Road Trip Memories

The year was 1974. The location was our living room, on a warm and muggy New Jersey day. Having just finished the second grade, I was ready to settle in for a few carefree months of watching cartoons, running through the sprinklers and visiting the local community pool, when my parents made a major announcement: We were moving to Oregon.

For some reason, the idea of packing up and relocating over 3,000 miles away didn’t faze me too much. In addition to liking the idea of living close to my paternal grandparents in Oregon, I was especially excited about my parents’ plans to get us there: a cross-country road trip.

I remember them showing me the map of our upcoming trip from the east coast to the west coast. While a moving van would take the majority of our possessions, we would pack a few suitcases, some snacks and our beloved family dog into our trusty VW Squareback and head west on our own.

What I didn’t know at the time was that my mom—a native of New York City who hadn’t spent a lot of time riding in cars over the years—had made it clear that she had no intention of subjecting us to endless days of traveling.

So while my dad might have been happy with getting the cross-country trip over within a few marathon days of driving, he acquiesced to my mom’s wishes and agreed to make each day’s drive no longer than around 300 miles.

In early July, we watched as the moving van drove away from our New Jersey apartment building. Then, we finished packing the VW and began the long 10-day drive to our new home.

From the backseat I sat transfixed, amazed by the country’s changing scenery. Although it’s been over 40 years since we made our cross-country drive, I can still picture the verdant landscape of Indiana, remember how hot it was in Illinois, and when we turned our VW north and headed into Wisconsin, how enchanted we were by the capital city of Madison. In fact, we loved Madison so much that we stayed there an extra night, giving my dad a much-needed break from driving.

Our family albums are filled with photos of me smiling with the huge geyser Old Faithful in the background at Yellowstone Park, the stoic faces of four Presidents carved into Mount Rushmore, and a family picnic when we visited relatives in Idaho.

In mid-July, we reached our new home in Oregon. To make sure it was ready for his granddaughter, my grandfather had painted my bedroom light pink and installed a swing set in the backyard.

While many people would understandably want to make a cross-country drive go as quickly as possible, I’m still glad my parents decided to stretch it out. By doing so, they turned what could have been a tedious trip into a lifelong memory-filled adventure, complete with dog-friendly motels, trips to National Parks, stops to visit family and the chance to see a lot of what makes our country such a beautiful and interesting place.