Stan Gerding

Dear Grandson: On Driving Across America

In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding shares what it was like driving across America from Virginia Beach to California with his family in a tiny Chevy Vega in 1976.

 

Dear Grandson,

I ended my tour at Boone Clinic and we started heading to San Diego, California, with a stop in Northern Kentucky to visit with my folks and give your dad a chance to visit with his grandma and grandpa. Before we left Virginia Beach, we bought a new Chevrolet Vega Kammback; a little small for two adults, one child, and a rambunctious dog.

 

 

We loaded all of us in the car and put the luggage on the roof rack and tied them down for the long haul. (More about that later.)

We had a nice visit with my folks, but I was very antsy about the long trip and couldn’t wait to get on the road. We left Northern Kentucky, headed south through Louisville, picked up Interstate 64 to St. Louis and took I-70 through Missouri, and then on to Kansas. We got to Kansas City and 590 miles later we decided to get a room and stay over that night and then head out in the morning.

Next morning, we got up early, took the suitcases and put them on the luggage rack on the roof and tied them down. We got a bite to eat and were back out on the road for the next 600 miles or so. Our goal was to get close to Denver and then head south.

Here we are in the beautiful state of Kansas. Now, if you’ve ever been on this route you will understand what I am about to say. When you drive through Kansas, all you see is cornfield after cornfield and you see the same barns and houses with the same old couple sitting on their porch drinking lemonade and waving at you. I’m not kidding. It’s extremely boring and L-O-N-G. By the time we got through Kansas, I was about ready to sell the car, look for the nearest airport, and fly us the rest of the way.

We did get a little over 600 miles complete and then decided to stop again and spend the night in a place called Castle Rock on Interstate 25.

Next morning, we got up early, took the suitcases and put them on the luggage rack on the roof and tied them down. We got a little bite to eat and were on the road again (sounds like a good title for a song). Our goal was to continue on I-25 towards Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then maybe make it halfway to Flagstaff, Arizona. All along this whole trip, we saw some really neat sights: snow-capped mountains in Colorado, beautiful greenery, gorgeous deserts, and, of course, cornfields.

When we hit Albuquerque, we left I-25 and picked up I-40 and headed towards Flagstaff, but we were tired and cranky. Your dad was tired, the dog was crazy, and it was time to stop. We found a small motel in the middle of nowhere.

Next morning, we got up early, took the suitcases and put them on the luggage rack on the roof and tied them down. We got a little bite to eat and were on the road again, headed towards Flagstaff. We knew we would be passing the painted desert and eyeing the beautiful colors and sights.

We were moving down the highway and, suddenly, I heard a loud noise. To my surprise, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw one of our suitcases airborne and headed for a semi that was following behind us. The suitcase smashed right into the semi’s front and clothes were flying in all directions. We quickly pulled over to the side of the road and so did the semi right behind us. As a matter of fact, there were several semis pulling over to the side of the road in all directions. I was so embarrassed, so perturbed and worried that the driver just might send me flying in different directions.

When we got out of the car, the only luggage that wasn’t properly tied down was your dad’s. There were his clothes scattered everywhere and the truck drivers started walking my way and I thought for sure I was in for a beatin’, but the truck drivers were all very nice and tried to help us pick up your dad’s clothes. The suitcase looked like it went through combat. Well, I guess you could say it did.

Your dad did not cry or whimper, he just looked at me, smiled, and said, “I think I need a new suitcase.”

After we retrieved as many clothes that were salvageable and had them packed inside the car, we said our farewells to the truckers and we all went on our way.

 

After we retrieved as many clothes that were salvageable and had them packed inside the car, we said our farewells to the truckers and we all went on our way.

 

We drove a little longer and stopped at a place called Needles, California, right on the border of Arizona and California. We stayed at a small motel that had a water-cooled air conditioning unit and it kept the room very nice and cool. You see, it was summer and we are in the desert and it is warm in the daytime but at night it gets a little cold. I thought that was neat, this water-cooled machine, I’d never seen that before. Hey, I’m a Kentucky boy.

Our plan was to finish our trip in the morning to our destination, San Diego. Next morning, we got up early, took the suitcases and put them on the luggage rack on the roof, and REALLY tied them down. We got a little bite to eat and were on the road again.

We took I-40 to Barstow and then went south on I-15 right into San Diego, passing Escondido (more on that area later), Poway, and then into San Diego. We went to Mission Beach and got a motel room for a few days until we could find a home to rent for the year that I would be going through school.

Advanced Lab School was a yearlong school with subjects in Urinalysis, Hematology, and Chemistry for three months in the classroom, then three months rotation in those departments in the lab. The next three months of Blood Bank (Immunohematology), Serology, Parasitology, and Microbiology (Bacteriology), then three months rotation in those departments in the lab. If you took college classes on your rotation from Chapman College, you could earn your associate degree from George Washington University. You had to take six semester hours of Math and six semester hours of English in order to attain the degree.

The next few days, we looked at apartments and homes in an area that we could afford and wound up renting a home in the Linda Vista area of San Diego. It was not a high-class area, but it was fine for our needs for a year and the landlord was a wealthy Mexican-American who lived in Escondido. He charged us $250 a month for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom home with a very nice enclosed backyard with several fruit trees; orange, peach, and a very unusual fruit one with very tasty fruit. The location allowed me access to SR 163 which went right into Balboa Park where the Naval Hospital and schools command were located, approximately 20 minutes to get there. We got to be very good friends with several of the neighbors and there was a family down the street that had a little girl your father’s age and they played very nice together.

The next week, we got acclimated to the San Diego area, learned about the area where we were living, made a trip to the infamous Zoo in Balboa Park, and checked out SeaWorld. We checked out the surrounding area and all the military bases that were in the area. There was Navy Recruit training, Marine Corps recruit training, Coronado Naval, Naval Station 32nd street, Miramar (home of Top Gun), and Point Loma, lots of places to visit and shop at the commissary and exchange.

After a week of this, reality set in and I had to check in for school.

More later, Grandson.

Love,
Grandpa

 

Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.

 

Stan Gerding

Stan Gerding is a retired veteran after 23 years in the Navy that included a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Corpsman, 1968-1969. He has since been the administrator of various healthcare organizations, a high school science teacher, an author, a singer, and is the father of Greg Gerding and grandfather to Jack.

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