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Official Article

Family Road Trips

The Vacation movies starring Chevy Chase gave us a hilarious view of one father’s journey to deliver his family the ultimate road trip. By comparison most of us had less dangerous adventures after loading up the family station wagon to hit the open road, but often these trips were still full of wonder.

My family took trips every year, so I thought I would share a few stories of exciting sights, sounds and one tale of heartache from the road.

Yosemite Sam Mudflaps

Passing the hours in the back seat was rough in the days before Game Boy or Game Gear entered our lives. My earliest road trips with my parents were spent staring out the window while I snacked on beef jerky or fruit roll-ups. It was a pretty mundane view until a semi-truck would appear on the horizon. As we approached my heart would start racing and my eyes would instantly move to wheel area to see what kind of mud flaps the driver had installed. 

I got the greatest amount of joy when I caught a glimpse of a familiar face in the form of the tiny terror, Yosemite Sam from the world of Looney Tunes. I would instantly launch into my imitation, “That raggin-fraggin-no-good-varmint” and be grateful for that fleeting moment of entertainment. I didn’t learn the trick of making the pull your horn motion to the driver himself until later elementary school field trips, so this passive form of interaction sufficed for many years.


I have always had the ability to see faces and figures in surfaces like wood, tile and even popcorn ceilings. So with a little sprinkle of imagination, a collection clouds could put on quite a show. I distinctly remember once spotting what looked like Miss Piggy from Muppet Babies chasing Kermit through the sky. 

Sometimes light would seem to be coming from inside the cloud and I imagined that the source of the golden rays were warrior angels battling it out within. Other times I could practice my crackpot UFO theories, proclaiming that an alien spaceship was using the clouds for cover in preparation for an invasion. Yep, clouds, man.

Mini-Mart Toy Racks

A bathroom stop was inevitable on a 12 hour drive to Utah (pretty much the only place we ever visited) and exiting the highway to hit the local gas station mini mart was a source sweet relief in more ways than one. After “leaking the lizard” my first stop was always the toy aisle that was inevitably stocked with cheap crap I would never consider adding to my toy collection, if I wasn’t so desperate for something to pass the time. 

One of my favorite selections were activity books that came packaged with a clear tipped pen that when applied to the paper revealed numbers, images or text hidden in the page. The “magic” of making the trivia answer appear was always a thrill, until the clear liquid ran out. Am I the only one that remembers these things? Another simple device that provided hours of fun was the Magic Slate drawing which always had a familiar character at the top promising fun. If all else failed I could always fall back on Car Bingo, though my version of the game mostly involved flipping the red plastic tabs back and forth repeatedly.

Robot Car

The view from the back seat can sometimes play tricks on your mind, but often those optical illusions can be welcome change of pace. I remember several instances over the years where my Dad would take his hands off the steering wheel for several minutes as we zoomed down a long stretch of highway and of course I had only one thought blaring through my mind, “Robot Car!” 

I was convinced that my Dad had taken his vehicle to the mechanic to be outfitted with artificial intelligence like K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider, which could drive the car for him when he needed a rest. Of course as I got older and taller, my dreams were dashed when I saw that he was merely using his knees to steer, but those silent moments of glee stuck with me.

Lost Toys

I’m sure you had a favorite toy of the moment as a kid, mine was Nuggit from the short-lived Rock Lords action figure series. Officially a spin-off of Go-Bots these transforming rock-bots were pretty awesome. In 1987, Nuggit gleamed above the rest with his shiny gold exterior and Johnny 5 from short circuit good looks. He traveled with me everywhere, from the grocery store to the playground, Nuggit was at my side, so of course he came on the family road trip.

After ingesting large amounts of Minute Maid boxed orange juice (Mom rarely went for Hi-C), I had to make a stop at one of the aforementioned mini-marts to use the facilities. Not trusting my precious robot treasure to be viewed by the thieving eyes of other travelers, I brought Nuggit along. What happened next was a blur. Perhaps I was distracted by the smell of heat lamp corn dogs or the opportunity to choose my own beverage from the refrigerator case, but whatever the reason, Nuggit got left behind.

We were 5 miles down the road before I realized my little buddy was missing. I’m sure I cried, begged and pleaded to go back and retrieve him, but for whatever reason no rescue mission was mounted. Nuggit was on his own. I’ve often wondered what became of that brave and brilliant robot. Did I knock him into a trash can whose contents were later retrieved by a homeless dumpster diver? Did he roll under a pinball machine waiting to be found when someone dropped their quarter? 

I like to believe that another kid spotted the lonely, lost toy and took him home to be cherished above all others. Perhaps we’ll be reunited someday, Nuggit and I, but until then I’ll just keep rolling down Memory Lane, dreaming of my long lost pal.

What were some of your favorite ways to pass the time on road trips?
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jkatz Posted on Jan 04, 2017 at 08:36 PM

I'll say what I said last time--there is a movie waiting to be made about Nuggit making a country-wide trek to find his owner.
The only thing of significance I remember doing on road trips was playing a gameboy until the battery ran out and staring out the window, picturing a man running alongside our car.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jan 04, 2017 at 06:20 PM

@vkimo Happy Trails, vkimo! As for which Gas Station, I'm sure it exploded in a Griswold related incident years ago.

@RickAceRhodes That story needs to be fleshed out in an article. 7 hours for a 1 hour trip? That's an adventure!

@Vaporman87 I've got plenty of new stuff in the hopper once the vintage articles are restored.

vkimo Posted on Jan 03, 2017 at 05:21 AM

Great timing, I'm currently enroute from San Francisco to Philadelphia. Except I'm driving solo. What gas station in Utah did you loose Nuggit? Maybe I'll find him behind the churro maker. Also, good luck finding a Rambler on Find-A-Car Bingo!

Rick Ace Rhodes Posted on Jan 02, 2017 at 04:53 AM

Cool article Hoju. The worst road trip story I have wasn't even from an actual road trip: my father and I went on a trip to my orthodontist who was about an hour away. The ensuing trip and back actually took seven hours, as every possible thing from closed roads, getting lost and nearly getting into a car accident occurred.

Vaporman87 Posted on Dec 31, 2016 at 10:56 AM

Another Hoju classic that I'm glad to see back up again.

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