Road Trip Memories; Dad And Me

My childhood memories involving my Dad are at once typical and unique. We played catch in the front lawn, went to sporting events together, and had our share of disagreements over homework and chores. We watched old movies and played chess; usually after midnight and accompanied by toasted peanut butter sandwiches and milk. But some of my best memories are reserved for moments that a son can only have when his father is a sports writer. My Dad spent the better part of five decades writing and editing for newspapers, and publicizing motor racing. The advantages of a Dad with press passes are very good indeed!

I think fondly of the air shows at Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the Thunderbirds. We were, it seemed, on top of the action, and a lifelong love of warplanes was kindled. Many Friday nights were spent at Craig Road Speedway; the mingled smells of beer and smoke, racing gas and rubber, form a powerful cue. To this day, those smells can take me back 30 years to a very different time in my life. Racing informed my view of what fun was; I had a brief experience in the Scouts, by received plenty of outdoor training in the deserts of California and Nevada.

Dad and I spent wonderful evenings traveling to Barstow and Beatty, Goldfield and Tonopah. A generation of salty off-road racers, unsure of the benefits that came with the publicity my Father gave their sport, were equally uncomfortable with me. I was sent on errands to earn my keep; “Go find Walker and bring him in for an interview.” The racers, looking forward to a beer (or 12) to celebrate, had no desire to follow a child into a press room. Their discomfort bothered me not, I am desert born and raised, and race day meant that the rocky and wonderful expanse of the Mojave was my playground on many Saturdays.

It seemed we were always plotting our next trip, and Dad never told me I was just along for the ride. The venerable Rand McNally Atlas was available to me; I could plot and plan to my heart’s content. Eventually though, every trip comes to its conclusion. So it was with Dad and me. As I grew older, the trips lost their appeal. As money grew tighter, the time and ability to take those trips slowly drifted away. One fair morning, shortly after I turned 21, I closed my eyes; for just a moment, it seemed. When they opened, I was in my late thirties and separated from my family and native home by 1,800 miles. The simple pleasures of old movies and games of catch, of those road trips with Dad were fixed in my past.

Then life served up a curveball. My Mom and Dad were planning a baseball trip back east, and invited my Uncle (a Giants fan) and his daughter (my cousin, like me a Dodger fan). The plan was for the four to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame and a Red Sox game. Afterwards, my parents would make themselves a nuisance in New England until they felt like going home. It was to be a wonderful trip. Then fate intervened and my Mother was forced to have surgery requiring a long rehabilitation. Dad was crushed; there could be no question of him leaving her in the recovery process, but the thought of missing that trip was quite a blow.

What stubbornness I have, is a testament to my mom, and she was determined that Dad, Joe, and my cousin go on the trip. She also had a plan. One day, as I prepared to mow my lawn, Mom called me with a suggestion. Would I like to pinch hit for her on the trip? Would I? Of course I would…but. Mom would have none of the buts…one by one; she overcame the obstacles that were between Dad and me going on the trip. And so it came that on June 28, 2010, Dad and I walked through the doors of Cooperstown together. My cousin and I took time to marvel at both the Hall of Fame and the reaction it caused in our two fathers. To be sure, there were, well…adventures along the way. Our cohorts for the trip were unquestionably tired of my Dad and I’s penchant for turning the wrong direction and then debating each other about just where it was that we went wrong. Nothing is perfect, but this trip came close.

Dad and I wandered the Hall of Fame, reveled in a Red Sox victory at Fenway (he is the Sox fan), and contemplated the life and legacy of JFK at the Kennedy Library. We spent the time between stops, and more than a few very late nights, talking about…whatever the hell it is that we talk about. We saw the Submarine museum at Groton, Connecticut, and spent a glorious if exhausting day in Manhattan. In an attempt to capture something concrete from the trip, I snapped more photographs in one week than I had taken in the previous ten years of my life.

On our last full day, Dad and I visited one of his cousins on Long Island. Afterwards, we stopped for dinner at a diner. Four times on Long Island we stopped to eat at diners, it was a reminder of all the chocolate malts and club sandwiches Dad bought me at Denny’s or Pike’s growing up. It also hearkened back to his father, a man who supported his family as a cook in diners in Long Island and later, Las Vegas. One stop was at a spot close to the site where Roosevelt Field stood. Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt on his way to Paris, and the family legend is that Grandpa made him the sandwich he took.

It was a nearly perfect trip, with nearly perfect memories. We didn’t see everything we wanted to, or do everything we planned to, but we spent the better part of eight great days together. Come to think of it, there were just three things keeping it from being perfect; a game of catch, a game of chess, and some toasted peanut butter sandwiches.

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