My parents were good about taking us on yearly vacations to the beach or to camps out on the levees and we did lots of camping and fishing and all of the amazing adventure things one can do in the wonderful state of Louisiana. They also bought us a set of encyclopedias called “Lands and Peoples” which was my absolute favorite thing to read. I’d read all of them more than once by the time I finished high school. It fascinated me like nothing else.
That made me want to go places. Anywhere. Just go.
My first trip out of state besides going to Texas to visit my dad’s relatives was a trip I went on with my best friend’s family. This was also the first time I’d gone anywhere without my family.
Keep in mind this was before the internet, and at the birth of what would be the telemarketing explosion. It was also when people took to the road instead of hopping cheap flights as they did not exist. Also, the speed limit was 55mph.
We were in the summer between 10th and 11th grade, about sixteen years-old, and my friend picked up the phone to hear a woman go on about how she won a free trip to Florida for a family of four. Nobody believed her until the official Free Trip to Florida Certificate came in the mail. It was legit and she was the luckiest girl in town. All her parents had to do was go on an airboat tour in the Everglades to look at some land. No obligation.
This was great, my friend was interested in going to the University of Florida in Jacksonville and needed to check out the place.
So she convinced her parents to drive us there, a twenty-seven hour drive each way. We had ten days to do it all and no idea whatsoever what it was like to be in a tiny car for so long.
For me, it was liberating to be away from my parents and my boring life in a small town.
We found two little boys to take a photo of us, notice how they cut the heads off the parents
We didn’t drive straight thorough but spent the night in about three cities along the way. One of those places we stayed had a vibrating bed which I guess was an early form of the massage chair you see today in one of those mall stores. To operate the thing, we had to put a quarter in this little gadget on the bedside table and it would give you 10 minutes of buzz. We didn’t have any quarters, so I managed to hack it by disconnecting the meter and plugging this high tech mattress directly into the wall socket. The world of travel was already opening my eyes to new and exiting things.
So we were laying on this circus bed and my friend’s eyes rolled back into her head. I’d seen this before, my dad had epilepsy, and this girl was having a grand mal seizure. I rolled her on her side and woke her parents. They panicked when they saw my friend’s face was blue, called an ambulance, and we ended up spending a few hours in some Florida ER. It was quite an awakening as this was her first seizure.
The next day’s drive got us to Ft. Lauderdale. Gigantic hotel with about twenty floors and five swimming pools. Paradise.
Nope. Not really. We had no idea one of the worst hurricanes to hit Florida was barreling down on the place starting the day we got there. We never stepped foot in any of those pools but got to watch a storm from the seventeenth floor. But hey, the hotel had this awesome arcade and that was all the rage back then.
When things quieted down a little with the storm, we drove down to Miami because her parents wanted to see the beach where all these famous movies had been filmed. It was a bit run down and underwhelming. Empty. This was before Miami got hip again and there was another storm going on, the Cuban refugee crisis.
That was the one where they let loose a bunch of convicts and mental patients from Cuba to the US.
We were scared when we watched the news with all these stories about how over a hundred thousand undesirables were set loose right there in South Florida. Maybe we should have watched the news before we left Louisiana. We just all looked at each other and said, “We’re not leaving this room.”
You know what was even stranger? Not a single one of us complained or even seemed to be bothered by it. We laughed the entire time, you see, this was a family of comical geniuses and I was one damn lucky kid to be a part of it.
I don’t think people are like this anymore. Whatever we desire, we can get to it in an instant. Food. A place. Information. There seems to be less interest in the journey itself, and all of this makes life pass by too quickly for me.