I remember many things from my trips with my family. I’ve tried to separate one trip from the others, but who knows. Some details in this story might be slight exaggerations. I stand by it anyway.
My father didn’t see any humor in the movie Vacation at all. This might be why. When I was 13, we were headed to a Professional Photographers of America convention in Las Vegas in a green Dodge station wagon. It had the wood grain decal siding that was just starting to peel, four hub caps and an old, bright yellow trailer that had been in my family since, I think, the late fifties filled with crates of prints, and easels. It was my parents, Jigger Schmidt the studio manager, and me.
Jigger and I shared the backseat, mom and dad were up front. When we slept, I took the floor and Jigger laid down on the seat. Really, he thought he got the better deal, but I could feel the vibrations of the road…Score!
We had a bit of a time schedule crunch, as dad was speaking at the convention, so it didn’t help when we left Yakima a day late. No time to stop for photography, we had to drive straight through.
I remember a trip to Reno, along the same route a few years earlier where we had scheduled at least 200 miles a day. On the second day, somewhere in Idaho, out of the corner of his eye dad saw a spot of yellow, that sort of looked like a hay bale. We stopped. Turned out to be two or three lambs in the hay. We spent all day there, and only made 15 miles that day.
When we made it to Reno about 12 hours late (I think) we went into a restaurant, and I gave my dad a nickel to put into a slot machine. I think I was about eight. He warned me, that the slot machine was going to eat my nickel. It got real serious then. I told him to go ahead. He stuck the coin in, and pulled the lever.
He said, “See?”
The first wheel stopped on a bell.
He faced me and said, “You had a nickel.”
Second wheel stopped on a bell.
“And now, you don’t.”
Third bell. And now I had twenty dollars worth of nickels that poured out of the little machine, and had screwed up the lesson he was trying to teach me.
Back to the story about the trip to Vegas. We got through Idaho without making a stop. And we were doing great through Utah…until the universal joint in the Dodge gave out, about 50 miles outside of Salt Lake City. Dad hitchhiked into the city and got a tow truck.
The truck took both the station wagon and the trailer to a garage fairly close to the Mormon Tabernacle. I can’t remember, I think that might have taken two trips. Yes, I think Jigger stayed with the trailer. Anyway, two or three hours later, we left the garage. We left the city, and headed on our way. Until, like, fifty miles outside of Salt Lake, the universal joint bounced down the road.
Dad hitchhiked back to the same garage, and got the same tow truck. Again they fixed the universal joint….While we napped on the grass outside the Tabernacle. I think some further investigation by the mechanic discovered that the problem was the bearings in the wheels of the old trailer.
When it was fixed, we left again. This time we made it to Nevada. Jigger and my mom had both taken turns driving. They were both sleeping. My dad was driving, but I could tell he was beginning to nod off.
He said, “Brent, it’s time for you to drive.”
“But dad, I’m thirteen!” I said.
“Doesn’t matter, I’m falling asleep.”
There was a 30 to 50 mile an hour side wind, and I was driving a large station wagon with a trailer, so naturally as a thirteen year old, I started overcorrecting. After awhile, I was partially going into the oncoming lane, making the oncoming traffic go halfway into their shoulder. They honked. Then I went into my own shoulder. Then all the way into the oncoming lane. People were honking at me and driving into the shoulder, but no one in the car woke up. Finally, when we left the road…And yes, we did leave the road…I lost all four hub caps, and caught between one to two feet of air into the dunes of Nevada.
Jigger broke the slow motion for me when he woke up and screamed, “Holy shit!!”
I can’t remember how we got out of the sand, but I do remember that I woke everyone up and they were all ready to drive.
We made it into Las Vegas about six or seven hours late, my dad’s program had to be rescheduled for the following day. The next day we realized the hotel made a mistake and scheduled my dad’s program on the same stage, at the same time as a dance production was going to rehearse. After some discussion with the management, they decided to split the stage, My dad could give his speech in front of the curtain, they would rehearse behind the curtain.
Dad was leading the movement among photographers to make the portraits larger, and tell a story with all of the space. He explained that this wasn’t a new thing, painters had been creating paintings on six or seven foot canvases, and telling stories, well, really since before Christ. He brought many portraits to show what he meant…If you remember, there was a brief moment where the bright yellow trailer full of portraits was flying through the air, with nothing but dunes in the background.
Jigger and I helped set up, and I hung out back stage for the first part of the program. I wasn’t sure what kind of dancers they were. I had heard something about the word “topless,” but this turned out to be unfounded. Apparently, it was a “Headline” show. I didn’t have any idea what this meant.
The dancers danced and the technicians were testing green laser beams that were aimed at mirrors and then shot around the stage. I was really into lasers then, I dreamed of the day I could actually order a pen-sized laser from Edmond Scientific in the ads in the back of Scientific American and Science Digest. I was a bit of a nerd then, I had subscriptions to both.
Just then a woman walked up in a big mink coat, and said something to me.
I can’t remember what she said for the life of me, but I replied, “Neat lasers!”
She said, “Thanks.” and as I walked away, I tripped over a thick cable on the stage side, and realized I had just introduced myself to Lynda Carter of Wonder Woman fame, with the words, ‘Neat lasers.’
Over the next couple days, we unhitched the trailer, and went to the Grand Canyon for photography. While photographing the Canyon, a Japanese couple approached my father with their own camera. Speaking only Japanese, they motioned for him to take their photograph with the canyon in the background. As they moved into position, a little too close to the edge for dad’s comfort he said Jigger’s favorite sentence to ever come out of his mouth.
Dad raised the camera to his eye, and focused it, “You know what Smokey the Bear says,” He clicked the shutter, “Don’t fall off the cliff!” The couple smiled and nodded, understanding not a word.
On the way home I told Jigger all about the lasers used in the dance show, and about Lynda Carter. He told me that a band he photographed, RUSH, also used lasers. In fact, lasers were in use in many rock shows. It was this discussion that had my curiosity peaked about rock and roll music.
Our trips, seldom actual vacations, were all much funnier than film. Maybe that’s the reason he could find no humor in Vacation, but the rest of the family could.
Anyway, on the idea of a book, I’m thinking about a fictionalized three act screenplay…Or you never can tell, maybe a trilogy.