Car Ride Down Memory Lane

Frustrated, I sorted through the jumble of keys looking for a fob.

“How am I supposed to unlock the door?” I muttered.

Ruby Sue (my Ford Escape) had to spend the night at the dealer for a part recall issue and I was driving my youngest son’s car (formerly mine). That’s when I discovered how thoroughly I’d been spoiled.

We didn’t have an electronic key fob for the 2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue. I had to unlock the door with the actual key.

I’d forgotten how low the Intrigue sits, and instead of smoothly sliding into the driver’s seat, I sat down hard and looked for the push-button ignition. Nope. Once upon a time, you had to insert a key to start a car.

The gray cloth interior has held up well, but our frigid weather had me longing for Ruby Sue’s seat warmers.

Times have changed since my dad bought me my first car, a 1970s model two-door Toyota Corolla. He bought it from a guy at Fairchild AFB and paid $900 for the rather battered navy blue car.

“I gotcha a car,” he announced. “Here’s the keys, let’s take her for a spin.”

We went out to the driveway and I slid behind the wheel.

“What’s this other pedal for?” I asked.

Dad raised his brows.

“That’s the clutch. Forgot to tell you, it’s a manual transmission.”

I’d never driven a stick shift, but Dad said it was super easy. He gave me a quick rundown on how to shift, and we lurched out of the driveway and immediately stalled mid-street. After an agonizingly jolting trip around the neighborhood, my father pronounced my skills “good enough.”

The Corolla didn’t last long enough to get a name. A few months later, I drove through an unmarked intersection on my way home from work at Pioneer Pies and was T-boned by a kid driving a big pickup.

I got a trip to the hospital from the EMTs I’d just served pie to and the totaled Toyota got a trip to the junkyard.

No more stick shifts for this girl. Instead, Dad gave me his white Chevy Nova. Fun fact, those Novas looked just like Spokane police cars at the time. On the rare occasion I ventured somewhere I probably shouldn’t have, the gatherings broke up quickly as teenagers fled muttering “cops.”

That Nova earned me another trip to the ER when a driver crashed into me after speeding through a light.

Dad decided for safety’s sake I needed to drive a tank, but tanks weren’t street legal. He settled for a 1978 Pontiac LeMans.

He thumped the hood.

“I think this beast is made of solid steel,” he said. “But I still want you to wear a helmet when you drive.”

Me and Loretta circa 1984 in downtown Davenport, Washington

Loretta was my only red car until the advent of Ruby Sue. Her white vinyl interior was cracking, but she drove like a dream. She took my best friend and me on our first road trip, to Davenport, Washington. Loretta took Derek and me on our honeymoon. A couple of years later we drove her all the way to Disneyland for our final BC (Before Children) fling.

Sure, she didn’t have air conditioning and we roasted on our way through Oregon. Yes, we found out what vapor lock is on the side of a California freeway, but by golly, that car body didn’t ding, dent or crumple.

When we started our family, Loretta made way for a boring Ford Taurus, followed by a succession of necessary minivans. As our nest began to empty, we adopted Golda MyDear (the Oldsmobile) before Derek bought sparkling red Ruby Sue.

It’s impossible to count the hours I’ve spent on the road hauling kids to school, sports practices or jobs, and journalists spend a lot of time in their cars. That’s why I’m so thankful my minivan mama days are in the rearview mirror and I finally have a car that I can boss around. I can pull up maps, adjust the temperature, make calls and change radio stations all by voice command.

When I picked up Ruby Sue after our 24-hour separation, I sat for a moment reveling in the warmth of the heated leather seat, and then I planted a big kiss on the steering wheel.

“I’ve missed you, girl,” I said.

And I like to think she missed me, too.


The road to enlightenment

In which we travel, see beautiful things, drive past enlightenment, do not catch Pokémon, but a lot make memories.

Scenic mountain vistas, mighty locomotives, a dash of dogs and a sprinkling of enlightenment – our recent road trip had it all.

After an enjoyable visit to Olympia a couple of years ago, we decided we wanted to take our youngest to the state Capitol. The torture of an Interstate 5 drive had been lost in the haze of more pleasant memories.

We arrived in time for a late dinner at the hotel restaurant, and our spirits were revived with food, drink and a view that didn’t involve asphalt.

“Look at the lady with the cute dog,” Sam said, as we gazed out the window. “I think it’s a corgi.”

 A few minutes later, Derek said, “Hey! There’s a lady with two of them!”

Bemused, we watched a parade of corgis and their owners, taking a slow stroll around the hotel grounds.

“Must be a corgi convention,” I speculated.

In the morning we found out a corgi dog show was being held at the hotel.

With coffees in hand we braved I-5 again for a few miles before heading to Elbe, Washington, for a steam train excursion. Aside from the train at Silverwood, none of us had been aboard a genuine steam-powered train.

On the way, we drove through Yelm and right past Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. To our surprise, Sam had never heard of JZ Knight. Or Linda Evans. Or New Age anything.

Derek attempted to educate him: “A bunch of people sold their dogs, their cats, their kids and followed this guru chick who claimed to channel a dude named Ramtha.”

“Dad, you can’t do that,” said Sam.

“Do what?” asked Derek.

“Sell your kids,” Sam replied.

“Well, they did,” said Derek, who then attempted to explain Linda Evans and the 1980s. We believe travel should be as educational as possible.

While explaining “Dynasty” and really big hair, he also confidently negotiated a seemingly endless series of double roundabouts.

“Boy, all I’ve been doing is making right turns,” he mused. “I hope we’re getting somewhere.”

But get somewhere we did. We enjoyed the 14-mile excursion via First Class passenger car. Brilliant blue skies framed Mount Rainier, and we disembarked at Mineral to tour the Logging Museum, which is set up like a railroad logging camp. We explored the camp and the steam locomotive exhibits before boarding for the return trip.

The next day Sam announced he wanted to see some waterfalls, so we laced up our walking shoes and hiked Tumwater Falls Park. The 15-acre park features a network of trails and footbridges offering expansive views of the tumbling falls.

Of course, the point of our visit was to tour the state Capitol. We knew our politically aware son would appreciate the rich history of the building and sitting in the Senate and House galleries. Our visit concluded with a stop at the gift shop, where we discovered that our state is still firmly in the grip of a two-party system. You can purchase Democrat Merlot and Republican Merlot, but if you’re looking for a Libertarian Pinot Gris, you’re out of luck. You can also get Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders paper dolls, but there was nary a Gary Johnson paper doll to be found.

While Sam enjoyed the Capitol, he was unimpressed with the slogan we read on a sign: “City of Olympia: Working together to make a difference.”

“I feel like it should be, ‘Working together to make a more clichéd tagline,’ ” he said.

The snark is strong with this one.

After dinner at Budd Bay Café we were eager to stroll along the boardwalk with Sam. The lovely views of the marina and harbor were a highlight of our last trip. To our surprise, the boardwalk teemed with people milling about looking at their phones. Couples, singles and families ambled along, heads down, staring at their screens, oblivious to the sunlight reflected on the water, heedless of the lovely displays of public art and tone deaf to the lone street musician who strummed his guitar.

My suspicions were confirmed when I stopped at Harbor House.

“Is this a Pokemon Go stop?” I asked.

He nodded.

“It’s right out there,” he said, pointing toward the harbor. Then he shrugged. “It’s an epidemic.”

We watched as couples ignored the delighted squeals of their toddlers pointing at the boats bobbing in the water, instead intently scanning their phones for a Squirtle in the wild.

Saddened, we escaped the crowds and climbed the lookout tower, which offers stunning views of the harbor crowned by the Capitol dome.

Gazing down I saw a lone family on the beach. None of them had smartphones out. The preteen brother and sister were skipping stones across the water while their parents watched.

I looked for Derek and Sam to show them another family untethered from technology. I found them standing side by side, talking quietly, watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon. Their broad shoulders and height are so alike now, it took my breath away.

Quietly, I sat on a bench behind them and dug my phone out of my purse. I didn’t use it to search for a Pokemon, I used it to snap a photo and capture a memory.

I’d seen a lot of lovely things on our trip, but nothing as beautiful as this.


Contact Cindy Hval at She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.