Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rhinestone Cowboy On the Road

July 1976. The bicentennial of the United States. As we occasionally did during the summer, we vacationed in Florida. Not only to visit our paternal grandparents, but also Disney World. We would make the trip numerous times over subsequent years. Our Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon loaded, we piled into our usual seats. Dad at the helm, mom in shotgun, my sisters in the middle row; I took up position in the back well among the suitcases. Seatbelts? Who needed seatbelts? I was protected by a hard plastic wall of American Tourister! Thus, I settled into my makeshift fort. My cavalry, breaking camp from our previous destination, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, would soon follow “riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.”
    Our mission was to find Holly. That is, Holly Hobbie.

Horse Soldiers II:  The Holly Hobbie Raid

    Wait, hold on…now that I recall, the Olds CC and Williamsburg was the ’78 trip; we drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass on the ’76 trip. The Holly mission indeed was the ’76 trip, because I recall sitting between my sisters in the backseat. Either way, on one evening, we ate dinner at Top of the World in Disney World. “Gloria,” a singer by training and daytime soap opera actress, was the entertainment. During her performance, she came over to our table. Turning her attention my way, she began singing to me. At a pause, she said I reminded her of her little boy. She winked, I blushed. We had a moment.
    Yes, it was definitely 1976. A very good year.

1970s version of a safe space

    The following year, 1977, we were flying into Dallas, Texas. Dad, working for American Family Insurance, was heading to Brownsville to recover a stolen car, which we then would use to drive back to St. Louis. Thus, this was both a business trip and family vacation. To lovely Brownsville - a place very much remote and hostile, straight out of a classic Western movie - and other points along the way, like old cowboys “ridin’ out one dark and windy day.” When we stopped at a gas station because dad had gone the wrong way - toward the Mexican border rather than our overnight destination of Corpus Christi - “a bolt of fear went through” mom that dad would be shot and the rest of us kidnapped never to be seen again. Fun for the whole family!
    First, we had to survive the landing into Dallas.
    As we circled the airport, the airplane chaotically banked and turned as it went “a ploughin’ through the ragged skies and up a cloudy draw.” Although only five years old at the time, I questioned the ability of the flight crew.
    “Does this pilot know what he’s doing?” I incredulously asked, more out of frustration than fright.
    Little did I realize, but people sitting around us heard my exclamation. Immediately, they burst out in both laughter and applause. For me, the incident sparked a future, albeit unrealized, interest in attending Annapolis toward a career as a naval aviator. Ironically, it also heightened an inherent fear of flying. I wouldn’t fly on an airplane again for decades - to attend a friend’s wedding - choosing instead the preferable road trip even if “that's takin' the long way.” When we later dined in Corpus Christi, my one sister would have instilled in her the lifelong nightmare of being served a whole fish - particularly, Lutjanus campechanus, otherwise known as Northern Red Snapper - complete with gaping eyes, floppy fins and rough scales. Yes indeed, fun for the whole family!
    Flash forward 11 years to 1988. Summer, before the start of my sophomore year in high school. My parents and I go on a weekend road trip through Kentucky and Tennessee, my sisters preferring to stay home. Along the way, we would visit Louisville, Lexington, Fort Knox, Nashville (and Vanderbilt University) and, lastly, Kentucky Lake before returning to St. Louis. Driving past Vanderbilt on our way to dinner, I admired the southern scenery and charm...of its coeds. The campus seemed nice too. As such, I placed it on my growing list of potential college applications, alongside Alabama, Colorado and, my future alma mater, Missouri. Arriving at Kentucky Lake mid-afternoon, my dad and I rented a boat. Mom chose to stay ashore, relaxing in the comforts of the air-conditioned lodge.

By air, land or sea...we'll rescue Holly Hobbie!

    Motoring around and exploring the lake for a few, fun-filled hours, we got stuck in mud at one point in an unmarked shallow cove. Of course, I was the one manning the wheel at the time. However, dad felt guilty, if not embarrassed, for not realizing the deceptive depth of the water. Reluctant and fearing what might lurk in the murky waters, I nonetheless volunteered to give us a push. Feeling around for the propeller to ascertain its location for safety reasons, I took up position on the boat’s stern and gave it several heaves. Meanwhile, I unpleasantly felt numerous fish swimming about and brushing against my bare legs, which was unsettling and increased the anxiety of the situation. After several attempts to dislodge the craft as dad gunned the engine, we eventually escaped the predicament and made our way back to the dock.
    Our enjoyable day on the lake had come to an end, and so had our weekend of adventurous travel. Piling back into the car after cleaning up, we set a course “on the road to [our] horizon” back toward home.
    Yippie i ay, Yippie i oh!

[Read similar stories and much more in my personal narrative, Echoes From An Unexamined Life -]

©2016 Steve Sagarra

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