I had my first glimpse of life on the road the summer I turned six. It was 1982. Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger was #2 on the top 100 hits. In the Midwest where we lived, the average summer temperature was 84* with the exception of July 4th that year when the temperatures soared to a sweltering 93*. That wasn’t hot enough for my parents though and I don’t believe they ever listened to Eye of the Tiger. No, they were different. They raised on a combination of the Blues Brothers and classic country music. And that year, they decided 84* weather just wasn’t hot enough.
So they packed us up in the back of an old Chevy pick-up truck that had the gear shift on the steering column. I remember my mother holding the gear in place by draping her lily white leg over it for the entire trip. To Arizona.
It was seven days of living on the road. Highway miles passed beneath my sisters and I as we sat piled high on pallets of blankets, clothes, and stuffed animals in the bed of that truck. Our black lab dog was our constant companion. Cars whizzed by us on all sides and I remember waving at cars behind us on the road. At night my dad would pull off of the road and drive into the entrance of whichever KOA campground was in the vicinity. My mother would have their trusty Rand McNally atlas spread out on the bench seat giving directions. Dinner was a one pan creation and our home was two two-man tents -one for the folks and one for me and my sisters. The dog (Chopper) slept nearby.
If there were other trips before that summer, the only memories I have are borrowed ones. I remember the night we stayed in Oklahoma and I spent birthday money on a package of ice cream bars to share with my family and a puzzle of the U.S. that I kept for years. The drive through New Mexico was less pleasant when I was stung by a bee that was sucked into the truck’s vent and in a panic flew up my pant leg, stinging me multiple times until the back of my knee was so swollen it looked like I’d grown a second knee cap on the wrong side of my leg. The humiliation I felt when my mother yanked down my pants to remove the offending insect while elders sat outside of an old, isolated gas station was as painful as the bee sting.
Life on the road became rooted in my soul though. Since then I can feel the highway beckoning. Calling me to put the car in gear and drive. To enjoy the sights, listen to the radio and practice spontaneity; the thrill of discovering what lies ahead.