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:  

5 thoughts on “The Great American Road Trip, (Part 1) – Day 1 and 2

  1. That poor dog! This really captures that whole era and the songs are so evocative. I didn’t take my first American road trip (through California) until I was teenager in the late 70s but the cars were still big and those same songs still played on the radio, unless we were listening to the likes of Van Halen, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin! Can’t wait for part 2, love it 🙂

  2. Thanks, Sherri. I think most of us share rich histories of our past; different names, different places, different circumstances for sure, but also so similar and relatable. “Capturing” this be it by conversation, photos, stories, does evoke those common threads amongst us. M

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