The Great American Road-Trip – Day 5

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Approximate route of Day 5, 420 miles, about 12 hours

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Day 5:     

         Thursday, Aug. 17, 1967 – Las Vegas to Los Angeles via Hoover Dam

Waking up around 8:00 in North Las Vegas, Nevada, the small motel gave us our first good night’s sleep since leaving New Jersey. Outside, the temperatures would be well over 100 today and after driving past Fremont Street and the strip again, we headed out on Rt 95/93 towards the Hoover Dam area, some 40 miles to the south-east.

Our well appreciated $8.00 motel in North Las Vegas

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Hoover Dam (formerly Boulder Dam) was our destination, but a few miles before, we took a detour to a campground and swimming area on Lake Mead, the largest reservoir (by volume) in the United States, created about 32 years earlier when the dam was constructed on the Colorado River. It was refreshing to spend an hour there, our pace a bit more leisurely today. 

Boulder Beach on Lake Mead – a moment to rest, swim and cool off

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The world’s 7th largest kw capacity dam was not far, easy to find as high tension wires seemed to converge on that one point and dive into the base of the massive concrete structure. Spot parking allowed for rock climbing and pictures. (Historical Note: Today, (2013,) it is ranked number 60 in capacity – ref. Wikipedia)

Rt. 93 switch-backs down and over the dam to Arizona, with Lake Mead beyond

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Note the transmission lines taking power out of the generators below

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Walking across the dam afforded great views, but the best part was the many water fountains from which we drank plenty in the searing heat. (Historical Note: Narrow, twisty and fun Rt.93 was replaced in 2010 by a new through route, over a new bypass bridge.) 

Not keen on waiting in one of several hot and sweaty tour lines, we hastened back to the hot and sweaty car, retreating towards Interstate 15, about 30 miles west, towards Los Angeles. The super-highway connects Las Vegas with Southern California for several hundred miles through the barren, alien Mojave Desert.

Still in Nevada, the Mojave Desert is sand, dry shrubs, Joshua trees and intense heat

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The MGB, with about 25,000 miles on the odometer, had been running very well up to now, but this stretch would put it to the test. With a black-pavement road temperature well over 115 F (46.6 C,) the car’s water temperature was hugging the boiling point. Every slight rise  would tax it to its limits, with down slopes giving a few degrees relief. It was a tense, tedious, and extremely hot several hour stretch in mid-afternoon, with over-heated cars all along the shoulders and rest areas. The admirable, little car persevered, as did Tom and I. At the California line, we dared not stop the engine after  pulling over to savor the milestone. Both Tom and I were cooked by now, our canteens low and we gave-in to putting the top on for shade. (To increase open space in the car proper – behind the seats – we had been storing the normally folding top and frame in the trunk.) 

The sign was like a checkered flag, as…we had arrived. California, here we are, 2:15 PM, PDT, about 3400 miles in 4 1/2 days.

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At the small desert town of Baker, California, we spotted a soda machine in what appeared as an abandoned service station. It was not. Out of nowhere, a dusty, sort of ghostly-like older man, was …just there, by the old pumps, kinda shimmering in the heat! We did not need gas, and did not linger. Just got our cold sodas and…left. We do not have pictures!        Baker’s average daytime high at this time of year is 110 F (43.3 C) and it’s all time record is 124 F (46 C) making this one of the hottest places on earth.

140 miles from Las Vegas, is Barstow, where we would meet Rt. 66 again, merging as part of I. 15. It is the first of any sizable towns along our desert route, but still an hour or so till  the San Bernardino Mountains – and eventually, Interstate 10.  

The sign (right, below) tells it, and about 35 miles later,  we were in Los Angeles

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We arrived into “The City of Angels” at 6:20 PM, 3645 trip miles, with the still relentless, but smog-paled sun, glaring right down in our faces as the freeway pierced the city. The L.A. City Hall Building was familiar to us as the iconic symbol of the popular TV police-series, Dragnet. 

Soon we would meet and be welcomed with wonderful hospitality by two of Tom’s uncles, and their families in Van Nuys. After dinner and introducing us to lemon and orange trees by their backyard patio, Cousin Fred (and I believe his sister, and one of the uncles) would take us for a most impressive late evening tour of Hollywood, Century City and other highlights. It would be 1 or 2 AM before sleep, we the grateful guests in their home for the night.

Day 6: Los Angeles and The Pacific Ocean   http://wp.me/p37YEI-LQ

The Great American Road-Trip – Day 4

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Approximate route of Day 4,  385 miles, about 19 hours

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Day 4

 

Wednesday, Aug. 16th, 1967, before dawn at Imperial Point, North (East) Rim, Grand Canyon. 

With flashlights, Tom and I drowsily but carefully walked down a path to near the edge of the canyon and would witness the indescribable vista brightening before us. Outcroppings, gorges and trees stretched thousands of feet below, with views out over the distant Colorado River and eastern plateaus. Perched on separate ledges, with virtually no sounds except an occasional hawk, we leisurely watched the changing colors as the warming sun began to rise.

Sunrise from Imperial Point Lookout, Grand Canyon

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The two or three hours we would spend there was a re-generation of our spirits and energy, and a long contemplative break from the nearly non-stop driving of the past few days. In the ensuing reflective down time, Tom and I would write to our girlfriends and families back home. 

Writing home

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The MGB started at 2015 miles into the trip. Time would allow a few more sights in the park, including Angel’s Window with it’s awesome views across the canyon to the south, and those at the iconic North Rim Lodge.

Angel’s Window (note people on top,) with Humphries Peak near Flagstaff, about 56 miles south.

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The South Rim is about 12 miles distant in this photo. (Historical note: There were fewer people and fewer handrails then, allowing considerably more access; like myself here, onto the outcroppings.)

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By 1:00 PM, we filled the tank with $3.00 of gas, (more expensive here than elsewhere, so far,) and headed north on Arizona Rt. 67, back to Jacob Lake and US 89 Alt. towards Utah. The clear, cool fresh air of the 8000 ft. elevation was giving way to the intense heat of the lower desert terrain, spawning some impressive thunderstorms, but offering only brief relief.

On US 89 Alt., northern Arizona, the 10 minute downpour would not give much relief from the heat, especially after we put the top up

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Kanab, Utah, about three miles north of the Arizona state line, would be the first town of any respectable size we’d seen since Flagstaff, over 200 road miles back – and where we would have a good lunch at a cowboy/family-style restaurant called “Trails End.”  We were now headed towards Zion National Park, initially fascinated by “Checkerboard Mesa,” a massive geological scouring just inside the eastern entrance. Exploring along Utah’s Rt. 9 in the park would capture the attention of our cameras for miles, winding past colorful buttes, monoliths, mesas, canyons and arches; and the awe inspiring Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel, bored right through the side of a towering mountain cliff. Over a mile in length, we paused midway at one of it’s large open rock “windows” for a view and pictures of Pine Creek Canyon below. Regrettably, our schedule did not afford much time for more than a perfunctory glance at this intensly beautiful region, vowing only to come back again some day.

The western entrance to Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel, a masterpiece of 1920’s engineering.

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The switchbacks into Pine Creek Canyon, as seen from one of several cliff-side windows

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At about 5:30 PM MDT, Tom took the wheel for the first time today just after leaving Zion. As we drove along Rt. 9 towards the neat town of Hurricane, Utah, the mountains behind provided a world-class scenic experience, particularly for me as I had reversed the seat-back again, now relaxing contently with an open air, rear-view panorama. (Historical note: The population of Hurricane was under 1400 at this time, but estimated at 14,000 by 2011!)

Along Rt. 9 in Utah, SW of Zion National Park – a quick jaunt off the side of the road for this first  image; and as seen from my reversed passenger-seat perspective

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Just after St. George, we got on Interstate 15, passing back into NW Arizona back in the desert, and then into Nevada at about sunset. The anticipation was heightened as we drew ever closer to Las Vegas with the top still down and hearing radio temperature reports of 105 F (40.6C) and now seeing lightning ahead reflecting surreally off the mountain ridges around us. There are no speed limits out here, but we maintained an “easy” 70 mph as we first started seeing the tiny glow of the city far ahead.

The legendary, hot night-time town of Las Vegas with it’s energy and excitement, bright lights, entertainment, casinos and fun soaked reveler’s frolicking contrasted diametrically with the surrounding desolation of the silent night desert. It was hard to hold the enthusiasm at bay while approaching. But we did – by checking into a small roadside motel for $8 a few miles outside the center city, giving us the opportunity to clean-up, and even do some wash….and finally drive on to busy Fremont Street, enthralled in the festive; and in one case enduring the playful antics of several young women in a passing car, one tossing a milk shake in our direction before they laughingly sped off. 

Fremont Street, Las Vegas – about 11:00 PM

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The “Strip” and Sands marquee with Dean Martin headlining

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Sahara with The Smothers Brothers, Vicki Carr, Pat Paulsen

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For a few short hours, I would be feeling the magical allure of the clubs, the draw of the casinos, the magnetism of the “singing” slots – feeling joy at the ringing bells and falling coins, which in the US was legal only here in Nevada. My first experience at casino gambling was good, up $20.00 before giving it all back; but Tom may have been a little less excited than I, as his luck was akin to his gambling legality – NIL, he being a few critical months younger than I and subject to an occasional escort back to the street. Regardless, by the early morning hours, we were ready for a long night of rest, actually in a motel, ending the day 385 miles further, and, 3300 miles into our trip.        

It was….a memorable day!

Day 5:  http://wp.me/p37YEI-Jp  

The Great American Road-Trip, Day 3

Approximate route of Day 3, 1040 miles (via 1967 roads,) about 20 hours.

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Day 3

Tuesday, Aug. 15th, 1967. The real trip started today at 6:10 AM CDT, as we were now out of the Eastern States and entering new terrain. Anxious to resume from the primitive Rt. 66 rest area, 30 miles east of the Texas Panhandle, I accidentally stepped on that guy outside in his sleeping bag as I was sleepily climbing out of the car. It was about 45 minutes before dawn, and I was looking up at the starry sky, shaking the sleep off. We would be rolling shortly, pulling over by 6:50 AM to watch the sunrise – then in Texas.

Rt. 66 sunrise east of Amarillo, Texas – soon to be in New Mexico

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Towns were few and far between now, and the plains would give way to the Manzano and Sandia Mountain ranges just before Albuquerque.

Dualized Rt. 66 in Eastern New Mexico, ~10 AM MDT

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Sandwiches at Dairy Queen would be our lunch as we passed through the relatively laid back town of Albuquerque, with motels, gas stations and mostly rustic single-story commercial businesses. Across the nearly dry Rio Grande basin, Rt. 66 was a kaleidoscope of gas stations, souvenir shops – with giant tepees and arrows – and billboards one after another, playing up on such questionable concerns as “Fueling up” and getting “water bags” before the deserts ahead – not exactly the kind of commercialism we came out here for. 

Just west of Albuquerque, Rt. 66. Click to enlarge to see the billboards!

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We did stop for wide brimmed hats and more sun tan lotion when switching drivers, me completing the first 10 hours and 450 miles so far today. Through the remainder of New Mexico and into Arizona, the scenery was new to us, and becoming impressive. Time and schedule dictated a lot of what we would do, passing up some lesser attractions, …and there were many “attractions,” deemed so by their ‘proprietors’: a pile of bricks and souvenir shop constituted “The Ruins” near Gallup, for example!

Thunderstorms, visible miles away, were developing later in the heat of the day, and before long we put the top up against the rains. Rt. 66 bisects Petrified Forest National Park, itself within the vast Painted Desert, $1.00 for the self guided auto tour within.

In less than great weather we explored some of this geological and historically fascinating park, devoid of most living trees and shrubs, or today… even people.

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We were intrigued with dry gulches, flat top mesas, colorful eroded lands in shades of light gray, dirty reds and oranges and darker hues. Colors, however, were muted today as the weather was heavily overcast with some lightning, blowing sediments and rain – all actually adding to the allure of this unique place especially along it’s winding and narrow roads.

Although it would have been better under clear skies, we enjoyed the break.

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As the rain tapered off, Tom and I had some fun climbing around a feature called “Newspaper Rock,” seeing some of the hundreds of petroglyphs; and later wandering in the petrified wood and log fields literally hundreds of millions of years old. Despite our efforts to stop them, some small pieces of petrified wood managed to illegally jump right into the car. As a result, we became unusually nervous while exiting the park under the scrutiny of a park ranger.

Taking AZ. Rt. 180 back to Rt. 66 in Holbrook, we were about an hour away from the Barringer Meteor Crater. It is perhaps the best preserved remnant of a meteor impact on earth. Massive and awe inspiring, it was of particular interest to Tom and I as we had shared an appreciation for astronomy in earlier years. It dominates the southern horizon as seen from Rt. 66 – five miles north.

50,000 year old Meteor Crater is three quarters mile across and 570 feet deep. 

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Soon after dark we grabbed some quick food while getting gas just outside Flagstaff. Incredibly, two ashtrays illegally jumped into our car about then, and neither of us smoke! As planned, we left Rt. 66 here and headed north on comparatively lonely Rt 89, pushing on into the night after vaguely considering a motel, but becoming discouraged by the no vacancy signs north of the city. Now, we were headed for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was about 9:00 PM MST.

Very tired, I was getting irritable, and eventually fell asleep while Tom, equally tired, took us another hundred miles or so into the Navajo country before he stopped. He had done 425 miles and it was about 10:30 PM MST. I took over, surprisingly rested and soon was wide awake, and energized by the realization we were in such an exciting, remote place.The next couple of hours would become one of the most memorable driving nights of my life. As Tom slept, I continued north in the night bearing left at the tiny reservation town of Bitter Springs towards Marble Canyon, now driving on Rt. 89 Alt. This was a newly paved road, with freshly painted lineage and bright reflectors describing the path ahead. There were few other cars, no towns, and no people – and I was content and pleased with the car, a treat to drive  at a 65 to 70 mph clip. Maybe enhancing the peaceful solitude, was the lack of useable radio reception of any kind up there, just the wind and the road and the little 1798cc MGB engine. 

The night sky was a dark satin blue-black, punctuated by an impressive moon silkily illuminating the native terrain, with sheer cliffs getting my attention to the right, or east. I was enthralled, and the knowledge that the powerful Colorado River and eastern vestiges of the Grand Canyon were just off to the west, exponentially drove my already super-charged excitement and anticipation of what was to come.

I knew we would soon be crossing the river and approaching the small town of Marble Canyon as the speed limit decreased and the road coursed around some large rock features,  descending onto the  long, narrow two lane bridge. I stopped in the middle, shut off the engine, placed a battery operated rotating red ‘danger’ light on top of the car and looked in awe over the railing. In the light of that gibbous moon I could see and faintly hear the Colorado River rushing far below, and …see the shadow of the arch bridge on the walls of the canyon. In the early morning hours of August 16th… this was a moment. Alone, still, quiet – except for the soft mechanical sound of the little light, and the faint rush below; under the velvet sky and moonlight in the canyon.    Nice! 

From here, Rt 89 Alt. climbed continuously for many miles through the changing terrain, from plateau desert to increasingly pine-tree populated forest. The temperature was dropping into the 40’s (F) as we approached the junction at Jacob Lake, 7921 feet in elevation. Turning south on Rt. 67 we eventually followed signs to an overlook called “Imperial Point,” and stopped, totally alone, for the remainder of the night. We could only imagine what daylight would bring, now on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The sun would be rising above the Navajo lands to the east in a few short hours. It was …around 1:30 AM MST.

See Day 4 here:   http://wp.me/p37YEI-IK    

Sun rising, Aug. 16, 1967, above the plateaus of the Navajo Reservation, six miles away, east of Imperial Point, Grand Canyon. 

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The Great American Road Trip, (Part 1) – Day 1 and 2

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Day 1

Sunday, Aug. 13, 1967. AT 3:00 AM I picked up my friend Tom and we left our hometown of Bergenfield, NJ, headed west on Rt. 4 and beyond, to begin our 11 day, 7000 mile cross-country round-trip, buoyed on by the excited anticipation of what lies ahead – and soon noted hearing The Mamas and The Papas “California Dreamin'” playing on 77 WABC.  Despite the late hour, we were wide awake and savoring the reality at last. With little to no traffic, reaching the $.10 toll bridge at the Delaware River in Easton, Pennsylvania took about 1-1/2 hours, now on Rt. 22 heading through the night to Harrisburg. About 265 miles from home, the Pennsylvania Turnpike took us through old railroad tunnels bored in the 1880’s under some of the ancient ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. Tom took the wheel at daybreak off I. 70, south of Pittsburgh after we took a short break, stretched our legs and put the top down. Shortly, we passed into West Virginia near Wheeling, and then over the Ohio River into Ohio on US Rt. 40.

Passing from West Virginia into Ohio over the Ohio River, about 6 1/2 hours, and 430 miles from home

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This is how it was, pretty much non-stop driving, one of us resting and sleeping (sort-of!) and the other driving and navigating generally in 6 hour shifts of about 300 plus miles. In the East, the Interstate Highway System was well under development, which allayed a faster and smoother but frankly somewhat lackluster aspect to this part of the trip. Our expectations were more focused on the West, with more intimate, older roads and the potential of new and more dramatic experiences and sceanery. As we drove to Columbus, then south-west towards Cincinnati, the right seat had been converted into a semi-comfortable lounge by removing the seat back bolts and leaning it backwards against the dashboard. Particularly when the convertible top was down, this afforded plenty of leg room – over the luggage behind the seats, and onto the rear deck. We would quickly manage to switch the seat back and forth as desired.

Tom checking the map on Interstate 40 – an hour or two east of Columbus, Ohio. Good road, fast and smooth, but a little boring.

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About 700 miles in, we crossed the Ohio River again, out of Ohio and into Kentucky, taking the Blue Grass Parkway towards Elizabethtown. It would be 7:30 PM, north of Bowling Green on Rt 35 W before the first stop for local cheeseburgers, previously munching on mostly much appreciated girlfriend-supplied goods and snacks. Tom was driving now, after I had done the past 355 miles, and – we were still feeling fine, actually singing (if it could be called that) and otherwise enjoying the ever-changing AM radio stations along the way – particularly those with relevancy: Beach Boys, “California Girls;” The Rivieras, “California Sun.”

Leaving the Kentucky Turnpike. Tolls in Kentucky totaled $1.40 with some booths under overpasses.

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Soon, crossing into mid-Tennessee, I was reveling in the passenger “lounge” while the top was still down, and the reverse seat back cushioned by blankets and pillows. Staring up at the night skies, I was content – the car feeling “substantial” to me, and riding well. That’s a lot to say for a 12.5 foot roadster. I must have been overtired. 

We purposely passed through Nashville to see the city lights and buildings, but not stopping the momentum for actual sight-seeing. We chose to keep pretty much to our pace. It would be at a primitive I. 40 rest stop, about 100 miles east of Memphis when Tom pulled off and literally rolled out of the car onto the ground with his sleeping bag. I continued sleeping in the car, top up now, as we ended our first day at 12 Midnight, 21 hours and 1118 miles from home.

Waking well after the sunrise, 100 miles east of Memphis Tennessee, on Interstate 40

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Day 2

Monday, Aug. 14,1967. For some reason(!) we slept well past sunrise, the sounds of passing cars and trucks providing a lulling background to the sleep-deprived. Wheels moving at 8 AM (CDT,) Reaching Memphis and the Mississippi River by 10:00 AM. Sign in city: “The Monkeeys are coming,.”  “Hey, Hey we’re the Monkeeys,” and a quick stop before the bridge at river’s edge to see the riverboats. Arkansas was at the other end of the bridge, …and there, we were now west of the Mississippi.

The shoreline of the Mississippi River, across from Mud Island, Memphis

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Shortly after, we stopped for essentials:  snacks, fruit…and fireworks! Gas was expensive, 12.4 US Gallons costing $4.70. Bobbi Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” was playing on the radio just past Little Rock. At a brief stop at a little highway stand for sun tan lotion, a local woman commented about our “fancy car,” like it was from another planet. 

Poverty was apparent in some rural areas of Arkansas, and it seemed  some dogs were even given second class status.

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400 miles into this warm, sunny day we stopped to bond with the Oklahoma State sign, on I. 40

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And closer to Oklahoma City, the sight of oil wells became common, still on I.40

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It was about 5:00 PM CDT and we were now seeing the subtle changes in terrain and appearance of never before seen oil wells. Tom took the wheel in the late afternoon and would drive the rest of the day. I turned the seat back around and watched the road disappear behind us, exchanging waves to a NJ plated car as it drifted behind our 65 to 70 mph pace. A little while later, we would meet and talk, and share stories with this driver at a small eatery on Rt. 66, just past Oklahoma City. Passing through the state capitol at dusk, was the unusual sight (for us,) of an oil well planted on the lawn, right in front of the State House. The TV show theme “Route 66” naturally came to mind frequently along here. Heading west after dark, this road would take us into the beginnings of the western plains, towards the Texas Panhandle. After a few more hours, we pulled over and stopped for the night at 1:30 AM CDT, on Rt. 66, completing a total of 750 miles today and about 1875 miles from home. We were in Oklahoma, 30 miles east of the Texas line. Tom preferred his sleeping bag at the side of the car while I “continued” sleeping in the car.  The real trip would start in a few short hours.

 Day 3:  http://wp.me/p37YEI-DW  

The Great American Road Trip – Prelude

ImageMy friend Tom and I had traveled together before, but California was the real thing, the ultimate road trip, and the time was right. Summer breaks from college were ending; future obligations with military and careers were looming; and each of us were becoming more involved and closer with the girls who eventually would become our wives….and still are. The image of Jeanne above was taken a few days before we departed, and would be in my thoughts constantly. 

My 1965 MGB had one more stop before Tom and I would depart Bergenfield, N.J. at 3:00 AM August 13th. That would be with Jeanne and I to the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, (Queens, NYC) to see Simon and Garfunkel in what would become perhaps one of the most memorable concert mismatches of the 60’s: relatively quiet, thought provoking, folksy songs of the headline duo; opened by the almost unknown, screaming loud, freaky, scary antics of Jim Morrison and the Doors – the latter having a bad emotional night and venting that with screeching and instrument smashing. Sitting high up in our $5 seats, we shared the shock and stunned silence bestowed by the audience to the new group from California, which left Morrison to reportedly say “I want to kill this crowd!” (“Killing…” is a phrase he prolongedly screamed out in their first number, “The End.”)   Ironically, S&G came on shortly after with their iconic hit “Sounds of Silence!” (See a description of this iconic concert here.)

Of course, the Doors would go on to become one of the premiere rock groups of the 60’s, of which I have long been a fan (Think: “Light My Fire.”) And Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have left us with a lifetime of great music. 

Driving home after the show, I was psyched for the cross country trip to begin, starting in just 2 hours.

Below is the MGB as it looked, freshly cleaned the day before. Note it is actually British Racing Green, not black as photographically rendered.  

See Part One here.

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