Sunday Drives

100_36632Ah, Sunday drives. If you can find two words in the English language that more abruptly call to mind gargantuan Cadillacs, clean-cut hair styles, and slow cruising, let me know.


Sunday drives were a big part of my growing up. I spent countless weekends in the backseat of some Pontiac or another, sliding around with my brothers on the vinyl upholstery, listening to Karen Carpenter on the radio and smelling my mother’s Jean Nate.


My parents were both from Ohio. They grew up there, trudging through the snow (uphill, both ways, of course) and working at various gas stations and five-and-dimes throughout their teens. But about a year after they got married, my dad jumped at a great job offer in the aerospace industry and they moved to California. They drove the 2,500-or-so miles when I was 6 weeks old – two young 23-year-olds, eyes open wide, amazed that they were permanently in a land of squawking seagulls and 70-degree temps. And their amazement at the west coast ultimately resulted in regular weekend awe: every chance they got, they’d get out their maps and explore.


All through the late 60s and early 70s, we drove. My parents and I, then later my two brothers, would drive to Newport Beach in a Pontiac Catalina and watch the waves crash on the jetty. We’d go to Balboa Island and ride the ferry for a dime and get ice creams on the island. We’d drive up to Lake Arrowhead to the snow, or visit Santa’s Village. We’d cruise Long Beach’s “Ports O’ Call” and look at the kaleidoscopes. We’d go Huntington Beach’s “Old Towne Mall” and get fruity lollipops. We regularly went to the Knott’s Berry Farm shops, where we looked at rocks and walked through a lava tunnel, and we often went behind the Disney hotel to see the dancing waters show for free. My early years were like being on vacation every weekend, because my parents still couldn’t believe they weren’t tourists.


When I had my own kids, even though I was as native as a native can be, I decided to replicate a lot of these trips. They’re almost all free, and perfect for a young couple on a limited budget. A lot of my friends were opting to enroll their kids in expensive classes and activities every weekend, but I couldn’t afford those. So I hoped that our family day trips would be satisfactory learning experiences. And, overall, I think they were. At the very least, they made us a close family.


We did Roger’s Gardens in the spring to see what was in bloom and watch the tiny train; we did Bell Gardens every fall to walk the corn “maize.” We watched the dancing waters show at Disneyland; toured Mission San Juan Capistrano for tamale festivals; rode the Balboa ferry; watched the trains arrive at the SJC depot; picked apples in Julian; dipped our toes in the ocean at numerous beaches; walked the trails of various wilderness parks.


When I started freelancing several years ago, I tended to have to work on the weekends, and our day trips came to a sudden stop. But this weekend, we revived them: We drove up to Santa Barbara mission for my littlest son, who is doing a report on it. He took pictures and we did the tour, and my teenagers even came along and contributed to the day. We ate doughnuts in the car, gazed at the spring-green hills, hopped out to take roadside pictures, and created another bucket of memories.


It reminded me, actually, of how important Sunday drives are, and how they can provide a lifetime of memories for a child. The best things in life – laughter, inside jokes, family closeness and family memories – truly are free.


How about you? Do you have memories of Sunday drives? What are some of your most vivid memories as a child of something your family did for free?


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0 thoughts on “Sunday Drives

  1. I must say that I LOVE our drives! When we were growing up we almost never went on a drive unless it was solely to get somewhere. Vacations were never really to experience something new, but to visit family. I don’t blame my parents because I’m sure they just figured, only do something as a means to an end. If it didn’t have a specific purpose, we weren’t doing it. Plus with 5 boys all fighting all the time and crying and whining, well would you call that a “pleasure trip?”
    It was only after meeting Laurie that I realized that places like Lake Tahoe and the Grand Canyon were places that you could actually VISIT and not just another place mentioned in the school book. Drives for the sake of enjoying the drive… WHAT?????
    So, as soon as we could drive (more importantly had a reliable vehicle and gas money) Laurie and I would take drives. Whole new world for me. I had no idea we had all these woderful places and sights literally all around us. I knew immediately that when we had kids I wanted them to see and experience as many things and places as we could share with them. Plus the real added bonus of spending quality time with soothing music and beautiful scenery as a backdrop. We started before our first child and still do it as much as possible.
    Though now we do tend to lose our kids to their Ipods so the conversations are a bit less during the drive. That’s ok because the kids are actually taking it all in in their own way. They always say how much they love when we are all together and really seem to enjoy our times like this. We always make a point to converse with them about our trips and we have beautiful and meaningful conversations afterwards.
    I have Laurie and her parents to thank for this. I am greatful because I am like a child getting to experience all this for the first time too.

  2. I am probably going to say something that will get me flamed, but one thing I loved about driving when we were younger (there were five of us)was the freedom to move around our station wagon whenever we wanted. When my dad had a Buick, not sure of the kind, I remember my brothers riding up on the ledge under the back window, like strange bobble head dolls, only real. I remember my mom’s arm shooting out in front of whoever was riding shotgun when she braked too hard.

    Doesn’t anyone else remember standing on the seat between your parents or on the playing on the floor boards? I’m all for safety but now the rules are, IMHO, ridiculous. The last time I heard the rules, I figured out that my youngest daughter would not have been out of some kind of car seat until well into elementary school. And she would not have been able to sit in the front for a long time.

    They used to make a bed out of the back of the station wagon on long trips which was the best~! Ah, the freedom.

  3. Well, growing up we didn’t do Sunday drives as Chris has already pointed out. But, I learned to love the Sunday drive when I lived in Austin, Texas.

    On the weekends my buddies and I would drive out to Dripping Springs in the Texas Hill Country to the greatest barbecue restaurant in the country: the Salt Lick. The rolling hills, farms, ranches, and wide open spaces of Central Texas are beautiful. Part of the ritual of the Salt Lick was the drive itself and it was never disappointing.

    Now that I live in the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex I enjoy getting out of the city and taking off for a drive in the country to places like Pilot Point which is to Texas what Lexington is to Kentucky: horse country. There’s no urban sprawl in Pilot Point, just sprawling horse ranches. Texas is blessed with gorgeous scenery all across the state and a Sunday drive with a Kelly Willis CD is one of the best ways to enjoy it.

  4. Chris — Yes, you make a good point about the iPods. That’s what’s different about the trips now! But I don’t mind that the kids listen to their iPods, because those songs will become the “soundtrack” for their teen memories of visiting different places. (The way Karen Carpenter is for me, visiting places in the 70s.) But yes, I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the trips as much as I have.

    Kat — Oh my gosh, yes! I remember “laying” on that “ledge” too! (My brothers did, more commonly!) So funny. My mom was just talking about a trip we took to San Fran, and my brothers bought toy trolley cars, and those trolleys would “ding-ding-ding” across that back ledge every time we took a turn. I also remember riding backwards in many a station wagon and even a Pinto, I believe, with some neighbors! So funny. Thanks for reminding me of that!

    Dave — Yes, you can Chris and the other brothers didn’t see much of Calif, I guess, even though you spent so much time here, but I love that you get to enjoy the great plains of Texas, now. Sun can rise and set, and you’re still in Texas, right? : ) Who’s Kelly Willis?

  5. Texas is big, really big. You are dead on, you can drive for a day and you are still in Texas. It sure is pretty though. From the grasslands of North Texas (it’s North Texas and not Northern Texas) to the high plains of West Texas, and on to the rolling granite hills of Central Texas, The Lone Star Republic has something for everyone.

    Kelly Willis is Austin’s own indie/country singer. She is all about the music, not like the commercialized country singers of today such as Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, and Duffy.

    I was a Kelly Willis fan long before I met her, but when I did have a chance to meet her and talk to her (she was one of my business clients when I worked at Bank One while putting myself through grad school) she was so down to earth and humble that I really took something away from my interactions with her. She once told me that Ray Charles said, “I never wanted to be famous, I only wanted to be great.” I don’t know if Ray Charles ever actually said that, but it sure did make sense coming from Kelly Willis.

    Check her out on iTunes. Listen to Heaven Bound from her 1999 release “What I Deserve”.

  6. Dave — I’d love to drive through some of that central area of Texas. We’ve made the trip from El Paso to San Antonio, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see much of the central part of the state, so I’ll add that to my list. Plus, of course, we need to see Dallas!

    And thanks for info about Kelly Willis. I’ll have to check her out.

    Your comment about listening to her (along with my “soundtrack” comment) reminded me of an opportunity for another great post: road trip tunes!!! Hmmmm …. I’ll have to do that one soon … (Esp because we’re going on two long road trips this spring and I can’t wait!)

  7. I have to comment now~! I lived in West Texas, in Lubbock, for 6 years. I vividly remember that it took 6 hours to get to anyplace remotely interesting looking~! Perhaps living in California and then going to West Texas is not the best way to go. I loved Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas, though, and do not much remember Houston.

    The thunder storms in Lubbock though were the best. Because it was endlessly flat with nothing but cotton for miles, you could see the black anvil clouds building up for miles. Never quite got used to the tornado warnings on the TV; I still have videos of shows I recorded from that time that show that darn little tornado symbol in the corner! I wish I had taken more pictures of some of the small towns we used to drive through, population 800 or less. Those were interesting road trips, just not for the scenery.

  8. Oooh, Kat — You were a Texan girl? Is Lubbock where Lyle Lovett lived? (Or maybe he just sings about it?) Anyway, interesting your experiences there — seems a cool set of experiences (for 6 short — or long, depending on how you’re looking at it — years!).

    And I love that you mention the small towns on road trips. That was one of the greatest “learning experiences” as a kid. Just seeing how so many people live, from state to state or county to county. Makes you realize the vast expanse of American life.

  9. The small towns are what I remember the best and the people. The first time we bought gas, we were so used to paying in advance, we had no idea that was a foreign concept in Texas. We handed the man a $20 for our gas and he stood there the whole time looking at the money and then at us trying to figure out WHY on earth we did that. Mighty big tip for sure. You could write a CHECK at the Taco Bell drive through…and they did not ask for ID. Wow, memory lane is going on a road trip here!

  10. Ah, enjoy your memory road trip, Kat! It’s so cool to visit small towns like that when you grow up in bustling (and often unfriendly) So. Cal.

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