Janet and I have been discussing what to do on vacation. We haven’t come to any decisions of any kind. Yet. I think she’d like to do something dramatic as we did last year — Prague. She has brought up Budapest more than once, and the idea has some appeal for me. No discussion of when any trip will be (nor just how weʼre going to fund the adventure), but the whole deal has got me thinking about our travels, which is a topic I have not addressed on the blog really.
My family used to take a vacation every summer, generally long and torturous escapades in a car, meaning endless hours sweating in a backseat and usually feeling mildly carsick. We also used to camp out — probably more a matter of financial resources than a genuine pleasure in the outdoors (but I’m not sure about that). All I know is that my parents were generally moderately grumpy regularly during our vacations. It couldn’t have anything to do with what non-angelic angels we kids were. Fairly early on, my father bought a pop-up camper — one of those fold-open, tent-topped, boxlike affairs (click the link for other pictures). The metal top folded back to each side, front and back, and the tent, folded up within the box when closed, raised over all of this, leaving the top flaps as two bed units when supported underneath by braces. The middle area had a sink and an icebox (truly: you needed ice to keep things cold) and possibly a cooking surface (because I think I remember an LP container attached to the basic box of the folded-up camper).
Later on, we also bought a tent into which my brother Paul and I were placed and which we had to erect on the campsites. Overall, although the ground was generally hard and lumpy I preferred the isolation of the tent to the communal issues inside the camper. Even later on, after I had stopped going along with the family (during my college years, I believe), my dad acquired an RV, a large buslike vehicle with a galley kitchen, a shower stall, a lavatory and a toilet, and several fold-down sleeping units. I never went camping in this thing, which actually made its way to Alaska and back — although my youngest brother David, a great fan of our family vacations, would know for sure, the Alaska trip being one of his favorites. In retrospect it was foolish of me as a pseudo-independent college youth to shun the vacations in favor of time at home alone with girlfriends and friends because I’ve never been to the places they visited, Alaska in particular.
I got to drive the giant RV on several occasions, one memorable time being my second year of teaching when for some reason I do not remember I was assigned to take the thing to Cedar Rapids one weekend. The task was a pleasure on several counts. First, driving the huge bus northward on U.S. 218, even before that stretch of highway was four-laned as part of the Avenue of the Saints, was pretty cool to me, and I also enjoyed tooling around CR in the vast vehicle. Second, the girlfriend of the time was a freshman at Coe College, and the vehicle gave us a site for nightly cuddling without the cost of a hotel room (and sadly, I had more than once used the infamous Hotel Allison — not a location inspirational to romance however much it smacked of adventure and maturity to me from my student-teaching days just two years earlier). That massive RV was also my bedroom when I came home for weekends after beginning my teaching career, the basement dive I had carved out for my own domain late in high school and during college having been quickly reverted to something more acceptable to my father and mother (probably storage space for my fatherʼs collection, post-nuclear-holocaust in dimensions, of canned goods from Warehouse Market — you would not believe the quantity of canned green beans we were dividing amongst five unwilling offspring in the weeks after my dadʼs funeral). I still fondly savor the memory of playing The J. Geils Bandʼs Blow Your Face Out album on some rickety record player I had scavenged in that RV late at night some weekend while I was living in Ft. Madison.
The RV or the camping experience also may have inspired my choice of second personal vehicle in my adult life — having been first persuaded into purchasing a VW beetle by my Volkswagen-loving father, a bug that leaked oil like a sieve and later collided massively with a runaway deer (leaving me with a crunched front end on the driverʼs side when I first moved to Maquoketa). The second vehicle, replacing the lemon bug was a two-toned blue Ford van, purchased in New London. It had two captains chairs in front and nothing else behind, except the floor had been covered with three-quarter-inch plywood, oil-stained in some places. I built a “bed,” covered with foam rubber in the very rear, leaving an open space of about six feet between the “cab” and the “bed.” I thought I could go anywhere on my own and just sleep in the van. Ha! And I did more than once (learning that having toilet facilities would have been more than nice), sleeping on the streets in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Chicago and other places (although I have forgotten how I arranged to eliminate waste or shower in any of these circumstances except when I camped in the parking lot of friend Kevinʼs apartment — sadly now trashed and flooded away, once down on the road by the river behind Hancher, the U of I theatre building and the onetime art museum).
That blue van took three students (two of them sitting in folding lawn chairs! — it was another age indeed) to the International Thespian Festival at Ball State University in Indiana in the summer of 1978 (me thoughtlessly forcing them to listen to the 8-track tape of my newly acquired Bob Dylan album, Street Legal, among other music they probably didnʼt like at all; the 8-track player, not original equipment, I had “installed” myself on the drink deck over the engine housing). That was also the van that I drove repeatedly to Indiana (to a different college) along Interstate 74, with a full pump pot of (then unnamed) Snowy Evenings between the seats beside me for weekends of romance when the girlfriend of the Coe College days resurrected her interest in me for a while a year later. That van was the one that went spinning on black ice, well after midnight in the middle of nowhere (oops, I already said it was Indiana) on a February night, only to end up after two or three revolutions down the highway faced in the proper direction, so I foolishly drove on (successfully).
The blue van departed our lives (by then Janet having made my life “ours”) the autumn after my father died (and I had used some inheritance/insurance money to buy my only new car, the once-mentioned 1984 gray Ford Escort wagon) when two guys saw that it had sat in the same spot outside our house, the one on Arcade Street, for weeks. Desiring a fishing/hunting vehicle, they offered us $600 dollars for it (with an old refrigerator tossed in). I had bought the van for $2200 or $2400 in 1978, so whether it was a good deal or not, we took it, the Escort having greatly replaced the van in my affections. (Why we didnʼt trade the van when I bought the Escort I donʼt know, unless I thought the van would be useful for transporting theatrical stuff — for which it had been very useful and very much used — as the Escort would also prove to be. Maybe the dealer just didnʼt want the van, also.)
The Escort lasted close to a decade. Two pickups later (both used, the earlier Ford a costly mistake overall) brings us to the present.