Road Trip for Immortal 17-year-olds

In 1982, I was 17 years old. I had a brand-spankin’ new driver’s license from the state of Illinois. I was oh-so-ready to get out and see the world from behind the steering wheel of my car.

My parents planned a trip to Hawaii that year. But for some unfathomable reason they gave me a choice – I could either go to Hawaii with them and my brother, or I could go on a road trip with my friend Rob.

I’m pretty sure I’d choose Hawaii today. But I’m not 17 years old anymore.

What did I choose to do instead? Take a road trip with my best friend Rob to Kentucky and Tennessee, of course!

Rob and I hopped into my dad’s car at 2am and heading south and east. We drove all night long and made it to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky at 9am.

It didn’t matter to us that we were both new drivers. We were immortal (if only for a limited time) like any other teenager.

But it says a lot about how much our parents trusted us – to which we are both very grateful today (and not a little astonished). I’m certain I would never let my own sons go on such a road trip. Not that I don’t trust them, because I do. It’s the other crazy drivers I don’t trust.

We drove all night long, taking turns captaining a white Oldsmobile Toronado dubbed “The White Ghost.”

At one point, I was napping in the left-hand seat when I woke up ice cold and shivering. The AC was on full-blast and the windows and sun roof wide open.

“What’s going on?” I asked Rob.

“I was falling asleep.”

“Well, I’m freezing!” Priorities, don’t you know.

We arrived at the park, took a nap for a couple of hours then went on a cave tour. We went on the historic cave tour and it was really great. I had been on the same tour with my parents a few years earlier and it was a highlight of my younger years.

If you’ve never been to Mammoth Cave National Park, I highly recommend it.

After spending a night there, we hopped back into the White Ghost and drove down to Knoxville, Tennessee and the 1982 World’s Fair.

Remember when there were World’s Fairs? Yeah, well they used to be a big, big deal. The Seattle Space Needle is a remnant of the 1962 World’s Fair and the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park, Chicago is all that remains of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair’s “White City.”

My memories of most of the details of that trip are fuzzy (I have a good memory but it is short). And that road trip was 30 years ago. The one thing that stands out was the trip back to Chicago. We again drove all night long (saving money by not stopping at a hotel and, again, being 17 years old). We were just south of Chicago, the lights of the city welcoming us home, when the heavens opened.

Rain started coming down in buckets and baskets. I never saw such a hard rain. And then the wind shield wipers stopped working. What were we going to do? We couldn’t see to drive, that’s how hard it was raining.

So we came up with the perfect solution – perfect for immortal 17 year olds. I drove (it was my dad’s car after all) and Rob was hanging out the open sunroof (ironically named) and wiped the windshield with a towel.

Like I said, perfect!

Now, that is a road trip!

This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Road, hosted by Peter Pollock. For more posts on this topic, please visit his website,

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