In the early 1970’s, my family took a road trip to San Diego, Tucson, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. We were four kids, aged seven, eight, nine and 10, all sitting in the back seat of a four-door sedan. There may have been two safety belts, possibly three. If we did buckle up, at least two kids shared the lap belt.
This past week, I took two separate road trips with my children and a variety of other kids. They all not only had their own safety belt, but the youngest one was perched in a booster chair. Booster chair? That used to be for babies at the kitchen table. In a car, the youngest child just sat on the lap of an older sibling.
In 1972, the only manufactured sound came from whatever easy listening radio station my mom or stepfather tuned in to, and fortunately for the kids, we were out of range for most of them. Yet on my most recent trip, we used a variety of entertainment devices… simultaneously. I listened to the latest editions of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me downloaded on my iPod, my 4-year old played Angry Birds on my iPad, and my 10-year old and her cousins and friends each brought their own smart phones and spent the trip listening, chatting, playing or texting – often to each other even though they were an inch away from each other. They watched a variety of DVDs on players with two video monitors – one for each row of seats. My son complained that he wanted to watch his own movie, so I set up Scooby Doo for him on my laptop. Isn’t technology truly amazing? Almost as amazing as today’s kids’ constant need for amusement.
On my childhood trip, we played In Grandmother’s suitcase (“In Grandmother’s suitcase I found an apple, a ball, a cat, a dog, and egg”… continuing through the alphabet) and I Spy. We announced to the entire car every time we spotted a beetle bug (AKA Volkswagon bug), and we sang camp songs and 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall several times. We would all face in one direction and draw pictures on each other’s backs and try to guess what they were. We argued a lot. The most prevalent conversation included the whiny sentence, “He/She is touching me!”
Although my minivan is 14 years old, it still includes many of the creature comforts that didn’t exist 40 years ago: dual-air conditioning, a dozen or so cup holders, arm rests, seats that tilt. When I was a kid, if we were allowed to eat or drink in the car, there was a guaranteed mess (usually melted chocolate), and the only leaning back we did was on one of our siblings (hence the “He/She’s touching me” chant). Air conditioning cooled the front of the car quickly. The back seat waited for the front vents to eventually waft a few feet or we just rolled down the back window and sang 99 Bottles even louder.
Navigation is downloaded on my Android, so no matter where I am, I know where I’m going. Years ago, this used to be accomplished by something called a map. I’m not sure if kids today would even know what N, S, E, W stands for. And forget about trying to fold it properly.
When I was a kid, it was a big deal to see the big plaster dinosaur on the I-10 or get a date shake at Santa Claus Lane. But multiple sequels of Jurassic Park have made the imitation dinosaur kind of cheesy-looking and my kids would definitely prefer a Slurpee at one of the 600 or more AM/PMs we pass on the Interstate to the now-obsolete date shake stand.
Some things never change though. There’s always a point in a road trip when a filthy roadside bathroom can’t come fast enough. However, with the invention of the Double Gulp they’re in even greater demand, and of course, much appreciated over a bush on the side of the road.
If given the choice, travel by car today is infinitely more pleasurable than 40 years ago, even if a speeding ticket and the rise in auto insurance now equals a monthly mortgage payment. The only thing I really miss is the first dozen or so bottles of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. It’s just not as fun teaching my kids the new politically correct version 99 Cans of Red Bull on the Wall.