Oct 24, 2017

The Frightful Vacation of ‘79: Sort of, Kind of A Ghost Story

The dad was at the wheel, the mom in the middle and a listless teenager in the passenger side probably rolling her eyes in boredom. For the last 1100 miles she had been mournfully listening to the folk’s country music on the radio. It had been quite a vacation traveling in a Chevy camper pick-up back in August of 1979. 

She prayed that there was more exciting things happening at their destination than listening to an earful of Conway TwittyWaylon Jennings and Merle Haggard ballads than she cared to admit. Ghastly to say the least. 

There weren't iPods, videos streaming on built-in car screens, or internet games back in ‘79. 

I know...how terrifying

It was just the folks and the teenager on the open road driving from Minnesota to Arizona. The teen was a moody 16 year-old longing for a Donna Summer or Blondie song to drown out Conway’s I May Never Get To Heaven and other heartbreak, whiskey swilling songs barely tolerated at every state line they crossed.  Clearly, a tragic ordeal.

Without a doubt, the folks found her to be a real pill too. They’d travel for hours during the day and then pullover for the night to camp in a one bed camper, which was nice and plush for the folks, but the indifferent teenager would sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor. 

Chilling for her, but the folks told her that sometimes in life you get the raw end of the deal.  She’d thank them one day for the experience. 

A couple of times along the way they’d stay in a hotel room to break-up the hot day of traveling with some air conditioning and running water. 

This was an enormous relief for a testy teenager, because she’d be able to sleep in a bed, shower and get her nearly ‘80’s hair styled to resemble anything close to Farah Fawcett tresses and not some matted-down camper floor hairdo.  Heaven forbid she’d be sporting a camper floor hairdo should a hunky guy pass by on the highway. Absolutely horrifying for a hormonal teenage girl!

Each morning they would get up at the crack of dawn to hit the road again.  There was a general rule that the teenager couldn't talk or be talked to before 10 am.  The dismissive teenager wasn't interested in coffee small talk at such an early hour, but the folks tried their hardest to sabotage this rule.  The teenager held strong to her scary face until the eerie fog lifted, which was almost exactly at 10 am when the fangs would retreat.

There was less frightful times once the teenager broke from her passive funk.  She delighted in the beautiful scenery, shopping for unique things along their travels and eating at interesting places.

Once they reached New Mexico, this would be one of the special nights they’d be staying in a hotel. Walking into the hotel room it looked like any other usual hotel room from the 70’s. You know… paneled walls, green carpet, paisley embroidered curtains and a funky orange bedspread. 

Though, one thing was different. 

One double bed was in the main room and the other bed was in a separate room near the back. The folks already claimed the one in the main room and the teenager thought “how cool” she’d get her own separate room!

The teenager with an upswing mood and, at the moment, chipper disposition gathered her teenage necessities - a blow dryer, curling iron, “Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific” shampoo and Bonne Bell Lip Smackers to her private quarters. 

When she opened the door to her sanctuary, she felt creeped out by the lackluster sight and musty smell that seeped from the room.

It was completely different from the cool 70’s styled room the folks had claimed. This extra room or torture chamber, she imagined, was cold and drab. The stucco brick walls embossed with cracks and small chunks missing could only mean that someone had tried to break out and escape this dungeon of horrors

The bed cover was dingy white and, in the mind of a teenager, soiled with hauntings of the previous victims. Alarming, for sure.

The antiquated pictures in tarnished frames hung crooked on the murky wall giving the sense that a struggle had taken place and a ghostly spirit hung heavy throughout the room. 

It didn’t take long for the teenager to whine that she would not be sleeping in that frightening room. In every horror movie she’d seen; it was always the teenager that mysteriously disappeared to be the first victim of something dreadful.

The folks insisted she stay in this room since there was no other place to sleep and she was overreacting like a melodramatic teen clouded in vaporous hairspray. 

She tried to talk them into switching rooms, but no go. She begged and pleaded as she was sure she'd be snatched away in her sleep. 

Once again, she was told that sometimes in life you get the raw end of the deal. She’d thank them one day for the experience. 

So, of course, that night the teenager slept in the main room, in the same bed as the folks and they snuggled in like three bears hibernating for the winter. Mama bear admitted to having a weird feeling from the room too. Chalk one up for the teenager! 

Finally reaching their Arizona destination, it seemed things were improving for the teenager. They enjoyed a day trip to Disneyland and time spent with their friends. 

If this were the end of the vacation then it would end on high note, but the teenager remembered there was another 1200 miles to get back home. 

The teenager asked if there would be any chance of getting a break in the country ballads. Could they listen to a pop music radio station playing some Le Freak or Da Ya Think I’m Sexy, instead?

The folks said not likely and that sometimes in life you get the raw end of the deal. But, she’d thank them for the experience and maybe even appreciate country music one day. 

The teenager, sulking, sat back and embraced the mountain landscape from the passenger seat window while the pick-up truck snaked through the winding mountain roads. It gave the teenager a moment to reflect on their vacation travels. 

It was turning out to be an unforgettable vacation and not even an episode of car sickness in a bathroom at a questionable gas station would deter her from enjoying this summer vacation. 

After a very long and adventurous 2400 mile road trip, their travels came to an end.  The teenager realized that sometimes the raw end of the deal isn’t all that bad and she really did appreciate the experience. 

Looking back, maybe even the extra creepy hotel room wasn’t as horrific as she had first imagined. It’s possible the hairspray may have clouded her judgment.


However, there is one thing that continues to haunt the teenager, to this day, from the vacation of ‘79. Something so disturbing that she never thought she’d admit it or reveal its power over her.


It’d be the unusual and strange desire to listen to country music ballads.


This frightful vacation of '79 was sort of, kind of a ghost story. That’d be the fearsome ghosts of her vacation past…Conway, Waylon and Merle.

The teenager is convinced it would make a good country song!  

Those were the days back in 1979! 

Do you have a lasting memory from a frightful vacation?  More importantly, did you ever shampoo with "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific?"

Put your smile on and unwrap
   A Square of Chocolate,
Laurie O

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