Blast from the past: The Sunday drive

Norbert Rug

I was in a doctor’s office and I started talking with several other patients who were there waiting for their appointments. My wife says I could strike up a conversation with a mugger. Most of the patients were about my age, ranging from their 60s to their 90s. Among the many things we discussed, the one that seemed to elicit the most memories was Sunday drives.

It seemed that all of us went on these during the 1950s and early 60s. Usually there was no destination. It was just something we all did back then. Most of the time it was just a ride in the car. Families don’t seem to do this anymore.

When I was a kid back in the 60s, the whole family would jump in the car to hit the road and explore Western New York. These were the days before car seats and even seat belts. As we piled into my father's aqua Ford Ranch wagon, the kids vied for the prime seating "way back" in the area behind the rear seat; there was a fight over it every week. You could stretch out and lay down if you wanted, or sit up looking out the big back window, to see the scenery as you passed through the sticks.

I can still hear “cow on Dad’s side” and "horse on Mom’s side.” The point was to go for a relaxed ride, no rush, no fuss, no particular place to go. Or so I thought.

As I think about it now, my parents did a bit of planning for these trips. We might end up getting ice cream from a roadside ice cream stand or cold Cokes from a screened-door filling station (yes, that's what they used to call them then). Besides the Cokes, if you filled up, they would clean your windshield, check your water and oil, and give you a free glass and some S&H green stamps.

On these drives, we frequently stopped at a roadside vegetable stand to buy fresh produce and sometimes eggs. You put your money in a cigar box, took your change and proceeded on your way without seeing anyone. (Many years later, this practice freaked out my ex son-in-law, who didn't grow up here. Only in Western New York?)

I remember we often stopped at a small hot dog stand for lunch, but sometimes my mother would pack a picnic that we would eat at the tables in Olcott. I never knew where the Sunday drive would take us, as it was always a secret. But, not knowing where we were going and getting there was half the fun.

Along the way we would play license plate bingo or search for Burma Shave signs. Burma Shave, for those of you who don’t know, was an American brand of aerosol shaving cream. It was famous for its marketing gimmick of putting amusing poems on a series of small, consecutive roadside signs.  It took me quite awhile to figure out the one that said “Said Farmer Brown” “Who’s bald on top” “I wish I could” ”rotate the crop”. The last sign in the series always said “Burma Shave.” We would also count the number of barns painted with a Mail Pouch Tobacco advertisement. The deal, as I understood it, was the company would paint a farmer’s barn for free if they could paint one end with the ad.

I'm sure there are still people who like to go out and drive idly to see the sights on Sundays, but this just isn't as common as it once was. I suppose there are all sorts of reasons for the demise of the Sunday drive. For one thing, the novelty of a car has pretty much worn off. Henry Ford was a big proponent of Sunday drives in the early days of automobiles and gasoline is a heck of a lot more expensive than it was back then.

But, I suspect the main reason is that, for better or worse, people are a lot busier today than they used to be. Between work, kids' activities and who knows what else, there just isn't as much time to waste doing nothing nowadays. We also have a lot more entertainment opportunities than ever before. Maybe that's a good thing — or maybe not.

I do miss those outings that made us all feel like going nowhere really was a blast.

Norb Rug resides in Lockport. Contact him at nrug@juno.com .

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