Everyday travel in my Americana was always simple. The car. Did I have one, could I borrow one, or could someone please pick me up? Growing up, my family owned just one car, and depending on what time my Minor League or Little League baseball games or practices started, my parents work schedules sometimes made it hard to get there. I did get one valuable piece of advice however that went something like…
“Don’t worry, if you’re any good, they’ll find a way to get you there.”
Most of our family vacations consisted of driving to the Jersey shore for the annual V.F.W. convention. We didn’t take long cross country trips to National Parks or hop on an Eastern Airlines flight to Disney World. It was always Wildwood in June for the convention…and we loved it. It wasn’t until I got my own car that I even saw anything west of the city of Philadelphia. I always knew places called Valley Forge and Reading were there, history and geography books told me as much.
On my 18th birthday, my mom gave me a gift called nepotism when she got me a job at the Evesham Waste Disposal Treatment Facility. If nepotism doesn’t define Americana, I don’t know what does. What my mom didn’t know is that I was so close to running a sub 50 second 440 yard dash in track for my high school. That was a really big deal. But, instead I would be making the unheard of salary (for a high school senior in 1978) of $5.18 per hour plus overtime (?), call-in pay(??) and all the tomatoes (think about that) I could ever want…shoveling sludge for the township we lived in. Screw those kids flipping burgers for that orange-haired clown, I had a career, I was gonna be rich!
Shoveling all that sludge allowed me to take that trip to Florida in 1981 that my family never took, driving down in a customized Philadelphia Flyers Dodge van with a couple of friends for Spring Break. Since none of us actually went to college, let alone could spell college, I didn’t understand why we were going all the way to Ft. Lauderdale…until we got there. The Jersey shore was fun, but this place was an all-day, every day party. Both fun and frightening all at once. I did however, much to my chagrin, leave Ft. Lauderdale the same way as when I got there. And I don’t mean in a van. Like most 21 year-old males, my brain wasn’t always in charge of the operations…
…we don’t need no stinking reservations…
We were just about out of my neighborhood when I posed the question, “Where are we staying?” After some uncomfortable head nods and some awkward shoulder shrugs, I was told we had no hotel reservations, “We will find a place when we get there.” Does anyone see the potential flaw in this plan (rhetorical)! But they were right, and 35 years later, I still stand corrected. However, I’m really ticked about the conspiracy to keep that little piece of information from me until I was in the van, the driver already pulling away from the curb.
The trip down was mostly uneventful, the agreement not to drink until we got there was easily the best and safest choice we made for ourselves and other motorists all week. The thought of getting pulled over by a ruthless, but certainly well-meaning, Georgia State Trooper, just looking to toss some intoxicated, trouble-making cretins just passing through his state on the way to Spring Break into a Georgia jail overrode the desire to drink and drive.
“Repetition is the mother of all learning.”
I don’t remember much about the drive down other than it was a good chance to learn, through osmosis, some of the songs that played endlessly for over 24 hours. It would have been better if we had a copy of Rosetta Stone. We could have used our time productively to learn a language. Instead I came away with the ability to do the rap portion of Blondie’s hit song Rapture. Both important skills, but in no way interchangeable.
Driving through North Carolina into South Carolina gave me a chance to see what may have been the only point of interest on the whole way down. Those road signs that come almost every mile, announcing how many more miles are left until you reach South of the Border, the well advertised, too bright, fireworks selling, somewhat racially insensitive? (just look at the signs) tourist trap and rest stop along I-95 just south of the N.C.-S.C. border. I’m not sure if those signs were all placed there as a public service, or some sick joke meant to annoy drivers who needed a bathroom break, drawing you into their trap.
All Aboard Amtrak…
I’ve only been on a train a few times, mostly locals, however I did have the pleasure of traveling from Virginia to Sanford, Florida on Amtrak’s Autotrain. If you’re headed to, let’s say Walt Disney World in Florida, and prefer to have your own car with you, then the Autotrain might work for you, if you have 21 hours to kill. Which I did. It is also the same amount of time it would have taken for me to drive directly to Orlando from
My daughter had moved to Florida, and after two weeks of trying to match her car up with an auto carrier, I decided to just do it myself. If you’ve never been on a long distance train ride, it’s mostly enjoyable. I had a window seat and got a chance to see some of the little towns that the train passed through. Small, well maintained ranch homes with owners who obviously have learned to ignore the sound of a train passing not far from their front door…in the middle of the night.
Dinner, which was about the best food you can get on a train, was served in the dining car where I enjoyed speaking with other diners who were from south Jersey, close to where I grew up. The next morning the train rolled into the Sanford station, and after stopping for something to eat at another piece of My Americana called Dunkin’ Donuts I drove sugar-charged to Orlando where my daughter was thrilled to see her car again…did I tell you that she didn’t know it was me who was delivering her car? Want to guess what, not who, she hugged first? To wrap this up, if you go to Orlando often, avoid the I-95 drive and take this little slice of Americana, just remember to bring a good book, and unless you want to hear every conversation, some good noise cancelling headphones.
First In Flight?…
We all know the Wright Brothers and their contributions to America and the world in the field of aviation. But this section is mostly about Charley Furnas, a somewhat unknown but important name in American History. Charley is the precursor to what most of us would all become, what I would become, later in history. A passenger. Charley was the first person to fly with the Wright Brothers. We all recognize Wilbur and Orville as the builders of the first controlled, sustained power (not a glider) airplane. And in 1908, the Wright Brothers were attempting to sell their invention to the U.S. Army. The rub? The plane had to be able to carry a pilot and a passenger up to 125 miles at a speed of 40 miles per hour. Enter the hero of our story. Charley was offered the chance on May 14, 1908 to bravely go where so many of us now so easily go, the passenger seat on a plane. Charley had spent many hours working for the Wrights for little pay. They gave Charley the honor (I would have preferred cash) as a way to repay him for all of his hard work. But he also had a job on those first flights. The Wrights would focus on flying and operating the controls on the plane, and Charley would monitor the engine. Charley took two flights that day, one with Wilbur and one with Orville, making him not only the first passenger, and the reason we have flight attendants today, but the first flight engineer as well, and giving Scotty the chance to say…”I’m giving her all she’s got Captain!”
The First Automobiles…
Or actually, my first automobiles. Because of the job my mom got me at the sewer plant, I was able to purchase a real nice ’78 Pontiac Firebird from Burns Pontiac in Marlton. It was candy apple red (or some shade of red) with red velour seats, had just 5,500 miles on it, and was only driven by the owners daughter back and forth to work. It was a great car, and my dad, who was also purchasing a sporty Pontiac LeMans at the same time, made me buy it…however, I wanted the jet black Camaro with the T-Tops, but was somehow outvoted by my dad and the salesman. Funny how that happened.
Five years later I traded that Firebird, after beating it half to death, maybe due to some deep seeded resentment for missing out on the Camaro, on a 1983 Trans Am. I didn’t share that information with my dad…I didn’t want him to try and talk me out of it. I was an idiot. I had no idea how to negotiate and I’m pretty sure I got beat but good. However, I loved that car and nobody was going to change my mind. It was a combination of Kitt from Night Rider and the Bandit Trans Am with black and gold trim and my favorite accessory ever…T-Tops. That car made weekend drives to the Jersey shore fun and it was the only car I’ve driven irresponsibly over 100 mph. Unfortunately it was also a piece of crap, and after it was damaged during an attempted theft, I decided it was time to get rid of it. Joke was on the thief, the alternator was bad. The only way that car was going anywhere was on the back of a tow truck.
Americans didn’t invent the automobile, we just figured out how to improve them and build them in quantity. Ransom E. Olds was the first, producing in quantity the Curved Dash Oldsmobile. Henry Ford built 18 million Model T cars by 1927 thanks to his use of the modern assembly line. Dr. Emmet Brown didn’t design the DeLorean, he did however invent the flux capacitor required to make it a time machine. And with that, a list of my favorite cars…other than the ones I’ve owned and in no particular order…
- The Batmobile-in 1955 the Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln division built a concept car called the Lincoln Futura. It cost $250,000 to build and in 1965 Barris Custom City converted it into the Batmobile we know from the classic television show.
- 1977 Pontiac Trans Am-I knew I would buy a Trans Am one day after watching Smokey & the Bandit.
- 1956 Ford Thunderbird- (white) of all of the cars in American Graffitti, Suzanne Somers made this one the best.
- 1978 Pontiac Firebird- almost as nice as my ’78 Firebird was Jim Rockford’s sierra gold model.
- 1976 Ford Gran Torino-(red w/white vector stripe) Starsky & Hutch made this car popular from 1975 thru 1979.
- 1971 Pontiac LeMans-not really a favorite car as much as a great movie. Popeye Doyle used this car in The French Connection in one of the greatest chase scenes in movie history. The movie Bullit had better cars, a 1968 Ford Mustang GT and a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, and arguably the greatest chase scene in movie history, but even I spotted the green Volkswagen, all 4 times.
- The Munster Koach- built using the bodies of 3 Model T’s and has an engine from a 1966 Mustang GT. The Munsters had the coolest hot rod on television.
- 1959 Corvette-if you’ve ever seen the movie Animal House you know that Delta House rush chairman Otter owns the red ‘vette used in the movie.
- 1966 Lincoln Continental- another entry from Animal House. Why is this one of my favorites? Because of what it became…the Delta House Death Mobile.
- 1974 Spirit of America Chevy Vega- Chevy also offered Nova and Impala editions in red, white, and blue color option. Chevrolet also released the iconic t.v. commercial that year which gave us baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet as 4 pillars of our Americana.
- 1978 AMC Pacer- AMC made some ugly cars, and the Pacer certainly takes the cake. In May of 1976, Car & Driver Magazine called it “The flying fishbowl.” The 1977 Pacer was used as a model for Goofy’s car in Disney’s A Goofy Movie.
- 1921 Oldsmobile 43-A Touring car…with the rear half of the car removed and replaced with a platform and 2 chairs, Granny and Elly May had somewhere to sit on the Clampett family truck.
- 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon- or the Wagon Queen Family Truckster which took the Griswold family to Wally World. And I’m assuming back again.
- The Captain America Chopper- made famous by Dennis Hopper in the movie Easy Rider and at times the center of arguments on who really built the bike. Not even going to guess on that.
There are so many more muscle cars and motorcycles, especially bikes from Harley Davidson and Triumph that should be on this list, but I’ve already gone on much longer than a bad writer should. If you’ve made it this far reading my incoherent ramblings, thanks and I hope you will come back for my next look at My Americana.