Friday, June 18, 2010

The Back of The Station Wagon

Thoughts for Father's Day

A big reason why I love to travel is because I spent so much of my formative years traveling with my family.

Loosely defined that was mom, dad, and, for a few years, my sister (and her hefty bag of beer can sized rollers). Sometimes we got to take friends.

We traveled in a variety of huge cars and station wagons. They had names like "Wildcat". There was no such thing as a gameboy or an in car video system. Heck, for most of the time there wasn't even an 8 track. We played states, car bingo, and pretty much just watched the miles tick off across the American west.

If we were driving at night I'd try to tune in one of those massive three letter AM stations like KSL or KFI.

I planned the trips and made sure we stopped to read every historical marker and visited every tourist trap along the way. I know all about cast resin snakes, fireworks stands, and can recite the whole A&W family of burger's menu. I still dream of pecan shakes at Stuckeys.

If dad felt flush we stopped at a real restaurant like a Howard Johnson's. 

Most times we stopped at a city park or at a roadside picnic area under a tree and mom made PB&J's.

We visited virtually every World's Fair in North America and every National Park in the West. We hiked to Delicate Arch. We shivered in summer at Cedar Breaks and ventured into every crater and ice cave we came across. We admired petroglyphs and examined petrified wood. 

Mom and Dad

We stayed a night in Old Faithful Lodge. We visited our relatives in Colorado. We saw bears, foxes, elk, skunks, and coyotes. Most alive - some as roadkill.

There was a styrofoam ice chest and a couple of cartons of Viceroy's in the car. I drank the Shasta's and they smoked the Viceroy's.

Aside from those damned Viceroy's I was in heaven.

All these years later. I still think of the miles of neon signs and wigwam motels in places like Truth or Consequences NM - and those little tiny bars of soap they had.

We drove through lightning storms and rain so intense we could not see the line on the road. We pulled off to bask in the view of the beautiful rainbows that came later. To this day I adore the smell of pines after rain.

Nowadays mom and dad are behind the wheels of a big RV in heaven.

And I'm sure they are still arguing about which off ramp to take.

Miss them so.

Happy Fathers Day Dad. Thank you for sharing all that time with me on the road.

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flying High

That Other Smithsonian

I am posting this while flying. The era of In-fight internet is here and the irony of flying while posting this seems pretty appropriate.

This was one of those weeks where despite elaborate planning efforts, everything just wound up going (as my old friend Bill G used to say) "Twist-O". But I won't go into that here.

The good news is that finding myself with a few extra hours on my hands near Dulles Airport allowed me to (finally) go see one of the newer Smithsonian offerings; The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. As always it is a Smithsonian museum, so it is free, in fact I was met by a smiling security guard who opened the door and offered a very warm and sincere "welcome". It was like they had been waiting for me.

The Exterior is a Cacophony of Slam-it-Together Geometry

The difference here is that they charge $15 to park. This may explain why there is no easy shuttle service to Dulles. They want you to arrive in your personal or rental car.

Officially in Chantilly Virginia, the new museum is pretty darned cool. Sort of the worlds biggest aviation attic. Before entering the museum I thought I'd just go in and be awed by an amazing collection of flying history. What I found was more than awe, it was also pretty moving. The items in here all form the way we live and changed the very geopolitics of our world.

First off, the shear size of it is overwhelming. The entrance is up on the second floor, so after clearing security, the first thing you see way off in the distance is the Space Shuttle Enterprise. And it actually looks pretty small.

Then it hits you. The space shuttle looks small. Geez this place is big!

Real Planes In A Building So Big That Hung From the Ceiling 
They Look Like A Bunch of Kites

The Enterprise

After you make it to the end of the initial observation promenade your eyes fall on a blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft. Here is amazing 1964 era Lockheed Skunk Works technology that fell into the direct path of the political wood chipper. Retired twice, it flew off and on until 1999. And although it hasn't flown in over a decade it still looks stealthy and totally sleek today. It is officially the fastest air breathing manned aircraft. Way ahead of its time.

Blackbird #972

I put it in the same category as Lockheed's earlier bit of dark amazement, the U-2 spyplane (not on display). I bring up the U-2 because I actually witnessed one of those taking off (the base staff at NAS Moffett Field referred to it as a "launch") during a high school field trip in 1972. The U-2 provided data to save our bacon over and over. It befuddled the Russians and allowed President Kennedy to understand the extent of the problem we faced in the Cuban Missile Crisis.) These are two of the planes that have helped maintain democracy itself.

I found myself actually getting choked up at the sight of the Apollo space craft, remembering both its successes and tragedies. And my heart moved way up in my throat when I realized the big silver WWII era bomber I was admiring carried the name Enola Gay.

The Plane That Ended Our War With Japan
And Changed The World We Live in Forever

One of Only 3 Boeing Stratoliner's Ordered by Pan Am
(With 33 seats, it could fly pressurized "Above the Weather"
 at 14,000 Feet! )

There is Wiley Post's little plane he flew around the world, and a romantic statue of Colonel Billy Mitchell who was shouted down when during the first world war he stressed the need for an American air force. 

The museum is a showstopper and well worth the drive from it's more crowded Smithsonian brethren on The Mall in DC.  

Roadboy's Travels © 2010