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This Week with The Chicowitz:

V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N: We’re on Vacation!

Last week: “The First Date

Air conditioning in cars did not become standard until years later. So we did what we could to keep cool. Imagine a trucker passing us, looking down at two feet sticking out of the window on the passenger’s side in front, two more feet sticking out on the left side in back, and the dog sticking his head out the window on the right.

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Why is it that, today, we often associate “vacation” with long lines, lost luggage, ridiculously expensive T-shirts, and..... of course... cell phone mania?

Ah..... for the good old days.

My father hardly ever took a vacation. As a doctor, he was loathe to “sign out” to another physician. His patients were his patients, not someone else’s. For him, a vacation was six weeks in an empty house with no dog and no kids running around. I think he came to terms with that. Actually I think he kinda’ liked it.

For my mother, vacation meant piling two kids and the dog in the Ford station wagon, and getting in and driving. Where we went did not matter so much to her. It was the wild, open road that appealed to her.

My mother was behind the wheel of a car before there was such a thing as a driver’s license. I think she resented some bureaucrat half her age standing behind the counter at the DMV granting her the “right” to do what she had been doing since she was about six.

For my mother, the wild, open road was any stretch of concrete leading to or from Cleveland, Ohio. And believe me, it was wild back then. Oh, parts of the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes were in place. But what I remember most was a series of disconnected, winding, 2 and 3-lane poorly paved roads, as my mother put it, “from one ’berg to another,” up and down the east coast.

I guess we could have gone anywhere. But year after year, my sister and I wanted to go back to the same place: 1,200 miles south to Daytona Beach, Florida. That was fine with mom.

This was what the beach and the boardwalk in Daytona looked like in the mid 60s:

It actually looked much better in color, but....

Getting to Daytona Beach was a 4-day adventure. My mother loved driving. But for her, a day’s drive meant about 3 hours in the morning, and 4 hours in the afternoon. That amounted to about 300 miles a day. Thank goodness for the restaurants of the open road in the 50s and 60s: Howard Johnson’s.

Yeah, those were the days. Perhaps I need to clarify here. Unlike the ghostly remnants of the sad Howard Johnson name today, back in the 50s and 60s, Howard Johnson’s was THE place to get a good meal on the road. (In 1965, their sales exceeded that of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken... combined!) The service was good, and the food was about as close to “home cooked” as you could get. Oh yes, and the 26* flavors of ice cream.

Long before the golden arches blotted the landscape, long before Baskin Robbins one-upped Howard Johnson, in fact, long before there were chain restaurants of any name, Howard Johnson’s was a reliable friend in an unfamiliar place.

Oh, and not only 26* flavors, but a special look to the ice cream cone. Their distinctive scoop made the ice cream cone look like a small pyramid. They served ice cream in special, metal dishes. And the hot fudge sauce.... unbeatable!

*Just testing you.... of course there were 28 flavors, not 26. Every boomer otta’ know that.

Vanilla was always my favorite; still is. Picking dessert from the menu took no time at all for me. But my sister? Nooooooo. As usual, she had to make things difficult. Her goal was to sample all 28 flavors by the time we got to Florida. You can do the math. That meant that we had to stop at nearly every dang Howard Johnson’s we saw.

Which was really not a bad thing. But it did slow us down considerably.

Between stops at Howard Johnson’s, you would find us boogieing down the road at about 55 miles per hour No DVD or CD players, usually no radio stations of any significance. We had comic books, simple games; and yes, we sang. Not very well, mind you. But we sang. This was my favorite:

    Oh me, oh my, oh you.
    Whatever shall I do?
    Hallaleuah,
    The question is peculiar.
    I’d give a lot of dough,
    if only I could know,
    the answer to my question, is it yes or is it no?

    Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?
    If your mother says don’t chew it, do you swallow it in spite?
    Can you catch it on your tonsils, and you heave it left and right?
    Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?

My sister’s favorite was “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

Well, you all know how that one goes.

Frankly, I think I had the ear for music in the family.

Of course, we always delighted in seeing the Burma Shave signs along the side of the road:

      Dinah doesn’t
           treat him right.
                But if he’d shave,
                     dyna-mite!
                          - Burma Shave

My sister and I took turns in the passenger’s side in the front seat. Chark, our German Shepherd, was always satisfied with the back seat. He didn’t care, as long as he got to go along.

But it was often hot in the car; very hot. Air conditioning in cars did not become standard until many years later. So we did what we could to keep cool. Imagine a trucker passing us, looking down at two feet sticking out of the window on the passenger’s side in front, two more feet sticking out on the left side in back, and the dog sticking his head out the window on the right.

And the three of us, singing:

    Now the nation rises one,
    to send their honest son,
    up to the White House,
    yeah, the nation’s only White House,
    to voice their discontent,
    unto the president,
    upon the burning question which has swept the continent:
    If tin whistles are made of tin, whadda’ they make fog horns out of?
    Boom, boom!

    Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?
    If your mother says don’t chew it, do you swallow it in spite?
    Can you catch it on your tonsils, and you heave it left and right?
    Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?

We had a blast! Every summer. Year after year.

      Henry the Eighth
           Prince of friskers
                Lost five wives
                     But kept his whiskers
                          - Burma Shave

And good old Howard Johnson had motels, too. Most of them had their own swimming pool, though often, not until we were south of the Mason-Dixon line. In 1960, my mother got a new car, a Rambler. Her main requirement: one of those new-fangled air conditioners. Her friends in Cleveland thought she was nuts. But it sure did pay off by the time we hit South Carolina.

One of my sister’s and my great pleasures had been getting out of the hot car and making a fast dash for the swimming pool. Usually we’d change into our bathing suits after lunch so we’d be ready as soon as we checked in.

Automobile air conditioning took the thrill out of that. So we would beg mom to turn off the air conditioner about 30 minutes before we got to our scheduled stop.

Ah, those were the days.

My mother often joined us in the pool. Sure, they had diving boards back then. Some of them had slides.

Yep; that’s mom over there. I am not sure she would want to be remembered this way. But then, I’m not sure she’d mind, either.

Though she often went in the pool with us, my mother’s favorite end-of-the-day retreat was two fingers of bourbon in the bottom of a glass of cold water. My job was to find the motel ice maker and fill a plastic container with ice for her. In doing so, I always found the pop machine. Yep; that’s what we called it back then: pop.

For a dime, you could get a cold bottle of Coke, or, in the south, a good ol’ RC Cola or Yoo-hoo, out of the machine. ’Course you had to return the empty to the place where you bought it. The pop machines always had a stack of empties sitting next to them. Yep, when we checked out, it was my job to return the empties.

One year, I found a machine so generous that it would give you a bottle of pop without having to sacrifice a dime. Heck, this was better than a ride on a roller coaster! I stocked up enough for the rest of the trip. My mother never understood why I begged to stop at the same Howard Johnson’s on the way home.

Yeah, that’s me, chuggin’ a free Coke out by the pool.

Imagine my dismay when, six weeks later, at the same Howard Johnson’s, the old genie-in-a-bottle pop machine was replaced by a new, larger one.... one that required a quarter, not a dime!

I learned the lesson about justice on that trip.

      The whale put Jonah
           Down the hatch
                But coughed him up
                     Because he scratched
                          - Burma Shave

My mother would never miss a photo op. One year we stopped at the Carriage Cavalcade in Silver Springs, Florida and posed for this great vacation picture:

Six months later, my mother would turn that great picture into a family Christmas card. (In December, you can see our collection of Christmas essays, which features an essay on our family Christmas cards.)

Well, I guess that all good things must come to an end. When I was about 16, we stopped driving to Florida. I acknowledge that, today, I-75, I-77, and I-95 make it a lot easier to get from here to there but it is a whole lot less fun.

’Course, a few years later, I moved from there to here. My home is now Florida. And when I want to swim in the Atlantic Ocean at Daytona Beach, it is an easy drive across the state... a trip I make frequently, I hasten to add.

But of course, for the pop, it’s now usually a buck in the vending machine. Such is the price of progress.

Still, when we make the drive, Princess and I hang our heads out the window.

Yeah, that’s me. Same beach; same sand. Half a century later.

And we sing (sure... sing along):  

    Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?
    If your mother says don’t chew it, do you swallow it in spite?
    Can you catch it on your tonsils, and you heave it left and right?
    Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?

    On the bed-post o-ver...
    (I need ya’ and I love ya’ and I wanna’ hold you tight.
    A-Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sat-day night.)

    On the bed-post o-ver...
    (A dollar is a dollar, and a dime is a dime;
    he’d sing another chorus, but he hasn’t got the time.)
    On the bedpost o-ver...niiiiiight!

Boom boom!


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