I know we saw the Grand Canyon on some trip… where were we going again? Can’t quite remember. Maybe it’s because the adventure in and around the canyon was so vivid, that only that leg of the trip is memorable. Let me explain.
When we set out for our Great Western Adventure, I had a very Brady Bunch-esque experience in mind: a warm sunny day mixed with some burro riding, a geological lesson, a picnic lunch, and some hearty back slapping mixed with a small amount of wacky hijinks. Seems plausible, right? Even the best-intentioned bystander would only use National Lampoon’s Vacation to describe our moment in time with the Grand Canyon.
In the late 1970s, gas stations were just that – stand alone stations for petrol located about every fifty to one hundred miles along interstate highways. It seemed that they were even further and far between once you were off the beaten path. Hence, when one was located, all riders would yell, “Do we need gas?” A stop did not want to be missed if the gauge showed less than half of a tank. In addition, gas stations were not open all night or on Sundays, and were true to their signage – gas was all you got. No bottled water, no snacks, additional windshield wipers, t-shirts, or Tylenol… and an inside restroom that didn’t require a grimy, bacteria laden key was a luxury. So, when we were wandering the small towns just south of the Grand Canyon at midnight looking for a motel room at midnight the night before we were to gaze into the amazing crater, we were not only worried about having to maybe sleep in our car, we were also quite concerned about the needle of our gas gauge that kept bouncing around the E.
For one reason or another, we had traveled longer than planned – maybe to spend even more time experiencing this “rocky wonder hole” the next day. We eventually found a place to sleep for the night, and a gas station the next morning, However, we were all pretty tired… and maybe a bit cranky. We ate our breakfast of fruit and the miniature boxes of sugar cereals we were only allowed to have on vacations, and took off for our Brady tour of the canyon. We probably had at least one hundred miles of twisty, windy, forsaken road to go before hitting our destination. Somewhere between leaving the small hamlet that housed us for night and the “Welcome to the Grand Canyon” sign, our monstrous Suburban, that featured wood grain paneling along the sides, started to sputter and lurch. We weren’t discouraged. Some sort of mechanical problem usually accompanied us on all of our trips. We were used to it. We were sure it would be just some minor roadside fix my Dad could handle – he could fix anything!
We continued on even though the sputtering was getting louder and was sounding a bit more and more serious at each turn as we ventured up the great hill that would give the best views of the canyon. Everyone who travels as a family, knows that when the car gets loud on the outside, the only way to remedy that is to get louder on the inside. Evidently, this was apparent to my sister and me, so we started a rather heated argument about whose sleeping bag was on whose sleeping bag, and who kept who up all night with their obnoxious mouth noises, and why there were no more Hershey’s Chocolate Bars left in the cooler. Every once in a while, when we actually stopped bickering to take a breath, we noticed the outside noise had become more of a bellerin’ than just a little cough. By the time we arrived at the visitor parking lot, our family wagon was drawing a fair amount of attention. When you pull up to a parking spot and the car next to it starts to vibrate and rattle – completely unattended – you know you are in trouble.
Jet engine is what comes to mind. This was going to require more than a “look-see.” After a quick assessment, it was determined that our muffler was loosing its hold, and was about to drop from its brackets. Now, keep in mind, the 24 hours leading up to this moment had not been without parental stress. The late night rendezvous at the Bates Motel, the two daughters arguing about tight quarters, and the small aircraft trying to achieve airborne status underneath our car had all taken their toll on my Dad. With a magician’s flip of the wrist, he swiped the closest sleeping bag from the back of family wagon and quickly spread it out under the carriage on to the gravel parking lot to do some bandaging. When he reappeared from under the wagon, he balled up the sleeping bag and stuffed it back into car in an exasperated fashion. As it whisked by me at light speed, I was relieved to notice it was not mine. Phew! That big ol’ oil stain would be forever tattooed on my sister’s bag! However, she noticed this at the same time, and unfortunately for all of us, she let it be known that it wasn’t fair! And that, my friends, is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Now relieve yourself of all Brady Bunch memories, and replace them with Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation. I am not exaggerating with you when I tell you that my Dad literally marched us all up to the look out point, let out a massive sigh of frustration, and said, “Well, there it is. Get in the car!” I don’t think we even have any photos of anything having to do with that day. With sad faces, we all piled back into the family van and prepared for take-off.
On the way back down, the muffler made a clean break and escaped. We didn’t stop to get it. All eyes forward, we just kept driving. We couldn’t hear each other talk, so no conversation was made. I don’t think the car stopped until we were safely inside the barren land of Nebraska. Years later, we still laugh about how our car made an insane amount of noise rumbling through the back roads of the greatest echo chamber known to mankind.