Just the other day at a stop light, I came to a halt next to a mini-van with four kids in it. One of them was on a cell phone, another was playing a video game, the third was listening to an IPod, and the final child was watching her own personal DVD player.
Let’s face it. When it comes to traveling, modern children have it made. They have no idea of the tortures that their parents and grandparents had to endure as childhood travelers back in the olden days when conditions were not as posh.
For one thing, cars were much larger then, but parents made up for that extra space by having eight or ten kids ride along on every trip. These youngsters could either be homegrown progeny, or they could be handy loaners from the neighbors. Child volume was the goal, not child ownership.
Seat belts had not come into common usage, except when your mother leaned over the seat and belted you, so most adults subscribed to the tight pack method for transporting small fry, which involved cramming as many youngsters as possible into the back seat of a four-door sedan.
That way, if there was a wreck, the kids were wedged in so tightly that they couldn’t get hurt. At least one dog and sometimes several were used to stabilize the cargo, and nooks and crannies were tamped with egg salad sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, a material that homemakers once used to transport food that they did not want to keep fresh. The load was topped off by a big Tupperware container of Kool-Aid that Mom had once again forgotten to sweeten.
The baby—and since this was the Baby Boom, there was always a baby—got scotched up onto the back dash for extra safety. You just had to remember to turn him from time-to-time, so he wouldn’t get too brown on one side.
I mentioned egg salad because in my family, that was the road food of choice. In your car, it may have been canned tuna or olive loaf. But whatever it was, federal law dictated that it had to be heavy on the mayo, so that it would be sure to turn brown after five hours or so in the back of a sedan with no air conditioning.
Road food was always brought from home because every dad on the face of the North American continent was excessively frugal, due no doubt to the fact that he was trying to feed multiple children on a $48.00 per week salary.
Also, he had to make time and couldn’t be hampered by details such as stopping to eat or go to the bathroom. The reason he had to make time was so he could get there, wherever there was, because the sooner he got there, the sooner he could come home.
Sometimes, new parents or bad planners would run out of road food, an offense which would necessitate a visit to that most wondrous of highway oases, the truck stop. The conventional wisdom was that since the truckers were the professionals of the open road, they always knew the best places to eat. You can’t prove that theory by me, but I will say that everything on the menu tasted better than sour Kool-Aid and warm egg salad.
Incidentally, modern youngsters are for the most part unacquainted with cars that are not air conditioned. They weren’t that bad, actually, except for the occasional insect, rock, or small bird that got sucked into one of the four open windows as the family was tooling down a two-lane highway at sixty miles per hour. Car interiors were much cleaner back then, as well, since anything weighing less than ten pounds that was not mounted on or tied to the car would eventually be swept out of those same windows.
And of course, I am referring to travel that occurred back before cigarettes were known to be bad for you, long prior to the discovery of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. So most times the interior of the family car resembled the skies over Chicago during the great fire of 1871.
With the exception of making time, which is a genetic requirement for all men who have fathered children, almost nothing about modern travel resembles the picture I have just painted. These days, there are several expressions that might apply to ten kids with full bladders riding unharnessed in un-air conditioned cars while holding their breath and munching warm egg salad. These include reckless endangerment, child neglect, and marginal parental interface.
But back in the good old days, we just thought we were going for a ride.