Friday Five: ROAD TRIP!!!!

Jan of RevGals has this week’s prompt…

My husband and I just returned (on Wednesday night) from a long road trip up the middle USA to Canada, going through various national parks, and on to the Puget Sound of Washington State. This brought back memories of family road trips with my children and when I was a child, so the idea of today’s Friday Five arose.

Tell us about five road trips–in your childhood, in your family, in your recent past, with friends, and/or hoped-for-places-to-drive-to. Don’t forget the one that stands out as the BEST or as the worst time.

We did a lot of car trips when I was growing up. With 7 kids, airfare for 9 was a bit prohibitive (even back-in-the-day). Plus, where we were going was not always reach-able by airplane. Now with our kids almost out of the house (one in college, one in high school) our road trips are more with a purpose as we visit colleges or family. But here’s five road trips (and their entertainment) that I’ll never forget…

1. “Counting cows”  on the road to Grandma’s house

We made frequent trips to Grandma’s house. One lived in northern Ohio (Warren) and one in southern Ohio (Logan). With a carful of kids, someone (a) almost always got carsick and (b) was bored. There was some pinching and kicking, which required that we have something ELSE to do to keep us occupied.

We played a game called “counting cows” as our minibus wound its way on pre-Interstate routes from our home in Mansfield to theirs. “Counting cows” means that one side of the car works against the other to see who has the most “cows” by the end of the trip. Actually, any four-legged livestock counted, so goats, horses, sheep, etc. all could be included. Whenever there was a church cemetery on your side of the car, all your “cows died” and you had to start over. My older brother was notorious for remembering where the last cemetery was on the trip and switching seats with someone at the last moment so that he was always on the winning side.

While we were visiting my grandparents we were pressed into service as ‘kitchen help’ which largely consisted of setting or clearing the table, and getting first taste of dessert (either a fresh-from-the-oven cookie, or licking the beaters from cake frosting.) And there were books, more books, and lots of relatives — aunts and great aunts, cousins and various kin. On Sundays we attended church with them and were farmed out to all of the various Sunday School classes. We kids loved seeing our grandparents and other relatives. My grandparents were always glad to see us, (and I suspect, always glad to see us leave!)

I think about it and marvel at my parents. We did this MANY times. And yet they stayed sane.

2. Car Bingo

In the days of pre-Interstate, there were more “scenic routes” than my kids have now. (See item #3!) Most of our trips were to visit relatives. However, we did take some longer car trips to the Florida Keys or other beaches.

My parents found these “Auto Bingo” cards which had various signs and sights we had to find and mark on our cards. As I recall “woodpile” and “haystack” were one of the harder ones. If our travels were through smaller towns and cities, then it was a little easier.

In the days of pre-iPod we didn’t listen much to the radio because the cars only had AM radio and no tape or CD player. (I know, I know… my kids are shocked too.) So with the arrival of Car Bingo we had something to allow us to look for and occupy us, at least for a while.

Car Bingo also lent itself to discussions of how literal our interpretation had to be of the cues. Could a “woodpile” be a lumber truck? Could a “ladder” be on a fire truck? Did a CB radio tower count as a TV antenna? (I see that this game card lists “satellite dish” which was not on our “vintage” game cards!)

Anyway, it was a stroke of genius on the part of my parents.

3. Driving to the Beach

It’s a long, hairy drive down I-95 from Metro DC to coastal South Carolina. We try to get down to the area (near Beaufort, SC) about once a year, though we haven’t been there with the kids in about 18 months because of family schedules.

The only time of day that we’ve found is workable, because of the traffic around our area, to leave town is getting on the road before 6 a.m.  We have yet to discover a time to arrive in the Metro DC area that is anything short of insanity. There is no such thing.

However, we made the trips less tortured when we found books on tape. Mind you, driving for about ten hours is never a picnic. We learned strategies (there ARE no decent bathrooms in the middle of Virginia. Or North Carolina. Go to McD’s.) The weather is usually hot and humid. The roads are crowded with other crabby drivers and families. It is not fun.

The trip I found My Father’s Dragon on tape, our problems eased a little! The miles seemed to fly by. We listened to the story, and I was magically transported back to when I first read these books by myself. It became the best way to entertain all of us. Another member of the book-on-tape hit parade was the unlikely Philadelphia Chickens.(Try it. You’ll like it.) And of course Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit were some of the favorites in later years.

Interstate driving was a bonus in that you didn’t have to plod through every crossroad or country town, following the guy driving a tractor (who was never in a hurry). However, the view along I-95 is not nearly as interesting. And the horrible puns from the “South of the Border” amusement park? Ahhhhhhhhh  (runs screaming into the sunset.)

But once you GET to the beach… it’s quiet. Peaceful. And beautiful. And worth it. SOooo worth it.

4. Montreal and EXPO 67

OK, some of you reading this were only a twinkle in 1967. We drove up to Montreal for EXPO 67 and stayed with my aunt, uncle and cousins. We learned that “Arrete'” meant “stop” and managed not to get too horribly lost. That was only a tribute to my parents’ map reading skills and the veritable treasure trove of information from AAA. We saw Niagara Falls and other sights.  I remember it being a VERY long car ride. I also remember it being worth it.

5. My first solo road trip

I had done some long distance driving but the first time I took a long road trip by myself was when I drove from Ohio to Miami, Florida for graduate school. It took 3 days. It was pre-cell phone – there were such things as pay phones and I knew how to use them. I had my AAA maps and had figured out where I would be staying. I paid cash for everything because I didn’t have a credit card and there was no such thing as an ATM. I listened to cassettes in my trusty rusty Dodge Omni and arrived in Miami in a summer downpour during rush hour. My gas tank was down to fumes and I discovered the motel I had picked to stay in overnight, until the graduate housing opened the next day, was in a very unsafe part of town.

I drove to the nearest gas station and filled my tank. No one there spoke English. (This was just after the Mariel boatlifts.) I was uneasy when I saw the clientele hanging out in the motel parking lot. I got back on the expressway (it was still pouring rain) and drove north. I improvised, driving back north almost to Fort Lauderdale and spent the night at a beach motel, the old-fashioned kind with glass jalousie windows and a breezeway between the motel rooms and the little restaurant. I made it to campus the next day and started the marvelous journey of a graduate student.

I was scared to death. And it probably rates as my “least favorite” car trip of all time.

So play along if you wish… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 🙂


  1. We played a lot of car games too. License plate spotting was popular – we kept a master list on each trip, and then saved the list for the next time. We never saw more than about 30 plates on any one trip. We counted cows too, and we played an ABC game — first one to find something that started with an A, a B, etc. Q’s were hard as were X’s – at least until my folks moved to Indiana, and Xenia,OH appeared on road signs!


  2. The game of “counting cows” reminds me of my kids counting “beeper bumpers” (VW bugs) on our visits to Washington State when they were young. We’d all get into that! I remember those car games so well, though my parents never played any with me, probably because I was an only child.


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