My 1970’s Era Road Trip

“In a letter back home to his mother Twain wrote, “I have just heard five pistol shots down the street. …The pistol did its work well … two of my friends were shot. Both died within three minutes.”

In the late summer of 1974, with the blessings of our parents, my friend Hank and I, two 17 year old kids, took off on a month long cross country road trip from Miami, Florida. Four printed Kodak pictures survive today, only I can’t now find them.

Our navigational gear consisted of a free folded up paper map from a local service station. Personal phones were not yet invented. Packing was easy. We each carried our Boy Scout backpacks and a huge Coleman sleeping bag that couldn’t be folded or squeezed down any smaller than about the size of the beetles spare tire. We each carried half a tent. It was also known as a Shelter Half Pup Tent. It consisted of two sets that when assembled turned into one tent.

This type of tent also served millions of soldiers since it was first introduced decades ago. We may have purchased ours at a local Army Navy surplus store. Back in our day the gear was authentic and even smelled like it. You could buy anything from gas masks, duffle bags, canteens, to pea coats and anything camouflaged. .

For food we carried and cooked (heated) grocery store food that came in cans. Eating fast food was more the exception, rather than the rule. Eating out in fast food places was expensive Not quite like it is today. The minimum wage back in the Florida we departed from was $1.60 per hour.

Back then cans were made of wrought iron, and were up to 3/16″ thick. The cans were heavy and couldn’t easily be opened. I think we either used a hammer and chisel or a screwdriver and rock to get them opened.

Our other option for opening our canned food was to carry this pointed blade that, cut around the top of the can with a saw-like action, which, unfortunately, always left a jagged edge. Technology still had a ways to catch up with the can; given that the first can opener wasn’t invented until about fifty years after the cans.

The 1973, orange Super Beatle was now equipped with the latest in AM car radio, entertainment center technology. The radio had both a push button and dial controls option. Cassette tape players arrived in the 70’s but, neither one of us owned one.

The super beetle could travel at a top speed of 81 mph. In the 1970s the oil embargo arrived but, we never felt much effects from it. Unlike, the other large and fuel inefficient V8 American cars now on the road.

Forty years ago this month, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (consisting of OPEC’s Arab members plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) began an oil embargo that would last through March of 1974.

Our gas per gallon prices quickly rose from 29 cents per gallon to about as much as .49 cents per gallon.

We in the US were now the target of this embargo. Nixon required gas station owners to voluntarily not sell fuel on weekends.

90 percent complied and then began odd-even fuel rationing, three-color flag systems and the passing of the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, better known as the act that would set the national speed limit at 55 mph for the next twenty years. Yeah, we lived all that.

We overnighted at KOA campgrounds as much as possible. They had nice clean facilities and hot showers too. Other friendly campers also invited us over to their campsite, to share in a home cooked meal. Trust me, this made it, a whole lot easier than us, breaking out the old hammer and chisel, to get those old food cans opened.

By the end of the 70’s many of the KOAs closed down as a direct result of the oil embargo. People were not traveling as much.

Hank and I also took turns driving but, to save gas we never stopped to change drivers. Let’s just say, that today, it’s almost inconceivable to think that this is how we changed driver’s but, we did.

They say today that texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk. … Texting while driving causes a 400 percent increase in time spent with eyes off the road.

Can you imagine what our parents or Highway patrolman would say if, if they caught us, not wearing our seatbelts?

Wait, there wasn’t any? Or was there? I couldn’t imagine trying to do what we did today. Maybe it was something in the Florida water or Cuban food that made us, so much more agile and flexible.

The most memorable part of our month long oddysey was Flagstaff, Arizona and hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Hanks sister worked at a local radio station and lived, at a nearby convent.

For our first night or two the nuns allowed us to also stay at the convent. They also fed us breakfast too. The rest of the trip it was back to a pitched tent at a nearby KOA.

At Grand Canyon National Park we saw tourists riding mules down the GC. We chose to do it the old fashioned way and hiked from rim to rim. We even carried our heavy canned food down and back up the canyon. The mule option back then cost around $500.

On our way back up the canyon we thought we were gonna die. Fortunately, there was never a fear of us getting lost. There’s only one way up and one way down.

Our water supply was long gone, the sun blazing on our shirtless backs. The dry air temperatures were unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, living in flat, sunny and humid Florida.

Fortunately for us, youth was on our side, for you can’t fix being stupid. People much older than us, we assumed, also made the same bad decisions, on the hike back up.

Totally spent and exhausted we just stopped and plopped right down on the trail. Total heat exhaustion. Our legs were spent from all that near vertical elevation. Maybe another twenty minutes went by.

A child’s voice suddenly announces, mom, dad, do you think their dead? We didn’t even bother to move; not even when the kid pokes Hank in the ear with a stick, to see if he’s really dead, or just pretending to be. The parents quickly skedaddled back up the canyon, with their kids in tow, and out of there. Wish they would’ve left us some water.

That’s when we first learned ; that we couldn’t be that far away, from the rim of the canyon.

Later that day, over a pizza and coke feast at the KOA, we tried separating what really happened, from what we thought we just imagined.

Did you hear a kid talking? No. Not really.

Prior to my enlistment in our armed forces all I wanted to do was a little traveling. And, a little traveling we did. When we ran out of money, we got jobs for two weeks as busboys at the local “Little America.”


Circa 1974