able to tell us an address, I don’t know how we would have found the place. GPS didn’t exist, and we didn’t have a good map of the town. I guess we would have tried a gas station for directions. That’s what people used to do, you know. So, we left my birth town rather disappointed, and continued on to our home for that night: Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with my Sunbeam teachers, the Eichmann family.
The Eichmanns showed us around Sioux Falls. This was cool, because this was my second home. They took me past the hues that I lived in when I was three, and shared the rest of their city with us. We saw the falls after which the city is named, went past the packing plant that employes a lot of the population. It was a fun day.
This is a typical Wall Drug billboard, except that many tell how many miles remain.
Leaving Sioux Falls, there was only one thing that kept going through our mind, even more than getting back home or seeing Mount Rushmore: Wall Drug. Why Wall Drug you may ask? It was the billboards. The incessant bill boards. They have a board about every five miles across the entire state! So, we did see Mount Rushmore, and I think that it was pretty cool, once we finally got pats the U-Haul that couldn’t get up the incline. But then we kept going to Wall Drug. The city of Wall, South Dakota is kind of like Main Street in Disneyland. The entire main drag is one connected store with many store fronts. You can enter the store anywhere you want and wander through every store on that side of the street, checking out anywhere that is convenient. We did get the free water that they advertised to lure in the unsuspecting. I also walked away with a high quality do nothing machine. I mean, first I paid for it at a convenient register, then walked away with it. Thank goodness, too, because I need something to keep me going through Wyoming.
The Wulff family, good friends of my parents, gave us our last stop of the trip. I can’t remember if the statue of Lincolm overlooking I-80 was before or after their house, but it is about the only thing that stood out to me through all of Wyoming. Let me know if I missed something. After an evening with them, it was home again, home again, jigged jig.
I’ve since driven to and from Florida a few more times. One time in a U-Haul of my own, and another I even put-putted across America with my brother. (If it’s still there, try the Congo in Orlando, Florida, and we found a great 27 hole course in Oklahoma.) But, this was my first time to see so much out this country and take a truly epic road trip. I don’t think it will every totally fade from memory.
Will I let my kids take a trip this truly epic? I don’t see that I have much choice, provided it is as well chaperoned as mine was.