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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Before You Go: Reminiscing About the Best Day Trips

CRL columnist John Gray looks back on his favorite Capital Region day trips.

This is the month when so many of us load the family in the car and head off on trips. Men who promised themselves they would never, ever drive a minivan find they’re doing exactly that. Which reminds me of a joke. A man tells his wife to go and buy a sports car and is shocked to look outside and see a minivan in the driveway. He says to his wife, “I thought I made myself clear, I want something that can go from 0 to 200 in three seconds.” His wife hands him the bathroom scale and says, “Here, hop on.”

Some of my favorite memories as a child come from taking day trips with my family—Lake George, Caroga Lake, Cooperstown. What person over 40 years old in this area doesn’t remember forming a posse and arresting the bank robbers in “Story Town”? Or struggling to walk the rope bridge at “Jungle Land”? Those were the days when twenty bucks got you a tank of gas and admission almost anywhere.

The drives from here to there were always entertaining. We were forbidden from asking, “Are we there yet?” more than once every ten minutes so my siblings and I occupied ourselves in other ways. Our favorite game was “Punch Buggy” where you kept your eyes peeled for a Volkswagen Beetle and then whacked your sibling on the arm if you saw it first, yelling “Punch Buggy.” Someone always took it too far, screaming ensued and the inevitable, “I’ll turn this car around and take you all home” bellowed from an adult in the front seat.

Counting license plates from other states was always a good time killer on long drives or trying to get a trucker to sound his horn as he rumbled by. You have to remember when I was a kid there were no laptops or portable video games; we had pay phones, not cell phones and entertainment was more of a do-it-yourself proposition.

Once I got older, I realized the key to any great day trip is to have comfortable transportation. Of course, wanting and having are two different things. Your first car as an adult is usually a clunker and mine was no exception. A used Pontiac Grand Am that apparently needed oil to run. No kidding, I drove it, and drove it until one day the engine seized up. It wasn’t “grand” then. They towed it to a garage where the mechanic told me, “This thing has plum run out of oil.” (That’s how people talked back in the 1800s.) I told the man that can’t be true because I added a can of 10W-40 two years earlier and the oil light never came on. Turns out the light didn’t work so I just drove the car to death. Oops.
As bad as that old Pontiac was, my brother had me beat. His first car was a Dodge Dart that was so old the driver-side floor was completely rusted out. I mean you could literally look down and see the ground going by as you drove, kind of like the Flintstones’ car. He placed a small board over the hole which worked great except if you drove after a snowstorm. I recall one time where he had snow shooting up through the floorboards. To this day, it’s the only car I’ve ever been in that came with its own snow cone machine built in. But I digress.

Wherever your travels take you, odds are you are using a GPS or talking mapping system on your phone to get you there. They can be useful but there’s something to be said for the old school way of figuring it out on your own. Like Tom Hanks at the end of “Castaway,” you stand at the crossroads, scratch your head and take an educated guess on which way is up. I’ve found one of the best ways to discover something new is to get lost for a bit. We are raising a generation of drivers who don’t know the names of any of the roads and can’t find their way to the kitchen without a GPS helping them. Tsk, tsk.

Since the theme of this month’s issue is “day tripping” I encourage you to grab someone cute, pack a basket with goodies and strike out for parts unknown. We get so few days of great weather that you can’t waste a single one. So music up, windows down and put the GPS in the trunk. Oh and don’t forget to add oil.

Since we kicked this off with a bad car joke it’s only fitting to end that way. What happened to the frog when he parked in front of the fire hydrant? He got toad. Don’t give me that look–I told you it was bad.

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