Gen X Road Trips Were Not Pinterest-Worthy

I recently saw a TikTok filled with Pinterest hacks for traveling with children and HOLY HELL were my Gen X eyeballs popping out of my head. Now first, I want to say that I’m not ragging on these moms. I come from a time where you were literally told to get out of the house and DON’T COME HOME UNTIL THE STREET LIGHTS COME ON.

Thirsty? Drink from your neighbor’s sprinklers. Hungry? I’ll leave a peanut butter and jelly on the front step. Tired? You’ll sleep when you’re dead.

And I’m certainly not one to wax poetic about simpler times and this is why kids back then didn’t have ADHD. We were injured a lot back then and had to set up our own MASH type triage units on the sidewalk. Using the skills we learned on nighttime television drama was the only way to determine whether or not we should tell an adult what was going on.

We need to tell mom!

No, we don’t! I saw this exact injury on a rerun of Emergency! and that guy recovered. You’re going to be fine.

I received a traumatic brain injury during one such go outside and play days. And in true Gen X, latchkey kid fashion I didn’t just lie there after it happened. Well, I did for an undetermined time while I’d lost consciousness, but after that I got my ass up and hobbled my way into the house and waited for an adult to even notice that anything had happened.

Had completely lost my vision and was bleeding from the head! I just laid down on the couch and was like, I guess someone will see me eventually. When they finally did I was driven to the hospital by my sister and her friend (no ambulance for me), none of us wearing seatbelts. From there, I spent three days in the hospital. If my father was alive, he’d still be complaining about the bill.

And, as you can certainly tell by my content here, I have suffered zero consequences and am completely normal.

Could you imagine a mother today just not knowing where the hell her kid is for 12 straight hours? She’d be in jail, but only after she’d been mercilessly judged in every single mommy group on Facebook. The energy it takes to not only keep your eyeballs on your spawn 24/7, but make sure they are academically, socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually engaged is staggering.

So, BRAVA, mamas in this TikTok. My hat’s off to you!

All I’m saying is road trips of my youth were different. So, so, so very different.

In the Pinterest-worthy video these kids were given surprise activity packets every hour. The mom had rigged up a gawtdayum pulley system to shuttle things back and forth from the front seat to the third row. There were laminated maps and magnetized puzzles. Boxes filled with 27 different snack foods. Don’t get me started on the charcuterie board.

And I’m just sitting here wide-eyed, mouth agape. Like, wtf?!?!? Treats every hour! Charcuterie board? Pulley system?

When I was a kid we’d set out for our two weeks of summer fun, usually in a trusty old station wagon, where seat belts were very much optional. In later years, my father abandoned the station wagon and had a succession of very large Lincoln Continental type cars. I’m not quite sure, but looking back it makes me wonder if he had a stint in the mafia during my tween years.

I always had the middle seat because I was the youngest. This left me square in the middle of whatever physical fight my brother and sister were having at the time. And we all knew well enough to not make a peep while blows were being given or received, lest we suffer the wrath of our overcaffeinated, sleep deprived lead foot of a father. He would not bother to ‘turn this car around‘ because that meant we wouldn’t ‘make good time.’ What he would do was make your life hell once we got to our destination.

If I wanted any other entertainment beside the MMA match I happened to be sitting in the middle of, my child brain had to plan ahead. I’d need enough forethought to scootch my tape recorder close up the to radio in the days before our road trip and record as many pop hits as I could on whatever blank Memorex was lying around the house.

Then I’d have to steal batteries from someone’s boombox to put in my portable tape player. I couldn’t just ask my mom for new batteries because what is she made of money?!?! And always those stolen batteries wouldn’t have much juice left in them so they’d die and I’d have to resort to reading books.

It wasn’t that reading was necessarily a bad thing, because I was a bit of a bookworm in my younger years. I loved books. I read them voraciously. The bad part was reading them in the car, because I had a tendency to get carsick.

And you couldn’t get carsick. Stopping to puke on the side of the road means you’re not making good time. And the moral imperative of every Gen X road trip is that you must make good time!

So that would usually mean I’d be handed a fistful of Dramamine, which would make me pass out like I’d been given horse tranquilizers. And the only entertainment for me would be in my dreams.

But before I’d pass out there would be the one and only highlight of the road trip, Pringles! The only time my mother would ever buy Pringles was for road trips. This, obviously, created a lot of competition between us kids. There are only so many Pringles in a can and here we are, just a blur of pudgy hands, reaching and grasping to get as many of those coveted quasi tater wafers as we can. Like, this was our only shot at it for a whole damn year!

And that was it. That was peak road trip food right there. Everything else was downhill. My mother wasn’t sitting in the passenger seat, rolling down the highway eating a damn charcuterie board. She was making bologna sandwiches in her lap and didn’t eat until all the others were passed around. There were so many of us kids I’m sure her sandwich was always made with the bread heels.

There was no pulley system in the car during a Gen X road trip. It was a child labor bucket brigade. I’m talking take off your seatbelt, if you had one on to begin with, and shimmy your adolescent ass into the way back and get me the bread and mustard. And dig through the ice in the cooler feeling out for that fat pack of Oscar Mayer while you’re at it!

Surely you’d need some liquid to wash down that gummy white bread and questionable lunch meat. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there are no juice boxes in the back of a ’79 station wagon. There’s one source of a refreshment and it’s a communal thermos filled with lukewarm tap water. Pass that around, along with every despicable germ you picked up at that last rest stop.

And that one rest stop was the only time you could pee. Unless you were quick enough and brave enough to manage a gas station bathroom while your father was filling up the tank. Don’t even think about getting any of the good snacks you see for sale there because what am I made of money?!?!?!

There was one map on a Gen X road trip. It wasn’t laminated and you weren’t allowed to touch it. It was a Rand McNally road map, but only mom could touch it because she was the only one in the car who knew how to fold it properly. So, if you wanted to know where you were you looked out the window and guessed.

If there were oranges and alligators on the billboards, you were in Florida. Peaches, Georgia. Hand scribbled boiled peanut signs, one of the Carolinas. A huge bridge probably meant New York or New Jersey and everything after that was New England.

I’m not here to say the road trips of my childhood were superior to today’s road trips. I mean, the lack of seat belts alone is quite concerning. I’m just saying we survived. Well, enough of us did. Some of the hacks you Pinterest moms of today have are pretty neat, but it looks like a hell of a lot of work. Maybe even more work than my mom had, but she’s dead so we can’t ask her.

There are a lot of things in that TikTok I loved and I applaud the creativity. But I guess I’m a creature of habit. Even after all these years I still think there’s something to be said for the simplicity of a child looking out the window and seeing the world roll by. And, of course, Pringles. There’s always something to be said for Pringles.