Clark Griswold: “Everybody in the car... or perhaps you don't want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away.” -- National Lampoon’s Family Vacation
It was late June in 1971 and my family was getting ready for a long road trip. I had just turned 14, having been born in that record birth year of 1957, which meant I had still been too young when Woodstock rolled around in 1969. But it didn’t seem so bad in 1975, when just 50 days before my 18th birthday, President Ford signed Proclamation 4360, which eliminated the registration requirement for all 18 to 25 year-old male citizens. So I had that going for me.
But back to ’71, as we left our southern home and headed west, to places I’d never been, like Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and Juarez, Mexico, just to name a few. While in Juarez I managed to slip away from my parents just long enough to try and buy a switch blade from some guy on a corner. But dad found me right before my pesos changed hands and the deal fell through.
One of the more memorable things from that vacation was when I first heard my father use the mother of all curse words, which was directed at me and two younger brothers. It’s amazing he held it in as long as he did.
It happened as we drove down Highway 101 between Santa Rosa and San Francisco, where for miles, both sides of the road were lined with those crazy kids known as hippies. There were hundreds of them, the last holdouts of that bohemian subculture whose best days were long past. My brothers and I couldn’t help notice some of the girl hippies were topless, which we were naturally in favor of. But it drove us wild with early teen and pre-teen lust, which was expressed through our high-pitched, pre-pubescent screams, causing dad to blurt out the word, in an even louder primal scream of his own. As he intended it shut everyone up for miles, including many of the hippies.
A week later things were calmer in the car as we were driving through the California desert, toward the resort city of Palm Springs, where the average summer temp is 108.
My father had heard that you could actually fry an egg on the sidewalks of Palm Springs, and decided that he wanted to see this phenomenon for himself. My brothers and I were all for the idea. Mom, not so much.
We stopped at a grocery store and purchased a half-dozen farm fresh large eggs, and went looking for a good hot sidewalk. It didn’t take long before we were tumbling out of the station wagon, watching our old man crack open his egg and pouring it onto the concrete.
After five minutes or less, and no action below, mom moved quietly away from the group in the direction of a nearby Saks. My brothers also chose to bail on the experiment, and followed her, leaving just me, dad, and a homeless guy in his pajamas who had stopped by.
As we watched, I heard dad sigh and I looked up at his face, thinking I might hear that word again. What I got was much better. He put his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said, “Well at least we tried.”
That was my father. He was never afraid to try anything. Like frying an egg on a sidewalk in one of the richest cities in the world. It is a good memory for me -- but more a Griswold moment than Hallmark. All we needed was a beer to share.
We headed out to find the others, bidding goodbye to the homeless guy who told us he thought he’d stay with the egg a bit longer. “Well, if you must, you might as well have these,” Dad replied, as he handed him the rest of the farm fresh large eggs. After we’d crossed the street I turned back for a last look. He was sitting by the egg, watching the sidewalk. I couldn’t really tell how old he was but felt he definitely had the heart of a hippie.
Jay Edwards is a freelance columnist who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.