When I was a little girl, most kids read about super heroes in comic books or wore capes and pretended to fly around the house like the invincible characters they watched on Saturday morning cartoons.
Well, I guess that makes me pretty lucky – because I got to actually live with a super hero.
I called him Daddy.
My father was a hero for several reasons, one of which was that he ran into burning buildings to save people’s lives as one of the first African American firefighters in Oklahoma City.
He later rose through the ranks to become the city’s first black Chief. That was a pretty significant achievement in the fire service industry during the time, and it’s still considered a major milestone today.
My Dad Is the Original Road Warrior
But among all of his brave feats and professional accomplishments, what makes my dad a real hero is the fact that he was willing to put up with me and my mom cooped up in ’72 Pontiac sedan on my original cross-country family vacation back in the day.
I fondly refer to this experience as Road Trip 1.0 because it was the prequel to all my adult adventures and the catalyst that ignited my passion for travel.
That summer, it seemed like we drove all over this great nation from The Rockies to the Sierra Nevada, along the Pacific coastline, then back through the Badlands and everything in between.
Before our adventures began, I remember going with my dad to countless boat shows and RV lots to aimlessly peruse the aisles and admire at the latest in recreational vehicles.
Daddy’s ultimate fantasy? It was to take me and my mom out West in a souped-up Winnebago with a Cabin Cruiser tow.
But no way was mom going to do dishes on vacation, even if it was in a custom RV. As a kid, I had to gently remind dad that his wife’s idea of roughing it was pulling up to the Ritz Carlton, only to find out that the valet was off duty.
So as Plan B we packed up the Pontiac and headed out on the best vacation of my life.
Stretched out in the backseat of the sedan I meticulously combed the travel guide in my small hands. I just couldn’t imagine a better way to see the country than with my dad at the wheel and my mom riding shotgun.
With no seatbelt laws at the time, I was free to make the rear of the car my personal command station with maps, field guides and a ton of books with pictures of the attractions that we would visit and places we would eat.
We were like the Three Musketeers off to save the world – one Big Boy at a time.
In celebration of Father’s Day, I came up with the “Best Road Trip Tips That I Learned From My Dad”
Learn how to read a map: Amazingly, I’ve learned that map reading is truly a lost art. Even though today we have GPS and all sorts of cool apps, there’s nothing like knowing how to read a road atlas.
I learned this early on as a kid when I was helping navigate the way through Pikes Peak with my parents from the backseat of the car. It’s still a skill that comes in handy today when I take my family on a road trip and we veer off the grid and the GPS can’t pick up a signal.
A road map, a compass and a bottle of water can really get you out of most travel jams.
A crowded parking lot means good food: Daddy was the original foodie when it came having the most accurate radar to spot the best Dives, Diners and Drive-ins. It seems he always knew how to pinpoint lip-smacking local fare, especially when it came to finding authentic Soul Food and Southern down home cooking on the road – even in Utah!
To him, a crowded parking lot meant happy customers. That’s reason enough to bring the car to a screeching halt.
Always over-tip breakfast waitresses: Since breakfast is usually the least expensive meal served at a restaurant, Daddy always over tipped the server because she usually made less during this time of day. It always endeared the waitress to us and we always got the best service.
Fill up the car at half a tank: We always started each day of our trip on a full tank of gas. To me, it was like starting a new chapter of a great book every morning.
As soon as we got at half a tank, Daddy would fill ‘er up. It saved on money and it always ensured that we were never running low if we were traveling in remote areas.
Pack only what you truly need; the rest is just stuff: Although mom was always fashionable on our vacations, Daddy was practical in his dress. His military-style suitcase was compact and only filled with the bare necessities. This made it easy to transport, pack and unpack. On long trips, Daddy says less is more.
Stop and ask for directions: Contrary to the stereotype, some men actually do stop and ask for directions. It’s better to stop and get on the right road before you’ve gone too far out of your way. No one earns merit badges for getting lost. (But it sure can be a lot of fun, right Mom?)
Learn how to improvise: And finally, if you lock the keys in the car but still have the trunk open, Daddy can show you how to break back into the car with a wire hanger MacGyver-style.
As for me, I still think that’s one pretty cool super power.
Happy Father’s Day to my Daddy and to fathers everywhere who inspire us all.