A look at 1984 and 2014 road trips
|Common in 2014, cell phone cameras did not exist in 1984.
Thirty-some years ago, my husband David and I took several road trips to explore California and other areas out west. With a few exceptions, we had no itinerary that required us to be a certain place at a certain time. These were the days of Cabbage Patch Dolls and The Cosby Show, Cheers and The Golden Girls. These were the days of Reagan/Bush.
Since then, we have traveled to other countries, Japan twice and most recently Germany, where detailed planning was essential because of people we were connecting and staying with. These later trips were great adventures but we were longing for travel with no planning, with the freedom of not knowing where we would be each day and not knowing where we would sleep.
This year we took a journey with openness to serendipity. With the exception of visits to two friends on the way and a nephew’s wedding in Aspen, Colorado,with a stay at an expensive condo, the rest of our trip was wide open. The wedding was the catalyst for a five-week road trip with the opportunity to explore the four contiguous states we had never seen—Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas.
Although the feeling of adventure was the same as 30 years ago, I soon realized how different this 2014 trip was from 1984. For one thing, we were carrying more prescription medicine. Physically, later years make a huge difference. But other things had changed too.
In the early 80’s, seat belts were in all cars but seat belt enforcement had not begun. On this recent trip, we were diligent about wearing them—after all, those tickets could add up. We were not so diligent about speeding, though, and when we arrived home, there was a speeding ticket for $75 from Iowa. Caught on a camera that showed there was absolutely no defense against the ticket. Speed and red light cameras have been born since our earlier trips. Years ago David got an “energy-wasting” ticket on an Arizona Indian reservation because his over-the-limit speed consumed more gas than necessary. This time, in addition to the ticket based on a speed camera, he was stopped by a police officer for speeding, not on a reservation, and was lucky enough to get off with a warning. By the way, the average cost of gas 30 years ago was 91 cents a gallon, a far cry from this summer’s $3.05 to $3.76 a gallon depending on the remoteness of the area and the tax rates. If we had had a Tesla like our California friends Nancy and Steve Ross instead of a Camry, we would have saved much money on gas and plugged in at superchargers. I guess we’re a little behind in updating technology in some cases.
|Photo of Tesla charging. Courtesy of Steve Ross.
We would never have guessed years ago that a good business to invest in would be water that people paid for! This trip found us carting bottled water around in the back of our car. And if we wanted to know the outside temperature then, we stopped the car and got outside to find out that it was hot enough for discarded chewing gum to blow in the breeze and melt on my sandals. This time, all we had to do was look at the dashboard to gauge the outside temperature. We could also see how many miles we could go on our tank of gas. Sometimes, David ran this a little close with the hope of finding cheaper gas in the next town.
Navigation and information access was also dramatically different. Then there were only paper maps for us. This time I still used AAA maps to easily see the big picture, but there was our old TomTom navigator which gave us mileage, time estimates and maps. Susan, as we named the digital voice that was guiding us, was sometimes slow and constantly changing her mind but was, for the most part, quite helpful. Of course, if we had really been up-to-date, our navigator would have been built into our car. (Some catching up to do here too.)
We also had more female company—my iPhone’s Siri. In the early 80’s we had no cell phone. To keep in touch with family at home, we had to find a pay phone. (Try to find a pay phone these days!) While driving on Interstate 70, we made calls home to check on things and friends called to check on us. On this trip, we could connect my iPhone to our Camry’s car speaker through Bluetooth and ask Siri questions like, “How wide is Nebraska?” or “Where is a Holiday Inn Express nearby?” Then she would ask if we would like directions or would we like her to call the hotel. She dialed and we could book rooms from the car on the way to the next town where we would stay that night.
On this trip in 2014, we could use reward points for free stays at the Holiday Inn Express. In the lobby of a hotel where we wanted to sleep that night, David used his cell phone to talk with someone at the chain’s 800 number to get the best price. Then he often managed to get us an upgrade by showing the clerk in the lobby his Priority Club card. We managed to stay free for eight nights this time, many of them upgraded rooms.
|Satellite screen capture from my phone.
As a passenger, I had an enhanced view of our journey—I could look out the car windows but I could also use my iPhone to see a satellite view as we drove along. Wow! My friend Brycia at home suggested that I use the app “Find My Friends” so she could follow us vicariously as she watered our newly planted trees and filled our bird feeders at home.
In the early 80’s, we had no laptop and hotels did not offer Internet connection. We just were not there yet with technology. And when we traveled in the late 90’s with a laptop, many hotels had no Internet connection and those that did charged for it. This time I could check e-mail and go on the Internet from my car as long as there was a cell tower close enough for connection. Most hotels/motels now provide free Wi-Fi and if it was not good, I could use the hot spot option on my phone. Back home in the early 80’s, we had a Commodore 64 for the kids and a Kaypro which I used to send the text of my photo columns to the Baltimore Evening Sun using a landline phone cradle to transmit data at 300-bauds.
Although David insisted on bringing along some CD’s for music in the car, he did not have to. I have a collection of music downloaded from iTunes on my phone which plays through the car’s speakers via Bluetooth. Maybe he just did not like my selection of New Age sounds. When we realized we had missed an episode of the Colbert Report, I connected to the Internet on my phone as we were driving along and played it for us to listen to on the car’s speakers. David did talk about the advantages of getting Sirius satellite radio for the car in the future so we could always find NPR.
I always take lots of photos on our trips but much has changed. Years ago, I carried Kodachrome and Tri-X film for my two Nikon FE cameras and then had to wait eagerly to see the developed slides and contact sheets after we returned. Now instant gratification rules and I love it. On this trip I could shoot photos with my Nikon D800 and see them immediately. Or I could shoot with my iPhone and upload immediately to Facebook. Later, on the laptop, David wrote blogs and used some of my photos.
Unlike the early 80’s, in the days of the 20-cent stamps for letters, we did not need to send postcards to our digitally connected friends who followed us on Facebook. However, we did send postcards almost daily to my unconnected, nearly 93-year-old father who these days gets the remote control confused with his cordless phone.
|A selfie postagram sent from cell phone while driving.
The amazing thing though was that we did not have to buy stamps and find a mailbox. What’s more, the postcards were my original photos, often those with us smiling into my iPhone for a selfie, a word that did not enter our vocabulary until 2013. I took photos on my iPhone, opened the Postagram app, added the photo, wrote a message, chose the recipient and paid 99 cents charged to my credit card. And all this while on the road. My father then received a printed original postcard in the mail. Talk about convenient, not to mention price! The cost of a stamp for letters today is 49 cents and for postcards 34 cents while generic scenery post cards run 50 cents and up.
If I had remembered to set my Apple TV wall frame before we left, I could even have sent my photos to the frame for when we walked into the house at the end of our trip.
Yes, thirty years have brought many changes in travel style for our road trips. One thing however, that has not changed was the warmth and friendliness of people we met along the way then and now. For those details, you’ll have to read David’s blogs:
Montana and Wyoming
Redig South Dakota Post Office