It was 1966, and my Dad had a gold 1958 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 Sedan. It was a Chromes-mobile to be sure, with wild tail lights that looked like chrome-plated rockets shooting out from the rear of the car.I was four in ‘66, and stood just below eye level with those tail lights. They fascinated me then and still do today. It was the last of the outrageous 50’s styling of Harley Earl and marked the end of an era in automobiles. They are sought after today, but in the 60’s, nobody wanted them because with all the CHROME, they were considered gaudy. (That explains why we owned one.)
One day, my Dad and I rode down to the gas station on the corner and rented a big U-HAUL trailer and a “bumper hitch” to connect it to. Empty, the trailer was big and heavy, and even at age four, I felt a little uneasy with the whole “bumper hitch” thing. I had my doubts that the bumper would stay connected to the car, but soon, the Oldsmobile was back on the road with one of U-HAUL’s best trailing right behind us.
That evening, Dad and Grandpa loaded all our furniture inside, and tied mattresses to the top and two bicycles and a trike to the sides. We all loaded up in the Oldsmobile and kissed Grandma and Grandpa goodbye while Dad put our Silver Persian cat, Nicky, into the backseat for the trip.
Well, that West Coast Cat decided he didn’t care much for the idea of moving to Texas, and promptly exited the car’s open window. Dad spent a few minutes looking for him, but Texas was waiting, and it didn’t look like Nicky-the-Cat would be joining us anytime soon. So, Dad got behind the wheel and pointed the Olds southeast to Houston.
Along the way, we kids made three beds for lounging across the Southwestern United States. Linda, the oldest, got the whole back seat. Becky made her bed by building up the floorboard with pillows and blankets. I was a little man, and I fit perfectly in the rear deck above and behind the back seat. My sisters must have thought they were giving me the short end of the stick, so to speak; but the way I saw it, I had the best view in the car.
This was a grand and memorable adventure to me. Dad favored fuel stops at the old Sinclair gas station, whose logo included a green dinosaur which I thought bore an uncanny resemblance to “DINO” from The Flintstones. The route to Texas was full of new sights, clean air and huge neon signs marking the motels we’d stay at along the way. We were a road tripping American family, and I loved every minute of it!
Sometimes on the open road, Dad would let me sit on his lap and “steer” the car, and those moments were a real bonding moment between that Father and this Son.
Texas didn’t quite work out for my family, and in ’67, Mom and Dad flew us kids back to California, and Mom soon followed, pregnant with jenX67. Dad followed a couple of weeks later, but not in that old Oldsmobile, but in a beautiful gold ’61 Pontiac Bonneville four-door hardtop (pulling another U-HAUL trailer with mattresses and bikes). Dad traded The Olds for the new ride prior to leaving Galveston Island for California.
The Pontiac WAS cool; it had air conditioning, and was likely the nicest car my parents ever owned. But I was sad to think that that big Olds was gone; I missed it, and never forgot it.
Still, I was SO happy to see my Dad pull onto our street again, and back into our driveway, Oldsmobile or no Oldsmobile! When you’re five, two weeks without your Dad is a very long time. I missed him, and I loved him! (I still do, on both counts.)
Soon after we returned to our suburban L.A. county home, Nicky-the-Cat came back after being gone for over a year! Dad really liked that cat.
I never forgot about that 1958 Oldsmobile, and in 2003, I found one for sale in Albuquerque and bought it with some money I won in Las Vegas shooting craps. Now it’s in my garage, and hopefully, soon, back on the road.
Each time I look at those chrome Rocket 88 tail lights, I can smell the clean air of the open road; I see neon motel signs, and that little boy helping his Dad to steer a Rocket 88 through 1966 Texas.
Happy 79th birthday, Dad. I love you.
–from Wild Billy Elliott, my big brother