M y husband and I came to USA in Omaha, NE in 1974. Two months later we bought a second hand 1960 model Fiat. (A real lemon.) Two days after my husband got his driver’s license we took our first long distance road trip with an elderly couple (a friend’s parents) showing them the Midwest. We took them to Colorado and the Rocky Mountain National Park. We climbed the serpentine roads up to Pike’s Peak and screeched the tires coming down the hairpin bends. Our guests never knew that my husband never drove a car till a week ago!

That was our first trip and we were hooked. Long before hearing the words ‘road trip’ or learning about Jack Kerouac, we set out on every long weekend and every holiday, to north, south, east or west. We became familiar with all the free guidebooks, maps and Triptiks from AAA. Omaha being right in the middle of the country there were plenty of destinations in all directions. The well marked and well maintained wide-open roads with no speed limits in those days were too amazing and exciting in our Indian eyes.

The citrus-y nature of our Fiat became evident the very next year when we set north towards South Dakota, Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. Our car broke down near the famous Wall Drug. We had to leave it with a mechanic and hitch a ride to the parks. In those days it was still safe to hitch rides and easy to get one wearing a sari. Coming back the car was drivable but had to be pushed to get a start. Of course pregnant me, in a sari had to do the pushing while dear husband sat at the wheel. Then when the car started I had to run and jump in the running car before it stalled again.

Our car never quite recovered and terminally developed some incurable problem with the reverse gear. So we couldn’t back the car at all and had to go around instead of backing and park very carefully so we didn’t have to back out. It caused us so much problem in the snowy Midwest winter that we had to get rid of it. Even that was not easy. All our friends and colleagues knew about our car and we couldn’t palm it off to anyone. No dealer would touch it. Ultimately with a heavy heart we ended up donating our first love to Goodwill.

Since then many cars have come and gone. We have had two kids and I used both the maternity leaves in cross country road trips. We’ve taken kids everywhere without car TV, computer games or Walkmans. Heck, we didn’t even have car seats for babies! I remember bundling my newborn daughter in an open lid suitcase and tying that with seat belts. I found it rather easy to travel with babies as they slept most of the times. We found helpful strangers everywhere if we needed to warm up the baby’s formula (in a bar) or take the older kid to the bathroom (in the bush). Yes, like all typical American parents, we’ve had our share of accidents, mishaps, lost keys, motion sickness, car singing, game playing, sibling bickering in the backseat, and interminable ‘Are we there yet?’. However, looking back, even the most miserable times seem memorably hilarious and my kids love to tell those stories to their kids.

We have driven with other relatives and friends too. A challenging passenger was my mother, a strict vegetarian. While driving through Wyoming and Montana (showing her Yellowstone park and the Tetons) there were no vegetarian restaurants to be found in the entire Midwest and mountain states. I had cooked rice, dal and sabzi and froze them in individual packets in the cooler. Every day in the motel I defrosted them, heated up in a small cooker and fed her. My children were not fussy about food and ate whatever was available on the road. For shorter trips we always took puri and alu sabzi or egg salad sandwiches—both favorites with my kids.

In last 40+ years we have traveled to, driven in and visited pretty much all the 50 states including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well parts of Canada and Mexico. Now that the kids are grown and gone, the travel bug is still alive and well. Next weekend I’m planning to go to Fargo. Ya!

Chhanda Bewtra
Omaha, Nebraska
Photo Location
Badlands, South Dakota
Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota
My husband trying to fix our car

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