Whatever Happened to Dairy Queens & Snake Farms?

6 Apr

by Roger White

A quick gander at the calendar on the old wall shows that it’s April, which means it’s almost May, which means it’s almost summer, which means it’s vacation planning time again. Which means it’s time for Dad to take a second and third job. I figure that about eight weeks of mowing lawns and cold-calling potential investors for the Happy Shores Time-Share Villas in Enid, Oklahoma (in addition to my regular 40-hour editing gig), will put just enough in the family coffers for a week of, uh, “summer fun.”

Call me old, call me out of touch, call me cranky, but the family vacation just isn’t what it used to be. And I’m not just talking about the cost—although I’m mainly talking about the cost. Remember when your parents would gas up the station wagon, pile you and your siblings and the dog and just about anything else that would fit into the back, and aim the car at the nearest national park? And the trip always started at 4 a.m. No matter the destination, you were rousted from bed, still slobbering and sleepwalking, hustled into the car in the black of night, and whisked off like a fresh cult recruit. That was the vacation. No questions asked, no negotiations, no whining.

And you were grateful for any and all unscheduled pit stops along the way. For you readers who happened to be boys back then, you’ll recall that if your dad was far enough behind schedule en route to the Petrified Forest, your pit stop was a coke bottle. Nuff said. The wheels had to keep rolling.

Thing of it is, as much as we old-timers enjoy grousing about just how spartan and militarily executed the vacations of our youth were, we actually look back on them fondly. Sort of. You must admit, the rules of the road were different. If you could fit in the rear window deck, and who couldn’t back then, you had a vista view for the entire ride to Carlsbad Caverns. The back floorboard, with the massive transmission lump in the middle, served as a two-bedroom suite. You could always tell quite easily what other vehicles were in vacation mode on the highway by all the arms and legs and feet and various other body parts hanging out the windows.

Meals and entertainment consisted of Dairy Queens and Snake Farms. And to my 9-year-old sensibilities, visiting the roadside Snake Farm was on par with the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, or any other great wonder of man or Mother Nature. In fact, somebody should write a country song about old-time vacations—and call it “Dairy Queens & Snake Farms.” I’m not much of a country fan—I’m more of an old rock and roller—but I would buy this record. (It wouldn’t be available on iTunes, by the way, only on 45 rpm records. Nyah.)

And lodging was simple. Once we hit our destination, the nearest motor lodge that didn’t have a red “No” winking in front of the neon “Vacancy” sign became vacation central. The TV menu was whatever local stations the motel set’s rabbit ears could pick up, and in-room recreation involved either Nerf basketball with a small trash can or clandestine trampoline wars between beds while the parents were out of the room getting ice.

Today? Well, our kids have been on more airplanes than I ever saw as a youngster. Island resorts, all-inclusive fantasy-land amusement parks, and fancy fondue restaurants cater to every whim. The latest movies and 3-D videos are in the hotel room and on the iPod, which means constant state-of-the-art entertainment anytime all the time. “Hey, look out the window, kids! Get a load of that sunset!” “Yeah, sure, Dad, whatev.” Clickety clackety click click.

I have truly come to hate that texting sound.

It’s our own fault, really. There is peer pressure, of course, especially when you hear your kid’s friend casually mention how boring Italy was this year. But it is time to make a stand. Who’s with me? We have to draw a line in the sand—and I don’t mean the alabaster sand of the all-inclusive Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas. If we raise a crop of jaded, spoiled teens, you know what they’ll become? That’s right! Kardashians! Gads.

I mean it. This year, we’re piling everybody into the car, throwing the texting, beeping, streaming pod-things out the window, and heading nonstop to the great outdoors. Isn’t that right, hon? Hon?

Hmm.

“Hello, this is Roger with Happy Shores Time-Share Villas of Enid, Oklahoma. Have I got a deal for you. . .”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat daschund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

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10 Responses to “Whatever Happened to Dairy Queens & Snake Farms?”

  1. chibichunsa April 6, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I’m only in my twenties and I fit in better with your old timey vacation memories than the cruise-Disneyland-fancy-fondue-restaurants of today. Annual camping trips galore! Except we used (still do for trips, actually) a minivan with the back chairs pulled out and sleeping bags covering the entire floor. It was the penthouse suite of road vacations, I tell ya.

  2. rona ebert April 6, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    Gang you hit that nail on the head! I actually remember my brothers playing the nerfball-trash can game, and i did the trampoline bit too! We did the station wagon trips, dad smoking the whole way with windows rolled up, we three in back seat playing “I spy” for hours.
    My dad stopped at every historical marker on the road…we have one great photo of my brother perched on some rock wall overlooking some probably famous canyon, wearing a fake coon skin hat complete with fake tail, and sporting the most pissed off, bitter, dammit-i-hate- this-crap look on his face. i laugh every time i see that shot. think i’m going to make a Christmas card out of it this year.

  3. w8inglong April 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    I used to take my daughter on regular road trips on long weekends. We would head south for a while stop to eat and flip a coin to see which direction we would go next with the options of east and west. We stopped at yard sales, gas stations and low cost motels. It was always an adventure. Sometimes we visited caves or caverns, sometime we found parks. Once we made it to Canada, once to DC and once to an incredible garden with a labyrinth which only happened to be open to the public on holiday weekends. A few years back we did it again. Just the two of us and it still held the sense of discovery as when she was a child. It was wonderful.

  4. Margie April 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    You got to stay in a hotel!?! We stayed in a 9X9 tent…

    • oldspouse April 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

      What I meant to say was that we stayed in a dark hole by the side of the road and were attacked by savage wolves every night. That’s what I meant to say.

  5. quirkyculture April 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Great post! But I’m so envious. WE never got to stop at the snake farm. And WE got only one night at a motel (The highlight of the trip. It had a pool!) on our three day trip from California to Texas across the desert with a broken air conditioner in August. My dad would throw ice on the floor of the car and tell us that, as it melted, it would cool the car. What a crock. Thanks for making me LOL. I say, work that second job and go to Cancun.

  6. lovelyshadesofnostalgia April 6, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    Great post! I’m sure those DVD players in cars keep kids quiet and all, but whatever happened to playing travel bingo, or I Spy, or any other variety of “entertain yourself” goodness? In the 80s my parents packed my sister, brother, and I in the Monte Carlo (two doors, mind you) and we drove from Kansas to Washington, D.C. Making stops all along the way and seeing, well, the country. It was great. I was only about four, but I remember it! Experiencing the world is much better than looking at a screen all the time.

  7. John Key April 7, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Hello Roger:
    The old trips do still exist, however it requires lots of windshield time. The routes will need to include more exits from the interstate than most of our time schedules will be comfortable with.
    My wife and I purchased a very small, used motor home (if any motor home could be considered small) and for 8 summers carried our son 62,000 miles across America. He was 3 when we purchased it and now he is 11.
    I could go on about all of the “Snake Farms, etc” that we had the pleasure of however I will just make note of one stop that pretty well covers all of the bases.
    Outside of Golden, CO there is a must stop, the Buffalo Bill, Look-out Mountain, Burial ground, Gift shop and Museum State Park with scenic drive up to the extravaganza. It will take a couple of hours but well worth it. My recommendation to complete the mountains, gold mining theme is to purchase the small “sack o gold” chewing gum with a handy reusable draw string bag, lest you do find real gold you will have a place to put it after you have enjoyed all of the gold colored chicklet style gum, Yum.

  8. April April 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    I’m with chibichunsa–I’m in my 20s and we went camping on vacations. We drove there. We left at 4 am.

    I did go to Disney once with my aunt. Meh. I preferred camping.

  9. April April 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Wait–why am I saying “went” like it’s past tense? I STILL go camping with my parents every year, con esposo.

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