Road tripping then and now

Americans love their cars, but the real love of a car is not found in routine commutes but out driving the open road.

I was 19; it was the summer of 1969. My parents had returned to the United States from my dad’s position with Air Asia in Taiwan and were living near Chicago. I quit my job with Taco Bell (owned by the original Mr. Bell’s manager, Bill Cason, who then opened the second and fifth Taco Bells in El Cajon … imagine the future had I continued … ah, the left and right turns of life!) and set out on a road trip to Pekin, Illinois; about 100 miles south of Chicago.
I had $20 and a 1956 VW Bug with curtains on the windows. Gas was $0.11-$0.13 a gallon depending on where you were. I drove Route Hwy 66 and even with two one-night stays in hotels in New Mexico — to watch a huge Indian celebration all in native attire and then a spontaneous stop in Amarillo, Texas to watch a Three Dog Night concert — I ended up in Chicago with some leftover change.
My parents drove down to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to meet me and then lead me back to their home up north. Somehow I kept missing the exit that I was supposed to get off on. Keep in mind, there was no such thing as cell phones in those days. In confusion I’m standing in a phone booth, shirtless and barefoot and wearing yellow drawstring bell bottoms driving a VW bug with curtains and calling the hotel where my parents were staying when all of a sudden someone grabs my now long hair and yanks me out of the phone booth.
It was my now civilian, former Army Air Corps captain and veteran of numerous World war II campaigns dad, who had been watching me drive back and forth past the right off-ramp. You can imagine how the rest of that trip went. Once outside Chicago I found a hamburger joint that hired me and with three whole week’s pay at $1 per hour, I split back for San Diego on that same Route 66.
Last week I bought a used 2002 Ford F-150, loaded it up with lots of household needs plus a shorter surfboard and headed out for my home in Playa Los Cocos just south of San Blas. It’s a 1,419-mile trip (odometer). Of course I took a slight detour to pick up my girlfriend in Culiacan, Sinaloa, but that only added about 100 miles. I started out toward Tucson, Arizona, where the speed limit is now 75 and then crossed the border in Nogales, Mexico, which is a nice little town — nothing like Tijuana.
When I drove Route 66 for the first time in ‘69, it was exhilarating as much as scary. I just didn’t know what to expect yet it turned into a memory bank moment in time. This drive was close to the same. Back in 1959 my parents had taken us across Route 66 to New York so yes, I had experienced that drive (eating McDonald’s hamburgers, fries and milk shakes for $0.45, “Over one million hamburgers sold!”) but driving by myself was a different matter.
Last year my girlfriend flew up to Tijuana to meet up and the two of us drove all over half of Mexico through the States of Baja, Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima and Guanajuato. But this time I was driving solo in Mexico and not sure what to expect, especially when going through numerous military check points but, it was great.
I started at 2 a.m. from Encinitas, slept in a rest stop outside Tucson and then drove straight through for 12 hours to Culiacan. Everyone was friendly and I had zero hassles by locals or authorities. The roads are good and most are four-lane highways with large medians of natural habitat and mostly just wide open space that if it was California would be jammed pack with, well … California. But Mexico is not California yet, it is just lots of unspoiled natural beauty.
I’ll leave the truck down there for now and bring it back in a few months when I need to grab stuff you just can’t put on a plane and I’ll once again enjoy the ride through the towns and cities of Nogales, Hermosillo, Obregon, Guaymas, Novajoa, Los Mochis, Guasave, Guamuchil, Culiacan, Mazatlán, Tepic and San Blas.
There is so much beauty in the United States when you’re out on the open road. I absolutely love seeing our country but the unspoiled beauty of Mexico can be breathtaking. I loved every minute of it. By the way, my return flight from Culiacan, Sinaloa (girlfriend’s home) to Tijuana is about 850 miles and the Volaris flight is $88. Yeah, I spent a lot more than that on gas (about $175) but the joy of being free and one with God and the open road is just too hard to pass up. I tell everyone, I may be 65 but my head is still 19 … I love life, our Creator and the ability to drive, free as a bird.

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