A drive in the country was a hobby my father loved to do most anytime he had the chance. Working in an office, leafing through legal books, studying case law made him feel caged in like a zoo animal that was exhibiting nervous stress knowing that life had its boundaries and there was no escaping it. So, to unwind and relax he would get in his weekend play toy-a 1967 canary yellow Camaro S.S convertible with double wide black racing stripes emblazoned upon the hood and trunk. The tires were beefy mounted on shiny dished chrome wheels. This was his wild thing. There was nothing tame about it. He loved the deep, haunting growl that the engine forced out through the straight piped dual exhaust when we pulled away from our red brick ranch with attached sunporch framed in jalousie windows separating the house from the two car garage. My sister would willingly stay home with mom watching cartoons dressed in her white flannel pajamas and furry pink slippers cozied up in that glassed room with its plush tan wall-the-wall carpet.
His weekend car made him feel free. Dad could put the week’s stress all behind him as he settled into the black bucket driver’s seat trimmed in shiny chrome piping. I loved to ride with him.
He would wake up early on Saturday, pull out the road atlas from the bookshelf in the family room where a set of World Book Encyclopedias were displayed with pride, and choose a route that would take a few hours to cover.
We had a subscription to National Geographic and the entire family would take turns reading then dreaming of the the vividly documented adventures. On Saturday dad would live his own, and I would ride along. He was the camel driver taking us through the landscape of our version of an exotic far-away place.
He thoughtfully marked the map with a freshly sharpened number 4HB red pencil and I would be his navigator. My job made me feel important like Tonto must have quietly realized as he showed the way to the Lone Ranger as they rode through canyon mountain passes. His joy was to get into the countryside as quickly as possible, while I directed him along the rural two-lanes.
We lived in a large town in eastern West Virginia. Country people called it a city, although it never got that close. The towns and hamlets on our route were filled with coal miners and loggers. Some roads were still hard packed dirt, which reminded us of another time when horses pulled farm wagons to town, to the granary, or the auction barn. The kids dressed like their working class parents and appeared older than they actually were. The boys wore ball caps with the company logo sewn on the front, faded and collar worn flannel shirts, and, if lucky, a Sears hood parka rimmed in fake fur for those cold days that required more. For some, televisions were only for “rich folks” which meant the kids spent time together, outside, experiencing their own brand of wild.
Jilly’s General Store, and gas station, Milton’s Pharmacy, Blazer and Sons Work Wear, Happy Foods grocery, and others like them sustained communities making them whole and grounded offering a home for those who wanted to stay or too afraid to leave.
Dad would find a soda fountain store on a ‘Main Street’ and park. He would go inside, telling me to watch the car, and buy us a couple bottles of Cream Soda, or Old Fashioned Root Beer, along with hot dogs with all the fixings resting on a square of waxed paper lining a red and white checked cardboard boat. We would sit in the car, the top down even if it was a chilly early spring day eating our lunch.
A gathering of kids, often riding bikes heading somewhere, maybe to the local river or stream to watch the thick muddied rushing, rising flood of white-capped waters as the snow melts, from intermittently warm sunny days, creating a torrent of sound; or off to play baseball for the first time after the long frozen winter, which stuck around longer than most desired, begins to show signs of thaw.
I remember biting into my hot dog when I saw two boys, only a few feet away, on their way to somewhere, stop like I would do soaking up the brilliantly colored exotic images in the National Geographic magazine, watching me in that same dreamy way with soft grins possibly wanting a chance at my little adventure, too.
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