published Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Kennedy: Road trips: How times change

Car trips have changed a lot in 50 years.

When I was a kid, my family made yearly journeys to Tampa, Fla. I have great memories of fishing off a pier in St. Petersburg, Fla., and learning to play shuffleboard at a city park. Then there were trips to Clearwater Beach where I would get slathered down with Coppertone lotion (SPF 4!) but still burn like white bread in a toaster.

As my family plans a beach trip later this fall, it occurs to me that kids today don't know how good they've got it.

Here are some "then vs. now" comparisons that pop to mind.

Then: For a 12-hour trip from Middle Tennessee to Tampa in the 1960s, I'd pack one Archie comic book (I had a crush on Veronica), and a single sleeve of saltine crackers.

Now: For a trip of over 30 minutes my kids pack iPads, portable DVD players and a cooler full of fruit roll-ups, Gatorade, string cheese, grapes and Pop-Tarts. Then they ignore all that and ask for a Slushie from the first Kangaroo store we pass instead.

Then: When I was a kid, pit stops were not "on-demand" events. If you didn't take care of your business during fuel stops, you were out of luck. When we did stop, it was usually at a grimy gas station using facilities that smelled like sewer water.

Now: Our boys expect to stop every hour on the hour to fill their personalized 32-ounce soft-drink cups and replenish their confections. They expect the restrooms to be spotless, 10-stall arrangements, with water-saving sinks and self-flushing toilets. And they buy their Sweet Tarts and Skittles in bulk.

Then: If our parents felt especially charitable, they would stop once in a day-long journey at a "swanky" place like Stuckeys. Anything we kids bought there came from our own savings derived from selling coat hangers back to the dry cleaning store for a half-cent each. Otherwise, we felt lucky to get a pecan roll morsel on a toothpick.

Now: Our boys prefer Cracker Barrel restaurants, where they can order from a menu and then run to the toy corner to play checkers or mess with the little battery-powered weasels. Part of the ritual is begging for toys; and sometimes they get it, using gift money that grows on trees.

Then: My Mom and Dad drove an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon that was as long as a football field. On trips to the beach we would lower the back seat and slide in a twin mattress, where my sister and I slept for most of the trip. If we had ever been in an accident, we would have shot through the front windows like Tomahawk missiles.

Now: Our Toyota Venza has leather-clad reclining back seats, three-point seat belts and side-curtain air bags. If we had a wreck, our two boys might sleep through it.

Then: In the pre-Oil Embargo days of the 1970s, American-made family cars had eight cylinders and plenty of raw horsepower. We once had a station wagon that got less than 10 miles per gallon. Our national safety obsession had not yet taken hold and traveling in the right lane of an interstate highway was intense. I remember my Mom driving over stretches of Monteagle Mountain at 90 mph. Whee!

Now: My 6-year-old son freaks if I go two miles over the speed limit.

Then: My sister and I would draw an imaginary line down the middle of the back seat and dare one another to cross it.

Now: My boys invent ways to annoy one another in the back seat (humming, making faces, etc.) until one of them snaps and throws a punch.

Some things never change.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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