"Summertime and the livin' is easy..." or so many people say.
Not wishing to emulate Cole Porter in either words, music or lifestyle, if nothing more than his semi-autobiographical flick "De-lovely" is flopping big time at the theaters despite an all-star cast and a half-decent sound track, I'd like to make mention of a summer activity which is dear to the hearts of many people - camping.
Not too many years ago, about the only way a family with children could afford to take a summer vacation, other than heading off to Uncle Jake and Aunt Minnie's place for a week of family reunion and revelry, was to become a member of the "canvas and cook- stove" crowd and take up camping as a way to tour the country.
If a family had a lot of money to spend on recreational activities, there was always a travel trailer to take on summertime excursions or one of the early-model campers for the bed of their pickup truck in lieu of a tent.
For the "super rich" during that era there was the "Cadillac" of the of the travel trailers, one of the shiny aluminum Airstreams, which were the flagships of the highways in the 1960s and always drew envious glances from fellow travelers as they motored down the road.
My parents, being loyal JFK Democrats, adopted the youthful president's "See America First" slogan for their summer recreation plans and became avid members of the camping crowd.
When we made our first venture to national parks in the western United States, it was done in a blue 1957 Buick station wagon which in itself could be termed a "highway gunboat."
The rig had the largest motor you could get in a General Motors vehicle at the time and sipped gas at the rate of about eight miles to the gallon. This was before a custom-made (courtesy of my grandfather) plywood box was added to the roof rack which increased the weight and reduced any potential aerodynamics. But back then gas was like 25 cents a gallon so fuel economy didn't make much difference.
To this day, I can still remember my mother clad in her Bermuda shorts crawling up on top of that blue beast to retrieve some needed item from the box.
We didn't have a trailer at the time, just a two-person pup tent which a coin flip every evening determined whether it was me or my brother who would be occupying the tent with Dad. The loser slept with Mom in the Buick with the back seat folded down.
There was one time in Yellowstone National Park when the four of us somehow managed to spend the night together in the blue gunboat because of the bears that were wandering through the campground creating havoc - but that is yet another tale of adventure.
From the Buick and no trailer we "graduated," so to speak, to a Volkswagen bus and an Apache tent trailer.
Of course several "modifications" were made to the tent trailer, like having three additional feet of canvas sewn into the middle to make it larger and two custom-cut sheets of Masonite so we would always have a "flat floor" when setting up over ruts and/or small tree stumps in a campground.
The aforementioned alterations were convenient but they also made the vinyl-coated top of the trailer somewhat difficult to get on, especially when the canvas was slightly damp. There were times when we got Mom, who was a little "husky" in those days, to sit on the edge of the trailer while the three men forced the top on the trailer's box. Mom grumbled a lot, but it was either get the top on or face the possibility of having all our stuff blow away as we motored down the road should one of the corners happen to pop up.
The bus had a few modifications of its own as well.
One of which was a Bermuda carriage bell mounted to the floorboard beneath the driver's side footwell so you could step on the plunger to make it ring. The set-up made the red and grey VW sound like an ice cream vendor. The bell also scared the heck out of large animals who happened to be wandering along the highway and were used to having horns honked at them, and generally refused to yield to oncoming vehicles.
The other "add-on" was decals Dad began putting on the VW's side windows from various places we visited, which made the bus look like it had traveled the length of the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to the tip of South America.
The joys of summer camping with your parents!
Today, you don't see as many tent trailers being pulled on the highways as you once did. Everyone seems to have gone to fifth-wheels and motorhomes for their summer getaways.
Some of those motorhomes, I kid you not, are as big as Greyhound buses!
Can you imagine the amount of "stuff" you can pack into one of those big rigs? I mean, why leave home in the first place if you have to take the DVD player, microwave and satellite dish along?
We had a friend we used to poke fun at because he refused to stay in any campground that didn't have electricity because he couldn't plug in his electric blanket and fry pan!
I can only imagine how much money a person would have to shell out to get one of those rigs filled up with gas, prices being what they are. But then again, if you can afford a customized Greyhound to take on vacation, who cares what gas prices are?
The latest thing in some campgrounds are providing wireless internet access so visitors can check their email.
Just what you need on summer vacation. Now you have the ability to get the best deals around on super Viagra or be made aware of the lowest interest rates to refinance your home along with all the rest of the spam floating around in cyberspace, no matter where you are!