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The view of Oregon’s Crater Lake that we didn’t see. The crater was formed about 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama collapsed. At nearly 2,000 feet deep, the lake is the country’s deepest. Photo by WolfmanSF
ColumnsHit the Road

Hit the Road: Taking a trip down (bad) memory lane

My daughter and I had a conversation this past week about when, where and whether to take a vacation. She, her husband and two children wanted, at the very least, to take a road trip through California, but because of the pandemic, even that didn’t happen. They settled for a few days at a nearby resort.

Planning a vacation amid the coronavirus pandemic makes the trips of yesteryear seem simple by comparison — like the one many years ago that took us from St. Louis to Sacramento for an Air Force assignment.

My son was a newborn, our car a Volkswagen Beetle, and our three-week October route sent us through the Southwest, then up the California coast. Our son traveled in a box in the back seat (clearly the days before car seats), and I warmed his baby food by placing the jars next to the heater outlet at my feet. (You Beetle owners know what I’m talking about.)

It was an election year, and as we traveled through Oklahoma, there were constant radio ads for Larry Derryberry (a name you can’t forget), a candidate for the state’s House of Representatives.

Some years later, another road trip took us to British Columbia. We pulled into Vancouver early on a Sunday evening and found nothing open but a McDonald’s. I settled for a fish sandwich, and within a couple of hours, I was vomiting nonstop. This continued for 24 hours. We finally called a doctor we knew, and I got an in-office IV and meds for the road. I spent the beautiful ferry ride to Vancouver Island in the hold of the ferry sleeping in the back seat of our car.

Then there was our non-Kodak moment at Crater Lake National Park.

After driving the never-ending, stomach-turning switchbacks to the top of this former volcano, we arrived to see this stunningly beautiful crater socked in by fog. (“But Mom, you said it was going to be so cool …”)

Maybe the most cursed of our past family road trips began when we left Seattle with no motel reservations. We ran out of energy somewhere in Oregon, but all motels were booked because of some large local event. We finally found a vacancy at what looked like a quaint resort with cabins, but ours obviously hadn’t been cleaned. I won’t disclose what we found in the bed, but it sent me marching to the office. I had to interrupt the couple at the desk who were making out and demand clean sheets and towels.

The next day, our planned stay with family in Bakersfield didn’t materialize, so we decided to keep driving. After all, it was just another four hours …

Unfortunately, Santa Ana winds had moved into Southern California, and by noon Los Angeles was cooking in the triple digits. We were stuck on Interstate 5 in creeping traffic, sandwiched between enormous 18-wheelers in our un-air-conditioned VW station wagon.

Suddenly, my 5-year-old daughter screams; I turned to the back seat, expecting the worst for my daughter. Instead, my 10-year-old son is holding his hand, the blood flowing freely. He had reached into the cooler to get a drink and sliced his hand on a knife.

A half-hour later, we are still crawling along in 104-degree, rush-hour traffic, black smoke pouring from our engine. We see a gas station and take the exit.  No one there understands VW engines, so we wait for it to cool, then putt-putt onto the freeway.

Three hours later, we coast into our garage, smoke again pouring out of the car.

The next day we go car shopping and our mechanic buys our VW for $400.