Summer Vacation 1975

As this epic winter of 2010-2011 grinds on, my bloggy friends all over the interwebz seem to be playing host to daily visits from the black dog. I wish I had a magic wand that could sweep away the dark clouds above their heads, and magically transport them to the brilliant sunshine, and magical blue waters of Dufmanno Island in the South Pacific. Unfortunately, my superpowers are confined to the “power of description”. So instead I will spin another story about sunshine, and magical places and hope that it suffices to give you a few minutes of escape from the cold and snow.

So come along with me and the rest of the 20 Prospect Clan, on our Summer Vacation 1975…

The 1973 Plymouth Fury

The 1973 Plymouth Fury

In the summer of 1975 the 20 Prospect family piled into our Forest Green Metallic 1973 Plymouth Fury and set sail for Florida. It was to be an epic vacation for the clan, a 2 week tour to sunny Florida. As a family we had never ventured further away than Pennsylvania on a family vacation, spending most of our holidays in close proximity to our Western New York homeland. But in winter of 1975, Mom and Dad saved their money and planned to introduce us to the world. Well, a good chunk of middle America and the Southeast at least.

Dad never took the direct route anywhere. That was for novices lacking in imagination and creativity. No, he spent weeks planning our route and having a AAA Trip Ticket assembled for our adventure. The southbound route would seek out 4 lane interstate highway as much as possible, taking us West on I90 through Pennsylvania and into Ohio, turning southward through Kentucky, and Tennessee, before angling back East into Georgia and Florida. Our return was to be a straight shot up the Eastern Seaboard through Georgia, the Carolina’s, Virginia (which at the time was “for lovers”) Maryland, Pennsylvania, and home.

And so, before dawn one July morning in 1975, we set out from Batavia on the New York State Thruway to begin our 3 day journey to Florida. Mom had roused me from sleep at 4 am, and the excitement of the trip was not quite enough to keep me awake once we had made the requisite stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner, for coffee and donuts. I slept the first 45 minutes in the car as the sun began to rise, ensconced between Dad & Mom in the front seat, while my Bruddah, and two Sisters shared the backseat. I awoke as we pulled into the Angola service center for the first bathroom break. It was the first of many wonders, a building built between the north and southbound lanes, with enclosed pedestrian bridges over the highway from the parking lot. The thrill of watching semi trucks pass beneath me at 55 miles per hour was about as good as life could get for a 7 year old boy.

Like the cockpit of a space capsule it could take you boldly where no kid had gone before...

Like the cockpit of a space capsule it could take you boldly where no kid had gone before...

The hours in the car passed slowly. The comic books I brought along for the trip gave me headaches to try to read, despite the plush, loping handling of our land yacht. Entertainment consisted mostly of scanning the horizon for other amazing sights, like fields of grapevines along the shore of lake Erie, or blooming fields of Chrysanthemums behind the “Mums” restaurant in North East, P.A. The wonders of nature continued as we reached Ohio, and discovered that the rest stops along the interstate were equipped with pit toilets. Oh the excitement! Oh the smell!

I can’t remember where we stopped that first night. I can only remember it seemed like we’d been on the road for over 12 hours. Perhaps because we had. The bypasses around Cleveland, and Columbus seemed to last forever. For a state that looks so small on the map, Ohio takes an eternity to cross.

The entertainment on Day 2 consisted of a game to be the first to spot “Stuckey’s” signs along the road side. Points only counted in you shouted “STUUUCKEEEYYYS!” at the top of your lungs. Between this, and the road noise from the open windows it’s a wonder we had any hearing left.  Did I mention that the Fury did not have air conditioning? Yes, six people in a car on the open road through the bible belt in the sweltering July of 1975 is a smell that one can never forget. It is burned into my memory, just like the lyrics to “Midnight at the Oasis”. While Wikipedia claims it was released in 1974, the song by Maria Muldaur, a classic piece of 70’s schlock, played about every 30 minutes on our AM radio during that trip.



Relief from the heat came from thunderstorms in Tennessee, which unfortunately required us to roll up the windows. I sat on the floor of the passenger side in front of the floor vent feeling the cool breeze and road spray on my face. It was a tad moist inside our rolling green terrarium to say the least. The second evening we stayed at a Travelodge in Knoxville, that blessedly had an outdoor pool. Much swimming, and rejoicing.

This was the summer of my Fried Egg sandwich fetish. It was all I would eat in the restaurants along the way. In the rural America of the mid 70’s, McDonald’s were a rarity, and a place considered not suitable for daily meals. I mean really, you had to stand to order. No, road cuisine consisted of Howard Johnson’s, Sambo’s, Lums, and local diners. There was no such thing as non-smoking. You ate in a blue haze of Salem, and Winston smoke, and the food was served by women named Stella in brown and orange smocks. It you were lucky, they had a peg game on the table to entertain you while you waited. The whole decade was orange, brown and yellow, including most choices on the menu. Somehow, and for some reason, my parents humored me by politely requesting a fried egg sandwich with nothing on it at every restaurant from New York to Florida. Somehow, and for some reason, these polite bee-hived southern women humored the strange looking Yankee waif, and for that I will be eternally grateful.


Home of the World Famous Fried Egg Sandwich

I can still remember the excitement and thrill of the crossing the state line into Florida, and looking to be the first to spot a palm tree, or orange grove. It was an exotic, other worldly place. We spent over a week traveling in Florida. We visited Cypress Gardens, and took in the water ski show, back when the place was just gardens and a ski show. We visited Clearwater, and marveled at the little lizards running around pool side at the motel. We stayed in motels with outdoor swimming pools, and I played with kids from South Carolina, who had strange, exotic accents. We ate peanut butter cheese crackers, and Tom’s Pork Rinds from the vending machines before bed. We fought over who would be the first to break the paper seal on the toilet seat in the room. Or who would get a quarter for the magic fingers on the bed. We went to the Ocean, and collected sea shells, and played on the beach.

Oh the thrills and excitement of flowers!

Oh the thrills and excitement of flowers!

The centerpiece of the vacation was a visit to Disney World, which was still in its infancy. I closed my eyes and screamed my fool head off on Space Mountain, and crawled from the car crying when the ride was done, much to the amusement of my elder siblings. We rode the carousel of progress, and the Pirates of the Caribbean. Toured the Haunted Mansion, and ate waffles for breakfast on Main Street U.S.A. I’m not sure who enjoyed Disney more, me or my parents. They loved the place, and would return many times in the next 30 years, with the grand kids.

The monorail disgorging itself of undigestible polyester

The monorail disgorging itself of indigestible polyester

Even our image of the 1890's reeked of the 1970's

Even our image of the 1890's reeked of the 1970's

Welcome to Tomorrowland, where all people will dress in Goldenrod

Welcome to Tomorrowland, where all people will dress in Harvest Gold and funny hats

But not everything went well on that vacation. While waiting in line for Captain Nemo’s Undersea adventure, I had to go to the bathroom, and while I was inside, I missed the launch of Apollo – Soyuz in the sky to the east. Something I will regret until the day I die. Later that day my 18 year old Bruddah wandered off and got separated, resulting in much frustration for my folks. He didn’t turn up until we got back to the car after the fireworks. Just the first of many rebellious acts on his part.

History is made with the final launch of the Apollo Program

History is made with the final launch of the Apollo Program

Meanwhile the site of all that water is giving my bladder an uncontrollable urge

Meanwhile the site of all that water is giving my bladder an uncontrollable urge

We visited the Cape Canaveral after the launch, and toured the museum there, before heading north for home. I don’t remember much about the return trip, aside from hellacious traffic jams passing around Atlanta, with nothing to look at but Kudzu, and a filthy dirty Ramada Inn in South Carolina. After we returned to 20 Prospect, I pined for the adventure of the family vacation. I would look over the map of Disney World again, and again, wandering through Adventureland, and Tomorrowland, over and over in my mind. I would ride my bike down the sidewalk to the southern corner of Prospect Avenue, and stand looking out onto Oak Street, thinking “a person could take this street South, and eventually end up in Florida. What an amazing world.”

We would return again in 1976. This time in our new air conditioned Chrysler Newport, and without my Bruddah, who was working a summer job to save up money for college in the fall. The AM radio had moved on as well, and now played “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band all the way there and back that Bicentennial Summer. The world was red-white-and blue, and we would celebrate July 4th, 1976 at Busch Gardens. We were seasoned travelers now, and had added in Ft. Lauderdale, to the staples of Disneyworld and the Kennedy Space Center. That would be the last of the big family vacation. My siblings were graduating one by one, and soon it would be just me and my folks taking the mid summer trips around the country. Looking back on my childhood vacation, it’s little wonder that I would someday take to the open road like a duck to water. As much as my roots were planted deep in the soil of 20 Prospect, a part of me always thrilled at the thought of being shaken from sleep at 4 am to begin another epic journey to faraway lands.

The Future as Seen from 1975

The Future as Seen from 1975

28 thoughts on “Summer Vacation 1975

  1. Pingback: The Davis Bros. Motel « 20 Prospect

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  4. Wow. That brings back a lot of memories for family vacations as a kid. Thank God we always had air conditioning in the cars, though.

  5. Dude, that was the first year we went as well!!
    We were piled into the back of a mammoth dark green station wagon with fake wood paneling on the sides with our cousins but we had to stay on the straight and narrow of I95 so we could all scream in unison “SOUTH OF THE BORDER!!” when we finally hit it after fourteen million miles of signs indicating it was “coming up soon!”
    That was the best escape from the bleak landscape of winter I’ve had in two months!
    My entire family STILL to this day takes the same trip year after year after year.
    Main Street USA represents everything that glittered like gold from my childhood and I still prefer the 2:30 am wake up time for a full day of driving to getting on a plane to Orlando.
    If we hadn’t already gone this year I would be on looking for specials RIGHT NOW!!
    Yay Tom!

    • The similarities of our lives is downright freaky at times. I wouldn’t be surprised if we stood in line together for Pirates of the Carribean once. Say, you didn’t stay at the Davis Brother’s Motel did you?

      Nah, of course not.

      Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go look at my Map of the Magic Kingdom and dream about paddling those big canoes around Tom Sawyer Island with my trusty musket looking for injuns.

      • No we didn’t stay at the Davis Brothers Motel but for many years there was a local Howard Johnsons that wasn’t on park grounds but it was close enough.
        In the 80’s the massive newly constructed Radisson across from Sea World opened and we stayed there for a number of years.
        It was only after we realized the beauty of staying at the Contemporary and the Polynesian (this was post Monorail) that we never stayed outside the park again.
        I’m a Floridian girl mostly because of the 3:00pm tea but my family always asks for either the Polynesian or (believe it or not) the newer All Star Movies because of the larger than life grounds and great pools.
        To this day I still mourn the loss of Captain Nemos Undersea Adventure. As of this past May they had the scaffolding up all around it with signs indicating that it would be some new attraction in the future.
        I’m already vibrating with excitement about it!!

        • We started staying on site in the 90’s. My folks were taking my nieces and nephews by then. They did the wilderness campground and the Contemorary. I once attended a Sales meeting at the Beach Club and Yatch resort. Charles Barkley was hosting a golf tourney and the entire floor above us was NBA all stars. Port Orleans was a favorite of my parents. A few years back one of my nephews was married at the gazebo on the lake by the Boardwqlk. His reception was at Shulas steak house in the Dolphin which is where my avatar pic was taken after several vodka martinis and a few bottles of wine. But I’ve already told the hidden Mickey story. Anyway, we stayed at the Wilderness Lodge three years ago when we took the kids. I’d love to do the Grand Floridian sometime. Mrs. 20P isn’t a Disney nut unfortunately. If it was up to me we’d go every year. I hate to admit it but I’m a total Disney geek.

  6. Make sure to mention that the Floridian has a kick ass spa.
    p.s. have you ridden Everest with the kids yet?
    Mine crapped their pants. They said it was scarier than Tower of Terror and Rock and Roll Rollercoaster combined.
    I’m a Carosel of Progress and Astro Orbiter gal myself but I go on everything.

  7. Summer, 1974 – Same destination from the origin of DSM IA. Two door hatchback Chevy Nova with my grandmother sitting in the back seat separating my brother and me. Complete with my ever so precious brother standing on a chair at a Days Inn restaurant in Atlanta singing “Jesus Loves Me” (oh, isn’t he so precious!) and a car accident with a drunk driver rear ending us. The Nova had air. The music may have been equally unspeakable. And the racing cars at Disney World! Oh, that my friend was what life was all about. And yes, after finishing the ride on Space Mountain, my life had ended. I clearly remember watching the RCA tv monitors along the exit through my tear swelled eyes.

  8. This post was exciting to me, because I think I went to the exact same spots at the exact same year, listening to the exact same radio station, although probably everyone remembers their first trip to Disney World the same. I went back a few years ago, now that Orlando is a mega-resort town of 500 theme parks, and much of the charm was gone. I now prefer Disneyland because it seems like the smaller cousin.

    • Neil, first let me say welcome. I have visited your blog in the past and enjoyed it greatly.

      It’s amazing to me how many of us share the same memories. I’ve discovered this since I started this blog a year and a half ago. I find great comfort in that.

      As much as we loved Disney when I was little, my folks were amusement park aficionado’s. I don’t think we ever went somewhere without visiting one. I really truly miss the old rickety amusement parks. They had such charm, and a sense of history. When I was little we did Crystal Beach, all the time, plus the occasional jaunts to Kennywood in Pittsburgh, Cedar Point, Roseland in Canindaigua, and lots of little ones scattered around WNY. Sigh… time to put on the deep sea diving gear and head back down into the sea of memory.

  9. It took me so long to comment because I was hiding in my room and crying, feeling left out…

    Sometimes I wonder whether it is a disservice to our children that they have everything. I suspect that Disney World meant A LOT MORE to children back then than to kids nowadays.

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