Back in 1999…
One day in 1999, my husband said, “I’m leaving the company. This summer, I want us to cross the country.” This would include our children, Carolyn then 10 and Carl then 5. This trip occurred from late June to late August for nine weeks.
A coinciding factor was that my mother died shortly before my husband’s crossing the country epiphany. The idea of doing this felt surrealistic given my sadness over the loss of Mom.
We told friends and families, some of whom asked, “Are you nuts?” It added to my own cold feet for many reasons. It was—to put it mildly—unchartered territory, literally and figuratively as it involved so many details. Of course, my husband immediately had a thick folder ready with maps, hotels and sights. We did have internet in 1999 but nowhere near the kind of technology we have today.
I searched for kid-friendly cross-country trip ideas. At that time, there were cross country trips for orthodox Jews, for gays, for single travelers, but few for kids. I went to the library and came upon an obscure looking book on child-friendly places in America. It was excellent.
We bought an Oldsmobile Silhouette, which had a tv in the back for videos. Wow, how cool for the kids. We had VHS tapes back then—how modern!
I had to pack for the children and myself with the limit of two weeks’ worth of clothes. That was a challenge!
The plan was to travel in the shape of a “wiggly square,” not hitting all the states, but many. I’ll try to capture the best moments in the order of where we went. It might be handy to look at a US map for reference. As we traveled, I identified where I could see myself living, of course other than South Jersey.
Here we go:
Savannah felt truly southern and charming with slightly drooping Palmetto trees and grand historic homes. I read the most applicable book for the occasion, “The Garden of Good and Evil.” I could see myself living there.
Atlanta is the headquarters for CNN. CNN was the first and only constant news channel at that time. The children repeatedly chanted “CNN, CNN, CNN!” as we drove there.
Tennessee is the home of Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Graceland housed Elvis and Pricilla. Sun Studios gave Elvis his start. Sam Phillips was the owner and producer and he launched many careers. Porky’s Restaurant made the most serious, delicious ribs.
In Dallas, we went to the 6th floor of the book depository, where Oswald shocked the world with his shooting of President John Kennedy. From the 6th floor it was clear how easy it was to target the presidential motorcade which drove through what is forever known as the grassy Knowle. We discussed with our children where we were, and the reaction of our teachers and parents the day he was assassinated. Even at 5 and 10, they understood.
San Antonio was next. This is home of the battle of the Alamo and the charming “river walk.” We also went “into” the caves of Senora, which kids called, caves of snoring. This was another place I could see myself living.
El Paso was the last stop in Texas. We arrived there by way of route 10. This was a long, eerie ride mostly with desert to the right and left of the highway. The radio had weak reception but for Native American chants and then an abrupt announcement.
“John Kennedy Jr. along with wife and sister-in-law died in a plane crash.” Husband and I were stunned. We had to explain that he was the son of President Kennedy whom we learned about a few days ago at the 6th floor book depository. This was sadly surreal news to receive on the trip.
Arizona is the home of Sedona—a lovely town surrounded by giant red rocks due to oxidation. Wealthy and new-agers lived there. I could live there. We went on the noteworthy Pink Jeep tour which took us through the red rocks. While it was gorgeous, it was still a very bumpy ride. The kids called it the “sore butt tour” and to this day, we laugh about it.
California is one huge state. We started in San Diego, I could easily live there with mostly 70-degree weather. I read an intriguing book called, “White Oleander” by Janet Finch. This novel takes place in southern California where the poisonous white oleander is found.
We had to do Disney Land in Los Angeles. Then we had a beautiful drive straight up the coast to Monterey and Carmel (could live there too). In Monterey, we went to “Dennis the Menace” Park. This was created by Hal Ketchum, the creator of the character of Dennis the Menace. You should see this if you ever get out west.
When we got to San Francisco, and this was not only a very cool place, but we were freezing. Mark Twain is sometimes credited with saying, he spent the coldest summer in San Francisco. Highlights were the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Alcatraz and Chinatown. What a glorious city.
North of San Fran are the awe-inspiring Redwoods and the city of Eureka. Then the precarious ride from on the pacific coast highway from California to Oregon. In Portland, we went to the largest independent book store called Powell’s Books—it occupies an entire city block!
Washington houses the great city of Seattle, where we had tons of stuff to do. The Space Needle is among one America’s tallest structures and where we could see the entire city. On Bill Speidel’s underground tour, we learned not only the history of Seattle but of its first toilet called the “Crapper.”
What’s more was the Iron Horse restaurant that delivered our food by toy train. That was topped off with a Mariners/Yankees game. Yes, I could live in Seattle.
We drove east through Idaho to Wyoming which includes Yellow Stone and Grand Tetons. We ended up in Pierre, South Dakota at Mount Rushmore followed by the nearby home of the sculpture, “Crazy Horse.” He was a famous Indian chief noted for being a great leader.
The sculpture was conceived by Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski in 1948. When we were there, some of the head was completed. Here are pictures of Crazy Horse, showing progress from 1999 to 2018.
Three wonderful Midwestern states—Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois—offered us the Mall of America in Bloomington, University of Wisconsin in quaint Madison and the most fun in Chicago. It had wonderful museums, great original “Chicago” pizza and a “Great Lake.” That is Lake Michigan, where we dipped our toes at a beach surrounded by city sky scrapers.
What better way to finish in Cleveland than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I recall Billy Joel and Paul McCartney got in that year. From there it was a sprint through PA and back to New Jersey. Whew, we were back in the land of diners, malls, bagels, the NJ shore. This was a sharp but welcome contrast to the ride we just took, through our vast and diverse country.
Most of all, we were home sweet home, reuniting with family and friends, going back to work, school, life! This trip is etched into our family memories and I look back fondly at our adventures and the time we spent together.