Summer 2001 in Los Angeles, California: vacation season. Time for a road trip.
Recently, I went to Pasadena for the final stop of "The Great Race." For those of you who do not know about The Great Race, it is a timed event from one point to another in old cars. The object of the race is for the driving team to get from one point to another in the "correct" time. The team that comes closest to the optimal time wins and most cars have exotic speed measuring and timing devices on board.
All the cars participating in The Great Race are pre-1960 models and many go back to the 1920s. The trip takes several days and is pre-programmed for stops in certain cities every night with hotels and meals. When they stop, the cars are on display.
In my older years, this may be the program for me. But today I still like to jump in the car and try to make it to a destination and back without extensive planning.
Lets face it, some of us plan the fun right out of traveling. Before we ever leave home there are itineraries, planned meal times, hotel reservations, and somewhat interesting stops all set up. Heaven help you if you fall behind or get ahead of the schedule for your trip.
Come along with me, fellow travelers, and I will tell you of some adventurers that make traveling a little different.
The answering machine at my home had the simple message, "We are going to Reno for Hot August Nights with some magazine guys. Do you want to go? Are any of your cars running? Do you want to ride with someone?"
The caller is a guy I see a couple of times a year at the Pomona Swap Meet and a real interesting person who lives to go on road trips. Here is his plan: we leave on August 1 from Lancaster, California at 12:00 noon. We return to Lancaster on August 5.
In between, we drive as a group up 395 to Reno, check out what is going on, and return in five days. Hotels? We will find them as needed. We can always sleep in the car. The only checkpoint is the Cutthroat Saloon in Markleeville at noon on August 3. Survivors meet at the Dennys on L Street in Lancaster on Sunday, August. 5.
Years ago, I went with these guys up and back to Renos Hot August Nights and I will tell you it was quite an experience. The travelers were all different individuals. There was a doctor in a 63 Thunderbird, a dentist driving a 409 Chevrolet, some insurance guys driving a 32 Ford and a GTO Judge. There were a bunch of Chevelles, Fords, and other cars. There was even a 70s Mary Kay Cadillac driven by two older women.
At the start of the trip there were about 25 cars. Only 19 made the whole trip. In fact, at the first fuel stop in Mojave, we had already lost two cars to overheating. The drivers left their cars there and became passengers with other drivers.
It was a great trip, mostly with people that I did not know. Every now and then I see one of them and the stories of the trip just keep getting better.
Here is one of many. We were driving into Lee Vining at about 6:00 p.m. on a Thursday night. There were about 20 cars. It was decided that Lee Vining, California was a good place to spend the night. However, only four rooms were available. It was learned that six rooms were available in Bridgeport down the road. It was decided that some of the group would continue to Bridgeport, California and others would stay in Lee Vining. It was agreed that we would all meet in Bridgeport for breakfast at 6:00 a.m.
One of the individuals who went to Bridgeport was the guy in the GTO Judge that had a cutout exhaust control. Apparently the GTO guy went into Bridgeport for some supplies and did some burnouts for the local boys before he retired for the evening.
When the rest of us arrived the next morning, there were three California Highway Patrol officers making sure that we were not going to raise hell in the town of Bridgeport. From that point on, we felt good that the Highway Patrol had nothing better to do than follow us to Markleeville and then out of California. We were outlaw car guys.
The best part of this road trip for me was little planning and plenty of good people. Packing was simple: clothes, tools and supplies for the car, cash and credit cards.
For you romantics, a few years later my sweetie — now my fiance — and I drove up to Hot August Nights in my 77 Corvette. No plans, no reservations — we just went. Although on this trip, the Highway Patrol did not escort us out of California.
Either way, going on a road trip with a bunch of car people or with the love of your life, its all good.
I do not know as of this writing if I will go to Reno this year. Problem one: none of my old cars are running. Problem two: work. I will do a road trip this year, though, sometime to somewhere. I feel it is important.
Fellow travelers, unite. Put down that Palm Pilot. Turn off the cellular phone. And take off for a destination in that fossil-fueled vehicle. Take the long way to your destination and take a different route home. See something you havent seen before and enjoy the ride.
Road trips are simple. Pick a destination, a departure date, a return date, get a map and away you go. Less planning, more adventure.
I think that it would have been a great adventure to travel by car in the 40s, 50s and 60s across the United States and on short vacation trips. Every time I visit the Petersen Museum I imagine cruising in one of those old machines.
I wonder if the people in 2060 will visit the Petersen and image cruising in a 2001 Ford Explorer in the United States. By that time, the story of the burnouts in Bridgeport will include all 20 cars and at least five Highway Patrol cars. It just keeps getting better!
Originally published in the August 2001 issue
of Automotive Booster Magazine.
Copyright August 2001 by KAL Publications Inc.
Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.