Part 3 (of 3)
When last we left my family on the side of a hot dusty road outside of Rapid City, South Dakota, my father had just pulled the gearshift out of the floor of the 1969 VW van.
We had just left the tourist trap (and I say that in the nicest way) Reptile Gardens, and were on our way home from a vacation at Yellowstone National Park.
I had just learned some new curse words from my father, some of which he would never use again.
We were definitely in a spot. And then we got lucky.
A South Dakota State Trooper pulled in behind us. Dad explained the situation – the van was stuck in second gear. The Trooper, bless his heart, told dad to follow him into town, at 20 mph. The Trooper would have his rollers on for safety. He would then take dad to the only VW repair shop within 100 miles and make recommend a motel for us to stay in while repairs were made.
This is the motel:
Yep, bless James Lileks’ heart
, it is one of those classic roadside motels from 40+ years ago that still exist. When I took this photo in 2010, it was hard to believe that not only was the motel still there, it was almost completely untouched from 1970.
The pool is the in the foreground. Some landscaping and a new fence were added in the intervening years but it’s still there, not filled in as many other pools of older motels were when the maintenance costs didn’t justify making the kids happy. Most of the surviving motels, including the ones at Lileks’ site, that filled in their pools, are not exactly what you would call ‘family friendly’ anymore.
Our room was in the middle of the photo, where the buildings seem to make a 90 degree turn. This time, dad did not argue about the price.
We were dropped off at the motel, checked in and spent the next hour or so watching ‘Let’s Make A Deal’ on the small black and white TV. The room was as Spartan as one might expect. I would expect the rooms are still quite Spartan today.
Dad had two missions: one, to get the car to the VW repair shop and, two, to wire his parents for money.
Yes, Western Union — the old way, from a telegraph office. It had to have been humiliating to my father, a very self-reliant ex-Marine, to do this. After all, he had to admit that he’d financed the vacation on a loan from Sun Finance that left us just enough money for the round trip vacation and the crappy motels we stayed in.
We were at the motel for three days. There was no heater in the pool and even in July in South Dakota, it was pretty cold. I got used to the water in my usual way: one foot, then another, then up to the knee with one leg than the other, then shivering, then up to my waist with teeth chattering until my father got sick of the show and barked at me to “just get in the goddam water already, Jeezus!”
In any case, dad got the money, the VW was fixed and we were on our merry way back home.
Except it wasn’t really merry – it was more like glumly limping back to Ohio with our tails between my legs. In the interest of my personal safety, I stopped giving the souvenir straw bear a travelogue.
And, of course, there had to be one final bad thing – my sister got a raging, screaming earache while we were stuck in traffic on the Eisenhower expressway in Chicago. I think that may have been when my anxiety order ratcheted into high gear.
Dad had had quite enough. Vowing to get home without any more overnights, he drove the rest of the way home. I was sleeping in the backseat when we got home sometime around 3 a.m.
No, it was exactly like a Griswold family vacation. But it came close.
1. At least get a damn gas credit card if you can’t get a real BankAmericard (which we couldn’t)
2. Over-budget your expenses
3. Spend the next two vacations travelling to Florida where we would stay with my mom’s parents
Lessons not learned:
1. Make hotel reservations AHEAD of time
2. Get a first aid kit and a vehicle safety kit
3. Knock off the grape soda and starlight mints. After Wyoming, I never wanted either again.