Listening to stories of Len's big family vacation has caused my mind to flood with memories of a similar trip my family took when I was a child. Here's the account of that trip I wrote for a publication several years ago. -Rick-
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
It was the summer of my seventh year. The previous September many of my classmates had returned to school with stories of their Griswald-ian sojourns in faux wood-paneled station wagons to exciting and faraway places. The Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the home of an uncle in Santa Fe who would give shiny quarters to nephews that let him do magic tricks inside their underpants!
Emboldened by my friends’ travel tales, I asked mom and dad to take me on vacation. When asking didn’t work, I pleaded, I cajoled, I begged with the tenacity and desperation usually only seen from Tommy Thompson trying to get one more Jameson on-the-rocks after last-call. Finally, they caved.
So it was in August of 1966, mom, dad, and I left idyllic Menasha, Wisconsin and set off in search of America.
Our trek did not take us to historic Route 66, bisecting this great nation from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean. Nor did our excursion lead us to California’s scenic Highway 1, with its hairpin turns and breathtaking vistas. No, our journey took place on the equally historic and no less scenic Highway 47!
Leaving the city of Menasha, we soon rolled through, well, the Town of Menasha. I marveled at the passing scenery. The old Goodwill Store, the putt-putt golf course, Valley Fair Mall. When PBS Travel guru Rick Steves says, “Travel is intensified living” this is clearly what he’s talking about.
Before I knew it, Highway 47 turned into the tree-lined boulevard that is Memorial Drive and I swelled with excitement as we passed over the magnificent span of the Memorial Drive Bridge. On that hot, humid day in the pre-environmentally friendly ‘60’s, I was awed by the sight of the many smoke belching factories in Appleton’s industrial “flats” and inhaled the fragrant bouquet of the Fox River, a smell that would not have been unfamiliar to a third-world gynecologist.
Having traversed the Fox, we headed for College Avenue where we turned left, over the viaduct into Grand Chute and on to The Strip, baby! There, we pulled into our final destination--Biggar’s Best Western Motel.
Grand Chute in 1966 was not nearly the exotic vacation paradise that it is today. Yet, Biggars’ Best Western was a swanky place. Among its amenities were “powder rooms”, “combination tub and showers” and “telephones...IN THE ROOM”. If Louie the XIV had lived in the 1960’s, this would have been his Versailles.
For the next eight days, we would live among the Grand Chute residents. Observe their customs. Eat their local delicacies. And participate in their indigenous activities.
Most of my days were spent swimming in Biggars’ indoor, heated pool until I was so wrinkled I looked like I could be Larry King's ball sack. After swimming, it was on to the “41 Bowl” where my ball spent more time in the gutter than Nick Nolte on a four day bender.
After all that fun I was hungry enough to eat a horse, which given the dubious taste of the meat in some of the restaurants we patronized, was more than a little ironic.
However, we ate most of our meals at the Marcs’ Big Boy, conveniently located right next door. It was at the Big Boy that I came to realize just how different the exotic cuisine of Grand Chute was from the food I was used to eating back home.
I ordered a “Big Boy Burger” thinking it would be just a regular hamburger. Oh, how wrong I was. When the waitress delivered it to our table, I could scarcely believe my eyes. It was not just a patty between two halves of a bun. It was TWO patties and the bun had not only a top and bottom but a MIDDLE as well. Most confusing of all, the pickles and tomato slice were not inside, but rather, perched atop the bun like a colorful party hat and held in place with a decorative toothpick. It all made Menasha seem so very far away.
Between the swimming, bowling, gourmet dining and occasional forays across The Strip to Treasure Island (not the casino, the discount department store with the “squiggly” roof and crappy merchandise) the eight days flew by and soon I was heading home.
I returned to Menasha a changed seven year old. I was imbued with a deeper understanding of the diversity of the human experience and filled with a full-blown desire to see even more of the world. This year Grand Chute. Next year, who knows? Maybe Ashwaubenon! After that first trip, the world was my oyster and anything seemed possible!
(The next year we did, in fact, vacation in Ashwaubenon.)