This week, YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday asks the question, What’s the most dramatic road trip you’ve ever been on? What immediately pops into my mind might not have been a dramatic road trip, but it left wonderful, indelible memories. It was the summer my dad had to spend several weeks working on a satellite launch in Florida. He agreed to take us kids with us, so we drove from Los Angeles to Cocoa Beach in a 1957 Ford station wagon.
I was ten years old, and had just finished fifth grade. In fact, I missed the last few days of fifth grade because my dad had to be in Florida by a certain date, so I left school early. We departed on a Tuesday in early June, me, Dad, and my older sister, Debbie. The plan was that my oldest sister, Linda, and a friend named Cathy would fly out later and join us.
But the three of us drove. We started in Hawthorne, California and headed east. In those days, no one wore seat belts (the old Ford probably didn’t have any), so sometimes my sister and I would travel in the “way back” behind the middle seat. We also would sleep back there while my dad drove.
We made stops along the way. The first was at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. We arrived at the caverns Wednesday evening, just in time to watch the resident bats leave for their nightly flight. The next day, we descended into the cave on a tour, which ended in an enormous cavern set up as a cafeteria. They gave us box lunches and I still remember the taste of that cheese sandwich, and eating it hundreds of feet underground.
Years later, I wrote a romantic suspense novel based in a similar cavern underneath the Arizona desert (Dark Whispers). In the book I’m working on now, Revolution, the third book in the Tankborn trilogy, several important scenes also take place underground.
We left New Mexico on Thursday after the tour and headed into Texas. Because we were driving through the “fat” part of Texas, it seemed to take forever to get through the state (on our way home, my mom drove through the Texas panhandle in one night). At some point in Texas, we stopped at a truck stop and my dad bought me a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (I might be giving away my age here, but if you take a close look at the cover, you’ll see the book cost 65 cents.)
I devoured Tom Sawyer as we passed through the South, crossing through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Tom Sawyer takes place in Missouri, but the flavor of the book’s setting fit the countryside we drove through, adding to the experience of reading the book.
We made it to Florida on Saturday of that week, five days of driving to cross the country. My dad had often driven through the night, only pulling over to sleep in the car when he got too tired. Not long after crossing the border into Florida, we stopped at a restaurant for breakfast where I had grits for the first time. To my Southern California eyes and palate, they looked and tasted pretty strange, but it certainly told me I was a long way from home. We spent that night in a hotel and the next day, moved into the apartment we stayed in for the summer.
There was more to the trip. I got to see three satellites launched from the beach outside our apartment. We spent every day in the pool or on the beach, or walking down to the Howard Johnson’s in the rain for ice cream. When my dad’s job was done, we all drove from Florida to Brooklyn (now it was Dad, Mom, me and my two older sisters and Cathy). Mom and Dad took turns driving so it was a fast trip. Then we visited our Brooklyn relatives a few days (which included a trip to the World’s Fair). Finally, we drove from New York back to Los Angeles, finishing the big triangle-shaped road trip.
We rode through or visited 25 of the 50 states that summer. It was a fabulous trip, one I’ll always remember.