Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Reflections on the Summer of Love: Part Three

John Elliott


This is the third installment in an ongoing memoir in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco.
Last time, I was just waking from my front-seat slumber at first light and we were cruising along through endless cornfields somewhere near Iowa City. The good doctor, my new friend and driver on this road trip, was not only a cardiac specialist but also a relentless long-distance driver. In just under 48 hours, he had driven 1,150 miles; with his three hitchhikers, we had logged 500 miles.
We pulled off at another rest area for breakfast. Same routine as dinner — pick up every speck of trash in sight while Doc prepared breakfast. Out came some well-worn plastic bowls and utensils. On the menu was a choice of Corn Flakes or Special K and sliced peaches and apples.
I felt a sense of relief knowing our sustenance so far hadn’t cost a penny. We planned to use some of our paltry pocket change to buy three of those travel toothbrushes when we finally stopped for supplies. Even 16-year-olds can’t go for too long without brushing their teeth.
Doc never asked why we didn’t have luggage. In our minds we didn’t see the need. We weren’t runaways, though we must have looked the part. However, technically, and under most of the laws of the states we were traveling through, we were.
We talked among ourselves and tried to figure out how we could call three sets of parents with one phone call. Stopping for gas and groceries in Iowa City would give us an opportunity to get exact change and find a payphone. 
The pit stop was a quick one and after one in our party reached his mom, her response dimmed our enthusiasm a bit as she was none too pleased and said: “Your father is going to be fit to be tied,” which is never a good sign.
There was no answer at my house. The phone just rang and rang, and my four quarters and a dime came bouncing back through the coin return. Answering machines linked to land lines, though not yet popular in 1967 and a rare commodity in homes, were actually invented in the early 20th century and first sold in the U.S. in 1960.
Like most new technology, they were pricey at first and most folks believed they weren’t needed. Can you imagine? 
They became much more widely used after the restructuring of AT&T in 1984; these early machines used cassette tapes and became affordable. Soon after, sales eclipsed one million units annually.
Once back on the road, Doc made quick work of the next 100-plus miles that brought us to Des Moines, Iowa. It’s a good thing too because there still wasn’t much to look at except more cornfields.
That afternoon we caught a fleeting glimpse of Council Bluffs, Iowa, then it was across the Missouri River to Omaha, Neb. The only thing I knew about Omaha then was that it was the headquarters of Mutual of Omaha, an insurance and financial services company. 
My father was a career claims manager in the insurance industry and worked in his early years for Liberty Mutual and then many years for Ohio Casualty. Mutual of Omaha was, and still is, one of the insurance industry giants, founded in 1909.
Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom made its NBC television debut in 1963 with Marlin Perkins as narrator. It was a groundbreaking wildlife documentary and practically an American living room institution for families in the 1960s. 
Marlin Perkins stayed with the show until 1985. He died one year later.       
In 2002, the series became part of the Animal Planet network. Its numerous episodes focused on the plight of animals everywhere and their struggle to survive. Reruns of the show still play well if the viewer can forgive the less sophisticated camera technique (many previews and original episode highlights are also available on YouTube). 
I can’t remember how the connector road skirted busy Omaha but we headed south and must have crossed the Missouri River at Bellevue via the historic Bellevue Bridge. Built in 1950 at a cost of $2.8 million, it’s a continuous steel truss bridge that today is obsolete because of safety concerns.
We stopped briefly at a viewpoint for a bite to eat and there was  one of those history plaques with information about the Missouri River. The Missouri is the longest river in North America — it flows east and south for 2,341 miles. 
Rising from the Rocky Mountains in western Montana it enters the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, Mo. A tributary of the Mississippi, the Missouri flows 20 miles longer than the Mississippi River.
From midday and into early evening we made another 300 miles driving nearly the entire width of Nebraska. It looked a lot like Iowa until we approached North Platte. 
In the setting sun off in the west there appeared a butte, a plateau, and scattered table top mountains here and off in the distance. For the first time on this epic journey west, the endless flatlands of the Midwest began to give way to the plains and the authentic wild, wild West.
As we approached Ogallala, Neb., we saw several bison in corrals next to  teepee or two so tourists could stop for photo opportunities. Of course, there was native gear like tom-toms, headdresses, bows and arrows, and all sorts of souvenirs for sale.
We finally had arrived at the Great Plains and Sioux country. On U.S. Highway 80, what we saw first were the tourist traps. Doc pulled off and though we offered to sleep in the car, he booked two rooms in one of those folksy motels that once existed by the thousands along every two-lane stretch of highway. 
I can’t recall the name of the motel that day but I do remember a banner we drove under as we passed through Gothenburg, Neb., about an hour before we stopped for the night. 
It read “Home of Nebraska’s NFL Punt, Pass, and Kick 13-year-old Champion.” 
Now that’s quite a claim to fame. 
To be continued