T Minus 40: Scenic Route

If you keep an open mind you can find adventure in the strangest of places…

My grandad loved road trips, but he especially enjoyed a scenic route. On one of these routes, in Pennsylvania we ran into some car trouble outside of a tiny town called Bedford. My mom and I had met them half way between their home in Illinois and our home on Long Island and now I was heading back with them for an extended visit. We did this often, but this trip was different. We had chosen Hershey, PA for our meeting place so that we could hit Hershey Park and tour the chocolate factory. It was great, much better than our usual meeting place, Sharon, PA where the pool at the Holiday Inn was always a blast, but couldn’t compare to Hershey Park. It was the route from Hershey that led us through Bedford.

We were on a hilly, twisty road somewhere that didn’t appear to be close to anything. Grandad probably wanted to take us on “an adventure”, which was what he always said when choosing a scenic route. Nammy (my grandmother) had gotten me a new Barbie. I had pleaded my case for needing it convincingly while we were buying snacks for the road. At that point I was their only grandkid, so they spoiled me. It was “Day-to-Night Barbie”. Her pink skirt suit was reversible and turned into poofy, sparkly evening wear. She went from conservative office chic to coked-out ’80s club posh. She was perfection.

I was in the backseat of their light blue 1980 Buick Skylark working out some Barbie scenario involving her riding my stuffed dog Petey like a horse when the engine started to sputter. We drove on a bit further, but at the top of a particularly steep hill, the Skylark gave out.

There were no cell phones, and I was only nine so I don’t know exactly how the grown-ups made it happen (probably because Barbie and Petey kept me occupied), but a tow truck showed up to rescue us. Grandad probably walked into town or found a home nearby that would let him use the phone.

The tow truck driver hooked the Skylark up and explained that the law prohibited me from sitting in the car while it was being towed. I was very disappointed, for some reason I thought that would be incredibly fun. We all piled into the tow truck (me on Nammy’s lap) and towed the Skylark to the nearest garage, which was at a dealership.

It was a Sunday and no one would be able to look at the car until the next day, so Nams and Grandad got us a room at a small independent motel nearby. I thought it was all so much fun, the ultimate adventure. Plus, if you put a quarter in a machine attached to the bed the whole thing vibrated! I’d never seen anything so wonderful in all my life.

We got some food and settled in for the night. Nammy and I took the bed and Grandad slept on a rollaway cot. Early the next morning Grandad went to deal with the car. When he came back there was a lot of grown up discussion. That’s when I learned what a transmission was, or at least that it is incredibly important to have one that works. Apparently, the Skylark’s transmission was broken and would be very expensive to fix. We checked out of the motel and headed over to the car dealership.

It was amazing to me that it was only 1985, but somehow they had cars there from 1986. It made no sense, but there was a big shiny white one that seemed to be waiting there for us. It smelled so good! We got to drive around in it a little bit and then we had to go back to the dealership. Grandad talked to the car guy while I played with Barbie.

By the afternoon we were on our way in the white car. It was a lot like the blue one, but it said Century on it where the blue one said Skylark and it had a tape player and buttons that made the windows roll down and the doors lock and unlock. It was great! We even bought a couple of tapes to listen to at the gas station, The Everly Brothers and Patsy Cline. I memorized every song!

I remember thinking, OK, cars last 5 years, then you get a new one and transmissions cannot be fixed. I carried that life lesson around for a while. I couldn’t have known that eight years later they would give me the Century as a gift when I got my license. I kept it for three years.

We made our way back to Nammy and Grandad’s house in Rantoul. I couldn’t wait to go fishing in the pond and row around in my boat the “Amy”, but soon after we got home my head started to itch. So did Nammy’s. We didn’t think too much of it the first day, but by day two the itching was worse, so Nammy got a flash light and looked through my hair.

I had head lice! Ewww, and so did she!! They always checked us for lice in school and no one wanted to be the kid that got sent home with it. That kid was gross!

We spent the day washing all of our clothes and bedding, everything. We got the smelly lice killing shampoo from the store. It comes with the tiniest, most painful comb ever. We shampooed, a lot. Nammy combed the dead lice out of my hair and when Grandad got home from work, he combed the dead lice out of hers.

There was a lot of talk about the motel, like Why didn’t we stay someplace nicer? and Never again! I still thought that bed was fun though. I was just really glad Nammy found my lice and not the school nurse. It was our secret.

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