Traveling with the Whitmires is always an adventure. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling the world with us, or just going to lunch.
When I was growing up, we had a camper. We took it everywhere, up skiing, to the parking lot of Disneyland, photography conventions, Yellowstone park, Cannon Beach.
I remember so well, riding in the camper, in the bed above the truck cab. I pretended I was flying. I remember many times just being hypnotized by the white dashes on the road, they would take on a certain rhythm, and then switch to yellow lines and curve this way and that.
If I didn’t ride there, I was in the “hammock”, which wasn’t really a hammock at all, but more of a stretcher with canvas stretched out between two metal poles on the sides. I still remember the smell of the canvas.
My father made modifications to the camper, he built a platform on top to do photography from. He later put a 14 foot ladder on top of the platform, which elevated him to like 22 or 23 feet off the ground. Of course, when we were driving the ladder came down.
I was about six, the first time we went to Yellowstone. On the way in, there was a bear busy eating what ever the passers by would give him. It was like a rite of passage thing, if you went to Yellowstone in the early to mid seventies, you fed a bear out of the window of your car.
Curiously enough, my dad wasn’t satisfied with just passing the bear Oreos, like everyone else. He had to pull over to the side of the road, put on the emergency brake, grab his camera from in between him and my mom on the seat, open the door, and get out of the truck. He screamed as he chased the bear back to the other side of the road. Yes, you read right, my father once chased a bear. When he got it back in the woods, he photographed it.
He said later, “Well I had to chase it back to it’s natural habitat.
My older sister and older brother were yelling for my dad to quit it. I didn’t care, I was six, I was bawling under the table in the camper. Terrified of what might happen. Would my dad hurt the bear? Would the bear hurt my dad? Two very serious questions.
Another time, when I was a little older, like ten, my father and mother and I were heading North in the truck with the camper along the Oregon coast.
Dad saw it first. Sheep grazing on tall grass with the ocean and a light house with the surf crashing against it in the background. Obviously we stopped. (Brake squealing sound effect here.) Dad got his Pentax 6x7 and a long lens. He got out of the truck, and climbed the fence. I exited the camper.
“Dad, what about those signs?” I asked.
There were NO TRESPASSING signs posted on the fence about every six feet.
He said, and I swear...this is what he said, “Those signs are just for amateurs.”
So, I climbed the fence too. I watched him photograph the sheep with the light house in the background. We hiked down a hill where there was more sheep.
Ten photographs makes a roll of film in the 6x7, and I think he shot about five or ten rolls. We shot all the film he brought over the fence with him. We were heading back to the camper when we heard this unmistakable sound. Click-Click! The sound of a shotgun being cocked.
“CAN’T YOU READ?!?” The farmer shouted from the top of a hill, with the gun pointed at us.
Now, I don’t know why, but I’ve blocked the memory of the farmer following us back to the camper until very recently. Maybe because he was pointing the shotgun at us.
Of course when we got back to the camper my mom made the farmer a fresh cup of coffee. And while he sat on the bumper of the truck and drank it, my father promised to send him an eight by ten.
There was once a commercial for Lipton Tea, where this photographer was photographing this light house until dark. A storm rolled in. In the rain, the photographer knocked on the light house door. The light house keeper answered the door, and invited the photographer in for a cup of tea.
When that commercial aired, my sister always said, “What you don’t see is that photographer’s family waiting for him in a car somewhere on the shoulder of the road.”
I never saw that side of the stopping to photograph things, although, we were always late by the time we arrived at where ever we were going. I remember once we were heading to some convention, and we had to make a certain distance every day. The second day, we saw this farm complete with bales of hay, and baby sheep. (Sound of squealing brakes again.) We made fifteen miles that day. Needless to say we were a day late.
Being late has its advantages. We were in New York City in 1976 for, yes a photography convention. We were staying at the Waldorf Astoria. The day we were scheduled to leave, Hurricane Belle hit the city. My parents discussed leaving before the storm got there, and avoiding it all together. We stayed, and the eye of the hurricane passed over the city where we would have been heading.
In my nine year old mind, the worst thing that happened on that trip was not the six lives that were lost, it wasn’t the destruction of buildings and cars. In my nine year old mind, it was that the hurricane ruined an umbrella that I bought in New York. The umbrella was cool, it folded down really small.