Every summer, my wife and I load up our daughters and go on a sojourn, a pilgrimage if you will, from Oakland to visit my family near Seattle. Since I don’t have much family left around up there due to almost everybody kicking the bucket in the last 15 years, that “family” consists of my mom, my brother and my sister-in-law.
And since we don’t like to pay what would run about $1,000 for four plane tickets to fly to Seattle, and then spend more than $300 to rent a car big enough to haul our kids and all of our stuff around for a week, we do like our ancestors did back when they crossed the prairies and load up our version of the covered wagon and drive all the way from the Bay Area to Mam Maw’s house in Tacoma, Wash.
Of course, even though we are on the road, we have it a little easier than the Crums of Yore, or wherever they came from.
First off, we ride in a road-eating Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab truck with plenty of room for the four of us, an empty bed in back for all our suitcases and assorted kid crap, and a 5.7-liter V-8 hemi engine that lives on the 23-gallons of gas it takes to fill up its fuel tank. Second, instead of the axle-breaking trails that made 10 miles a day seem like progress for the Pioneers, all we have to do is get over to Interstate 5, point the truck north, and bear down on the gas for 700 miles in air-conditioned comfort over two days of driving.
And finally, unlike our ancestors who had to deal with the constant fear of being attacked by Indians on the way out West, the only run-ins we have with the regional tribes involves coming upon the odd-occasional casino and [at least when we got into Washington], giant roadside fireworks stands on tribal grounds that could provide enough explosives to knock back those extremists rolling across Iraq right now.
Whenever I tell someone we are about to spend two days on the road with our three-and-five-year-old daughters strapped down like cargo in the backseat, I usually get a response along the lines of either, “Are you sure you want to do that?” or “You must have a high threshold for pain.” Because anyone who has traveled in a vehicle with their kids for any distance longer than it takes to get out of their driveway has ended up considering whether they should have just lit themselves on fire at the first rest stop down the highway.
But, fortunately, a couple of iPads loaded up with a megaplex’s worth of Disney movies helps calm down the chaos a bit. [Funny, but whoever gets my iPad never chooses to watch my copy of “Beyond The Lighted Stage”, the documentary about my favorite band, Rush, and seems content to put on “Frozen” for the 10,000th time.] Oh yeah, there’s always a degree of whining and crying to be had, usually when one of the kids somehow turns off their video and can’t figure how to turn it back on. No adventure with kids would be complete without someone losing their mind at least once over something like “Despicable Me” going blank and having no digital video stimulation for all of 23 seconds.
When you do a drive that lasts a few days, you tend to notice certain things on the road and they can vary from state to state. Some are mundane, some are spectacular and some leave you just wondering. The following is a completely uncomprehensive list of some of the things we encountered on our drive from Oakland to Tacoma…
—The Nut Tree, which is outside of Vacaville, Calif. My wife says that back when she was a kid, there really was nothing out here besides a Nut Tree and an airfield where her dad landed his single-engine plane. Today, the Nut Tree’s merry-go-round is still there. And you can fill up at the nearby Buffalo Wild Wings before you get on your horse.
–A bunch of sunflower fields off of either side of Interstate 505 not long before reaching I-5 south of Dunnigan, Calif.
–Mt. Shasta, which is missing a lot of snow due to California’s prolonged drought. Or, maybe the lack of snow is due to the aliens that some weirdos think live inside the dormant volcano.
–A big dragon the someone fashioned out of metal outside of Yreka. It could be a monument to real dragons that once roamed the region for all I know because there is nothing, or no one near the thing to explain its existence. [I later learned that the dragon is named “Priscilla”].
–The California Department of Agriculture inspection station on I-5 South, just a few miles inside the state line. The department must have been taking the Fourth of July weekend off because the officer at the station waved us through without a care for the bananas and grapes we had been carrying since leaving Tacoma.
–Some kids may find this incredible to believe, but there was once a time when every gas station in this country offered smiling, freshly scrubbed station attendants in uniforms who would pump your gas for you. This was called “full service”. Today, Oregon is one of two states [New Jersey being the other], that still only offer full service gas pumping [and some of the attendants still look freshly scrubbed, too]. That’s right. In the state of Oregon, you can’t pump your own gas. Some day, I will be able to regale my daughters with tales of full service gas stations everywhere and they will call me “Gramps”.
–Another thing that is only in Oregon [and I have been told Idaho, too], is triple-semis. Every once in a while, when I would be banging my head to the new Mastodon album, I would pass a semi that went on just a little longer than it would in California. And it was a semi with three long containers rolling along behind it. I don’t know if Oregon allows this because it really wants to ship a lot of Nikes out of Beaverton, but it is an impressive sight on the road.
–Hitchhikers. On the freeway, even. Every hundred miles or so, I saw someone with their thumb out and thought we could let them sit in the truck’s bed. And then I remembered what happened to Jennifer Jason Leigh in the 1986 movie “The Hitcher” and I floored it to 85.
–The Seven Feathers Casino near Canyonville must have gotten a bulk discount on billboard advertising up and down I-5. Former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald’s coming there, soon.
–One thing Oregon is missing that is OK by me: Sales tax of any kind.
–One thing that Oregon has, which was little disconcerting: The roadside “Adult Shop”. Something very 1977 about the site of one of those.
–Drive-through coffee shops. Yes, they are available elsewhere, but not in the numbers like we have up in Washington. It’s like random crops of coffee stands sprouted up all over the state.
–Timber. The first major industry in Washington was logging, and when you drive near Longview, you can still see enormous mountains of cut logs waiting to be shipped out to build financially insolvent tract home developments around the country.
–Fireworks stands. And I mean BIG, military-ammo-dump-sized bazaars of explosives. Some even had huge bouncy houses and slides set up for the little ones to play on while dad loaded up on M-80s.
–Mt. Rainier. I grew up with a ridiculously spectacular view of “The Mountain” practically in my backyard and I still lose my shit every time I see it. You can see all 14,411 feet of Mt. Rainier from I-5 as you approach Tacoma and when you do, it’s always a miracle you are able to keep any of your vision on the road.
–Mom’s house. After 700 miles and two days on the road, it’s time to finally rest. At least until mom’s Black Lab-German Shepherd mix leaps on you and your kids try to ride her like a pony.