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Harris Blackwood: Summer vacations used to be simple and more memorable
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

The season of vacations is now upon us. Vacations are now an event. Some people consult a planner if they are going to one of the big resorts. These are people who can schedule your family for breakfast with the mouse or lunch with a princess.

My earliest vacations pre-date the mouse’s arrival in Florida. We might go to a place where they had a few holes of goofy golf and a ride or two, such as a tilt-a-whirl.

We also did not have a car with air conditioning, so we would leave right at dark and dad would drive all night.

The old car would amble into someplace like Daytona Beach or Panama City as the sun was coming up the next morning. My dad’s friend, Mr. Wallace, was a member of AAA and would order us a TripTik, which was a customized map that was spiral bound. It had all the roads and listings of good restaurants and places to stay.

We packed all kinds of stuff, but it was vital that we had our percolator. It was a West Bend electric percolator and the little glass top was slightly stained from all the pots of coffee that had been brewed. It might be 90 degrees at the beach, but my dad was going to have a cup of coffee.

We also took along a portable radio. If we weren’t too close to the neon sign, we could pick up WSB and listen to the Braves.

During the drive, we would make a stop at an all-night diner or a truck stop for dad to get another cup of coffee to keep him awake for the drive.

Mama would make us a couple of pallets to sleep on. One was the back seat and the other was the shelf under the back window. That was the preferred spot because you got a pretty good breeze from the window and you could look out at the stars.

There weren’t as many chain motels in those days. Most were mom and pop operations that had grand sounding names like “The Sand and Surf” or “The Beachcomber.” They promised an “ocean view.” This was only attainable if you went down to the motel office and looked carefully between the two motels across the street.

We usually got a room with a kitchenette, which was just a little cabinet with a two-eyed stove, a little broiler and a small sink and refrigerator. But Dad would whip up a little breakfast and dinner and it was sandwiches in between. We would stop at a Publix store because they gave S&H Green Stamps. If you don’t know about trading stamps, well, that’s a column for another day.

We would eat out usually one night, maybe two, if they had a special deal for kids. I remember eating at a Howard Johnsons’ restaurant and having a grilled Frankfort. It resembled and tasted like a hot dog, but it was a grilled Frankfort. That’s what you get for 35 cents.

Mama and Dad would try something like their fried clams. Those with fries and a roll would set you back $1.35

Today, $1.35 won’t buy you enough gas to get 10 miles down the road ... without a cup of coffee.

I might not have enjoyed lunch with the mouse, but I got to eat a Frankfort with my folks. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose column publishes on Sundays.