Saturday, June 19, 2010

One for the Road

So it's summertime and you know what that means - Road trip! I do believe it's the law, in most states, for families with school age children to embark on one road trip to a touristy destination each summer. Staying home and getting ice cream at your local Dairy Queen does not count and could mean you run afoul of the law.

So in order to fulfill our requirements under said law, we put the dog in the kennel ( or spa, as I was careful to refer to it in front of him) and packed the kids in the minivan for a 6 hour trek to Cleveland, first stop on our 2010 Road Trip. Cleveland made the list because we all we had to do was point the car west on the PA turnpike and continue to Ohio. Plus, my sister in law lives there.

The first leg of the trip went swimmingly. With a couple of movies loaded on their iPods, the kids actually enjoyed the car ride. This generation doesn't know how easy they have it on long car rides - they can bring their own music, (no suffering through the 24 hour all-news, all-the-time radio station that my dad listened to), they can watch movies, (no risking nausea by trying to read a book in the back seat), they even have cup holders (god forbid they should have to wait for a rest stop to get a drink of water).

In Cleveland, we had some nice meals and relaxed with family. The ladies checked out the Museum of Natural History, while the boys made a pilgrimage to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After a couple of days, however, we bid our family adieu to continue with the great 2010 Road Trip. After all, Cleveland is very nice, but because it has good restaurants and highly regarded museums, it does not qualify as a "touristy" destination under the afore-mentioned law.

We jumped on Route 90 and headed up the east side of Lake Erie. Almost out of gas, we got off the highway in Dunkirk NY to refuel the car and ourselves. Checking the map, I noticed a marker for "Dunkirk Lighthouse." Figuring this might be our only chance to get a glimpse of Lake Erie, we impulsively asked directions to the lighthouse at the gas station. After a 5 minute drive through a little town that looked like it had seen better days, we came across an adorable lighthouse overlooking the Lake Erie beach, which, incidentally, looked almost like the Atlantic beaches to us.

A plaque informed us that the first shot of the War of 1812 was fired near the west bank of the lighthouse. Another told us that Cpl. Cyrus Jones of Dunkirk was the first soldier killed in the Civil War, and his final resting place is located on the grounds of the lighthouse. This convinced me that if you dig deep enough you will find a claim to fame for every tiny town in the United States.

Our little detour over, we hopped back in the car and headed to our official touristy destination, Niagara Falls! We had 24 hours to take in the Falls experience, and we made like tourists, carrying both cameras and maps, and wearing those ubiquitous yellow and blue ponchos to stay dry. Our first stop was Cave of the Winds, an attraction that takes you down 175 feet to a series of wooden walkways over the rapids and next to the Falls. Exiting "Cave," we knew we'd arrived at a "tourist" destination when we encountered the classic tourist hat trick: souvenir photo stand, overpriced ice cream stand, and gift shop selling commemorative spoons/mugs/shot glasses. (Nothing says "I'm a classy host" like being able to serve your guests shots in matching Niagara Falls shot glasses.)

The next morning we took in the Maid of the Mist boat ride and then packed up to leave. Whereupon we noticed that the car's air-conditioning was no longer working. I suddenly flashed back to childhood trips to the shore in our 1960's era Chevy with no seat belts, no power steering, no working backseat windows and definitely no AC. A short stop at a local garage indicated that the problem was not a quick fix, so we geared up for a long, hot 7 hour drive home.

Pulling in to our street at 10:00 that night, I mentally reviewed the trip:

Number of maps consulted - 4 (at least)
Best road trip invention of the last 20 years: E-Z Pass
Highest price paid for a water bottle - $3.75
Ratio of McDonald's to Wendy's stops: 1:1
Number of months before we want to even drive past a fast food restaurant again: At least 6
Skylines indistinguishable from interstate highways: Buffalo and Syracuse
Number of foreign languages overheard - 10? 12? I only speak 1.5 languages myself
Number of times we voiced praise for our GPS - 7
Number of times we panicked when we thought the GPS went dead - 1
Worst restroom: Hess gas station in Binghamton NY
Best restroom: North Midway travel plaza on the PA turnpike
Strangest highway sign: "State Correctional Facility in area. Do not pick up hitchhikers"

Oh yes, this definitely qualified as a road trip.

Please share your road trip memories in our comments section


  1. I will have to leave it to cybersr and jms, the family historian, to properly recall our many family road trips, but there is no question but that this wonderfully funny post struck home. Your road trip statistics that close the post were just one of many strokes of comic genius.

  2. Some of my most vivid memories are the family car trips one of which was Niagara Falls and Maid of the Mist. I wonder if the same will ring true for your kids when they get older. As far as car entertainment, Susan and I often played the alphabet game. Mom controlled the windows and the radio while dad drove. A good time was had by all! Thanks for this wonderful post!

  3. Typically, of Maid of the Mist, I have absolutely no recollection--though jm's comment spurs me to recall that Mom was also in control of the map. We always got where we needed to go, and only much later did I learn that, like me, Mom is severely directionally impaired!

  4. I love your road trip statistics!

    My memories of road trips are all about the drive my family took from Klerksdorp in the high and dry centre of South Africa to Durban on the Indian Ocean coastline for our holiday every year. The drive took about 8 hours each way and involved a mountain pass. My dad was a wild driver--and he didn't like to stop unless it was a bathroom emergency!! Needless to say my 2 brothers and I plagued our parents all the way with cries of "when are we getting there?" I'll never forget the first sight of the sea as we rounded the last hill--what a thrill!

  5. What I remember most vividly about our family car trips was wondering, about 100 miles down the road, if I had turned off the iron. My fears were set to rest after a phone call to our cat sitter who assured me that the iron was off and the house had not burned down. This scenario played out on each and every trip.

    Fizzies were another road trip specialty that allowed us to partake of the local water rather than buy the more expensive sodas which in those days probably cost all of twenty five cents!

    My most enduring road trip memory is of the 800-mile long rendition of "Volare" performed by the young JM and RA. I can hear it still!

    Ah, those were truly the good old days.


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