As a typical family we used to take typical summer vacations. We would pile into the car and off we’d go. My brother and I would naturally fight like crazy defending our back seat turf. We would establish an imaginary line down the middle of the back seat. A sort of Chevrolet no mans land. Since he was my older brother he never honored the boundary. Being unimpeded by such ridiculous things as seat belts, he would stray over the line and smack me. I would of course retaliate and he would complain to my parents. My father would yell at both of us. “He started it!” I would whine. “Both of you stop it!” He would yell. That worked for about five minutes until my brother started in again. We would do this until my father would stop yelling and start trying to swat us. It made for some very interesting driving as we barreled down the highway going seventy miles an hour; one arm swinging at us, the other trying to hold onto the steering wheel. As we were swaying all over the road a motorcycle cop sees this and pulls us over. We are in deep shit now! We sit there like two choirboys with our hands clasped and staring straight ahead while the cop gets off his bike and saunters over to the car. My father tells the officer that we were out of control. The cop poked his helmeted head into the car and told us if we didn’t behave he will haul us to jail. Whoa! That chilled us out. My brother and I declare a temporary truce.
In the fifties and sixties, air conditioning in cars was strictly for the rich. Needless to say our car did not have air conditioning or even a working fan. We had four open windows blowing hot, humid air into the car. Combine that with warm, sticky, vinyl seats and a brother who was using me as a sparring partner and what fun we had as we plied the interstate. One of the more interesting things on the highways were the Burma Shave signs. Burma Shave was a company that sold shaving cream. They created an advertising campaign of humorous road signs that were placed every mile or so. My favorite was “Don’t stick/ your elbow out/ too far/ it might go home/ in another car /Burma Shave.” To this day I rarely drive with the windows open.
We once went to of all places New London. Not real London, but New London, CT. We lived in Bridgeport, CT. New London was about an hour away. It took us three hours to get there because my father somehow got lost and we went over the same toll bridge a half a dozen times. This was particularly irksome because he had to pay every time we went over. We were teasing him unmercifully and he was swearing and threatening to leave us on the side of the road. When we finally arrived in New London my parents naturally tried to find the cheapest motel possible. We found a dump of a motel that advertised that it was air conditioned with stylized ice cube letters and a continental breakfast. Now remember; we were four bumpkins from Bridgeport. We had no idea what a continental breakfast was. It sounded very sophisticated so we checked in. All evening long we imagined what a continental breakfast was. “It must have a lot of fruit,” my brother said, as he punched me in the arm. “I think it has those creep things, you know French pancakes.” My father said knowingly. My mother was convinced we would have omelets. I just wanted Cocoa Puffs.
Morning comes and we race to the restaurant. We find a table amid all of the other cheapskates and sit down. My father takes command and in his best fake French accent orders, four continental breakfasts. We are quivering with delight. The waitress brings out four stale rolls and a pot of tepid coffee. We thank her and tear into the rolls. We sit and wait for the waitress to return to take our order. And wait, and wait. Finally my mother spies the waitress and asks her to take our order. “What order?” Asks the waitress. “The continental breakfast,” replies my mother. “You just had it,” the waitress replies. “Had what?” asks my mom. “The continental breakfast,” says the waitress who is starting to get annoyed. “We just had four stale rolls and lukewarm coffee,” my mother says. And on it went as if it were an Abbott and Costello routine until it finally dawned on us that the continental breakfast was just that. A roll and coffee. Not fruit. Not an omelet. Not a French crepe. Not even Cocoa Puffs. A roll and coffee. I wished that the cop would had brought me to jail, at least the food would have been better.