Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My old man was a pretty good navigator.

Back in the day there were no Interstates and although Eisenhower, who was president at the time, is responsible for the creation of the Interstate highway system they were far from complete when at the time.

I recall the trip to Michigan we made when I was little. I remember dad and I sat down with a couple of road maps and figured out the way through the hash of US routes built during the depression and the slew of state roads.

He wrote down a list of where to turn off of one road and onto another one and clipped it to the visor along with approximate distances so as to know when to start looking for the turn.

It was pretty much what you'd get today from a printed out MapQuest or Google map laying out a travel route, although unlike the computer printouts the milage dad used was estimated from the map's mileage scale. 

Driving with  him at the wheel was interesting, too and as a child I learned a lot from him. He apparently had taken his Air Corps training with him when he got out of the service because he had a pretty good eye for enemy fighters.

Every so often he'd point something out to me. "There's a pretty good chance there's a motorcycle cop behind that billboard," he'd say and quite often when we'd pass the bilboard he'd be proven right.

Back then they had motorcycles cops in places, riding huge Harleys. Sometimes you can see them on old movies.

One time my mother got a bit panicky when she happened to spot a motorcycle cop behind us with his lights on.

"Pull over, there's a cop behind us with his lights on," she said.

'Top of the world, Ma! They'll never take us alive," responded dad and mom turned purple with rage and fear with visions of all of us getting carted off to the pokey, She bit her lips.

When the cop got close dad pulled over to the right, slowed down and the cop whipped past us going like the hammers of hell. Mom was visably relieved.

I was leaning over the back of the front seat and asked dad how he knew.

"I saw the cop before your mother did," he explained. He was going like a bat out of hell and was hugging the white line. If he wanted to pull us over he would have likely been in the center of the lane."

"Gee, Dad!" where did you learn to talk like a gangster?" I asked.

"In a movie I saw as a boy," he replied. "I was just teasing your mother when I did that."

Later I saw the movie on TV. It was "White Heat" with James Cagney as Cody Jarret. It's a classic and I use the same line from it my dad used occasionally. A lot of people grin and pick up on it even now which is pretty amazing as the movie was made around 1933.

Incidentally by the time I got my driver's license a little over a decade later motorcycle cops had all but disappeared. I have never been stopped by one and rarely have I even seen one. 

Also billboard advertising went away to a great extent in the mid 60s under the Johnson administration. The country used to be plastered with them and although the eyesores still exist they have dropped way down to a trickle of what it used to be along the highways. I'll admit it's a lot nicer to look at. Back in the day they seemed to be every ten feet.

They also had Burma Shave signs which were a series of small signs, each of which was a single line of a poem of some sort. The last one said, "Burma Shave". Even then they were starting die out but there were still a few out there.

When we passed through occasional towns dad would drive carefully obeying all of the speed limits and would stop at stop signs and count to three out loud.

"That way there's no question, Son," he explained. "A lot of these dinky little towns depend on the money from tickets to run them and we're from out of state. Most people do a rolling stop and sometimes get ticketed for it."

I asked what being from out of state had to do with the way the laws were enforced.

"They know that if they give you a ticket you'll simply pay it instead of having to spend a couple of days in town waiting to go to court to fight it," he explained. 'It's a lot cheaper that way even though it isn't right."

I noticed that the air conditioning didn't work very well in big towns.

When we were out of towns and into open areas or farm lands he'd open things up a bit and make up for lost time. The air conditioning worked well when we were making up for lost time. 

Back then cars had what is now called the 4-50 air conditioning system. With four windows open at 50 mph you could stay fairly cool.

We were visiting his half brother who lived on somewhat of a horse ranch. A year or two early he and his wife had visited us, traveling all the way in a four-cylinder Jeep. The trip must have taken days, looking back on it. At 45 mph an old Jeep's engine would have been screaming.

Dad had planned the trip well and had tossed a couple of air matteresses in the back of the station wagon. My brother and I could sleep in back and my toddler sister was in a car seat. My two younger sisters had not even been born yet.

Every now and then he'd say, "Start looking for route such and such," and all available eyes would be peeled until a sign was spotted. 

Once I remember him turning at a signpost with no route number on it and driving a mile or so and seeing a route sign. 

"Someone knocked the sign down, so I guessed that one right," he said. He pointed at the chart on the visor. "See the number 4? It means a 4 lane road and the milage was about right so I figured it was where to turn. Besides it was about time."

He then showed me the little numbers he had put down to show how long each leg should take. He explained that the times were just an educated guess and explained that we'd be on our current leg for about another 45 minutes or so unless there was traffic or something. 

A minute or so later we were making great time, clicking away at a mile a minute or so.

Looking back on it, he had done his homework on that one.

Anyway, we got there intact and spent about a week and we had a ball. But looking back on it, I learned a lot as a little kid about navigating the nations's highways and byways.

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1 comment:

  1. If you handed most twenty-somethings a map today and asked them to figure the distance between two points they would have no idea there are little indicator dots for the mileage between. Like my SCUBA compass navigation class, no one had any idea at all how to use the compass. I could at least fall back on my USMC training.