Mundelein IV

Nolite Timere – Do not be afraid.  

Duc In Altum – Put out into the deep.

jp-ii-alter

Saint John Paul II Chapel

These words (in Latin above), adorn the altar of the Chapel to Saint John Paul II at Mundelein Seminary.*  Both sentiments are placed appropriately, and profoundly.  The Saint urges us to conquer timidity, and cast our nets into the sea of all mankind: to be fearless fishers of men.  As meaningful to the Scouts I was with, as it was to the seminarians who work and live there.

I was returning to Mundelein for our Scout Troop’s annual “Fishers of Men” outing*, and our first stop at this Chapel was a fitting start on this rainy Saturday morning in mid-September.

heart-of-mercy

Courtyard Statue

The quiet solemnity of this holy place was to set the tone for a day of reflection and prayer.  At least it was for me, if not for the majority of young men I and my fellow Scout leaders were there to chaperone (i.e. keep from getting into trouble).  I like to think we were mostly successful chaperones, returning with the same number of Scouts we left with at least.

Those two quotes of John Paul II remained with me that day, as I listened to the words of the priests and seminarians, who came to guide us through their residences, lives and vocations.  I came to a better understanding of the ways Mundelein Seminary prepares her sons for the challenges of priesthood.

belvidere

The Belvedere

Whether from the story of a seminarian from overseas who heard the call at a very young age, or that of a lawyer like myself who left my profession to begin along the path to diocesan priesthood, each of their journeys left its impression on me.  How strong their Faith!

As I experience the changes age brings, I learn that those things I once deemed important begin to fade with the years:  the wealth I sought in my younger days, the importance of winning every argument, and my own stubborn insistence on being right.

I marvel that the young seminarians realize these are hollow goals, at little more than half my age.  They willingly forego wealth and materialism, wives and careers, to follow the way of the Cross.  I respect their choice and am humbled by it; but more, at times I am given the Grace to see through their eyes the wealth and reward their choice brings.

No path in this world is easy or without pain.  How we deal with the world and its troubles is what makes us human, and suffering is part of the path to the divine, as hard as that is to believe sometimes!  I suppose we must rely on Faith to persevere, in good times and bad.

Mundelein is a well-spring of that Faith.  In the quiet of the Main Chapel, I could almost feel the presence of those countless seminarians who passed through this sanctuary.  How many prayers and devotions does this place bear witness to?

006

Main Chapel

Solemn pictures of graduating classes, going back to the 1920’s, are a glimpse of the history of this edifice to Faith.  The few graves silent witness to lives of service and devotion.  Even the red brick of the buildings themselves seem to patiently preside over the onset of seasons, and years.

cemetery-angel

Statue at Cemetery

Yet of all I experienced in Mundelein, I return to the enthusiasm and cheer of those I met, their sense of mission and devotion, their understanding of obligation and trust in the Lord.  Above all, this is what truly inspires me during my annual visits.

immaculate-conception

Immaculate Conception

The rain eventually moved off, and we enjoyed blue skies and white clouds for the remainder of our day.  I suppose the Faith I experienced restored mine to some degree, and made my world a little brighter as well.

Not many trips can do that.

Peter Murphy                                                                         September 2016

*          the Seminary’s web page is:  http://mundeleinseminary.org

 

*          the Chicago Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting web page is:

http://home.catholicweb.com/accs/

 

Vegas Run

VEGAS RUN

             I recall feeling excited, as I watched my neighborhood in the south Chicago suburbs dwindle below the wing of the Southwest Air 737.  I was heading to Las Vegas for the first time as an adult, attending a legal seminar and intending to check off this item from my personal “bucket list.”  I would be in “Sin City” four days, and largely on my own, to experience and explore.

Canyons

The view from my window seat on the 3 ½ hour flight gradually changed:  from urban landscapes of houses, schools and businesses, to vast lonely farmlands, and finally to the desolation of canyons, mountains, and flatlands of southern Nevada.  The State is quite impressive, even from 34 thousand feet.  I wondered at all those souls who made this trip overland during the California Gold Rush and the Dust Bowl, and thought what a miracle my flight would have been to them.

Sign

My first impression, as I walked the jetway into McCarran International Airport, was how hot and dry Vegas was compared to Chicago in September.  I had expected the heat, of course, but was still mildly surprised at the intensity of it.  Once inside the terminal, the air conditioning was about able to keep up with the hot desert sun.  Heading to baggage claim, I was almost immediately overwhelmed by the vast numbers of chromed slot machines that seemed to fill every hallway and concourse.

It’s not true insight to remark that Vegas is a shrine to gambling, nor is it unexpected.  But the quantity and variety of available gaming, at all hours, make our local Midwest casinos seem quaint by comparison.

Casino Indoors

Luggage in hand, I grabbed a quick shuttle ride from the terminal to the Tropicana, my hotel for this trip and the location of my two-day seminar.  After an unusually long wait at check-in, I was in my suite, unpacking and changing my sensible cool weather clothes for the light-weight golf shirts and shorts nearly everyone wears on Las Vegas Boulevard, a.k.a. “The Strip.”

Sunset

During my stay, I managed to keep my suite pretty cool by blasting the air conditioning on high, and leaving it that way throughout my visit.  I also kept the large bathroom closed, figuring I didn’t need to keep it as cool as the sleeping areas.  It seemed to work pretty well, and heat really wasn’t an issue.

As I look back on it now, my strongest memory of that first day (and even those that followed), is the scent of the Tropicana and other casinos I visited on my first night in Vegas.  To me, it was a combination of citrus air freshener and the stale cigarette smoke from over 50 years of tourists and staff.  While not unpleasant, it did take some getting used to.

Overall, the casino/resorts along Vegas’ south Strip were like the rat pack movies of the early ‘60’s brought back to life.  Certainly, the introduction of cell phones and wireless devices (nearly everywhere), does much to destroy this illusion.  Yet the piped-in music, décor, and atmosphere hearken back to this earlier time.  Indeed, I feel the casinos cultivated this connection, a sentimental tie-in to the golden days of Vegas from  those bygone years.  A sort of Vegas kitsch to my mind.

Tropicana Pool

Talking to some of the local staff and guests who remember those days, I was struck by the passion they have for that Vegas.  Simpler times, when the Flamingo and Golden Nugget were two of the few casinos in operation.  It’s gotten pricier and more crowded, they say, but there is something about this Town that draws them here.

The Strip itself is a study in contrasts.  Walking from the bright desert sunshine into the cool darkness of the casinos, you will find a unique mixture of high energy passion and dull lethargy at almost any hour of the day or night.

Veer Towers

 

 

Groups of younger couples passionately gathered around a roulette table are distinct from the solitary slot machine players, lost in their world of spinning wheels, lights, and sounds.  The mad passion of a night in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, yet within a few feet, the heavy solemnity of the morning after Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy, and all under one roof.  It was, to me, a strange vibe.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would find myself considering my views alongside those of Hunter S. Thompson’s experience in “Fear and Loathing.”  As a long time Thompson fan, his weird tales were running through my mind as I walked the streets and casinos.  I can’t hope to compare my experiences to those of the Great Dr. Gonzo in any manner, but I guess I felt some of that energy he wrote about, even now, some 40 years later.  Vegas, if nothing else, is enduring.

The food at the hotels is quite spectacular, and any visitor should try at least one gourmet meal.  Aside from taking a shuttle from the Airport, I walked to most attractions along the Strip.  The pedestrian walkways make navigating downtown Vegas an easy proposition, but double check the advertising handouts you are frequently given before slipping them into your suitcase!  These are often pictures of scantily clad “escorts,” and not appropriate souvenirs for the younger members of your household.

New York Casino at Night

 

I broke even with the Vegas casinos on my trip, which I’m quite proud of.  Still, part of me regrets not putting down a last big bet on my lucky number as I was heading back to my airport shuttle.  If it hit, the winnings would have paid for the entire trip, plus a few more.

When I return next time, I’ll be more of a Vegas veteran than wide-eyed tourist.  This City has room for both.  If I might have enjoyed it more with the company of family or friends, it was a fun experience without the constant negotiations and compromises such company inevitable requires.

Las Vegas is the ancestral home of American gambling.  It continues on as our most electrifying example.  Everyone should experience Vegas at least once, if only to check it off their bucket list.

 

Pete Murphy

September, 2014

 

This article is also published by Leisure Group Travel @:

http://leisuregrouptravel.com/first-timers-las-vegas-perspective/

Check out this link!

Yesterday’s EPCOT

My latest Walt Disney World article, Yesterday’s EPCOT, is posted on the Allears Disney fan site:

http://allears.net/ae/issue781.htm

In this piece, I remember a road trip I took to EPCOT with my Brother in the late 1980’s.

Recall with me part of that magical place and time, from the challenges of keeping an old car on the road, to experiencing one of the first video conferencing systems.

I hope you enjoy this look back at EPCOT as much as I enjoyed reliving it!

 

Pete Murphy

 

Comforting Thoughts

COMFORTING THOUGHTS

      I was waiting for a Metra train to downtown Chicago yesterday, just looking at the billboard advertisements along the track, when I savored a comforting thought:

Somewhere in a Las Vegas casino right now, there is probably a  young man betting my favorite numbers on roulette. Suddently,  one if his numbers hits, paying out 35 to one. I imagine he bet heavily, as I always did on my favorite numbers.

DSCN2857

 

Oddly, this wasn’t the first time I’ve imagined such things, when under some level of stress. I used to think that, regardless of what I had to deal with, I could take comfort knowing  at that very moment a family was enjoying Disney World for the first time, maybe riding Small World or Spaceship Earth, or climbing aboard their first Monorail. It didn’t matter, as long as someone, somewhere, was experiencing happier times than I was.

DSCN2530

I’ve come to believe that the act of remembering is deeper, more immersive than we usually appreciate. I once read that our minds are far more complex than we realize, and that our meanderings, our recollections, are true relivings of our past experiences. Who can think of a primal fear, like falling from a dizzying height, watching a crawling spider, or seeing a plane crash on the news (to name 3 of my fears), and not, at least emotionally, touch a part of their subconscious that recoils in terror from such images?

I reason that if these fears, when genuinely experienced in my memory, can elicit those negative emotions, than why not instead try to elicit pleasant experiences in idle moments? Indeed, I have found that such total recall, to coin a phrase, is akin to the genuine experience.

And so, in this humble context, I offer this thought: when confronted with the worst of life, remember the best of life. If fearful, or stessed, or discomforted, remember times of joy!

Combat everyday annoyances with images of some perfect moment in time. Whether it be a cherished vacation, a gathering with family or friends, or a past triumph, a happy thought can at least compete with a momentary displeasure.

DSCN2444

I suppose, for me, it’s the idea of someone enjoying, at this very moment, some happy time in my past. It’s usually a travel experience: a jet lifting off for parts unknown, a cruise ship leaving dock and setting sail, watching pounding ocean waves on a sandy beach, or even that lucky spin of the roulette wheel.

DSCN2762

So I seek these varied experiences in my own life: the times when I shake things up, push past the routine, and dive into unknown waters. Good or bad, they are at least different.

And when I find in my wanderings that I’ve hit upon that special moment, that joyful happening to touch my soul (whether I realize it at the time or not), I have discovered treasure. I store it, embellish it, and protect it from the world.

If possible, I retain some physical keepsake of that experience. My shelves and closets are crowded with momentos of these special times, always new regardless of how long I’ve had them.

DSCN2898

Too often, I will need those life-affirming moments again. And you know, they never wear thin. They are always present, in the back of my mind, to offer comfort.

Those memories are the reason I love to travel, and hopefully always will.

– Pete Murphy

September, 2014

Mundelein’s Seminary: Worth the Time

Mundelein’s Seminary: Worth the Time

 

If you live in the Chicago area, as I do, or have an occasion to visit, I recommend a trip to Mundelein’s St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. Established in 1844, the Seminary was re-charted in 1929 by Archbishop George Mundelein. The beautiful setting, historically significant buildings, and long tradition of religious education of this Institution, would refresh the soul of any Roman Catholic.

I visited St. Mary last Fall during a scout fishing trip, organized through the Chicago Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting (CCS). It was a truly beautiful day, all pleasant sunshine, and still a bit warm for mid-September. We drove a little over an hour north of our homes in the south suburbs, and soon entered the 600 acre campus with its forest preserve atmosphere. After an introduction and short program of prayer featuring some of the seminarians, the scouts were free to find a spot and try their luck at fishing the waters of St. Mary’s Lake.

I should point out that fishing the Lake is not always permitted at St. Mary. The scouts obtained special permission through the Archdiocese CCS, and anyone planning a visit should check out their web site or call to check hours and visitor policies.*

Along with a few of our scout leaders, I brought the recent graduates of my summer-long Ad Altare Dei (to the Alter of God) program. Ad Altare Dei is a Catholic boy scout religious awards program, involving a load of work and study for the four young men who completed their awards last summer.   They each received medals at a special Mass at Holy Name Cathedral early this year, but last September they were at St. Mary to tour the campus and learn about being a seminarian. I learned a great deal as well.

The seminarian who volunteered to show us around was in his first year at Mundelein. He had completed his undergraduate work at St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University (formerly Niles College Seminary), prior to being accepted at St. Mary.

I was amazed to learn from him the amount of education required of a Catholic priest.   Undergraduate studies can take 4-6 years, and a candidate can spend the same amount of time at St. Mary as a graduate seminarian, discerning his vocation and earning the knowledge expected of a diocesan priest. More time, certainly, than it took for me to earn my degree in law. I better understand why support of our seminarians is so important a part of our Faith.

Before making this journey, I took some time to ask a few of my colleagues and my parish priest what to expect.   By sheer coincidence, two attorneys I know quite well had spent time at Niles and had visited St. Mary. They regaled me with stories of questionable authenticity. One story was about a haunted dorm room that was home to an exorcist at one time, now long since sealed up. Another legend, this one quite probably true, involved a pair of seminarians who died boating on the Lake several years ago, the robes they wore becoming quickly waterlogged when they fell in.   Whether accurate or not, I was intrigued by this font of Catholic wisdom before I first stepped out of my car onto the campus.

That Saturday, we toured the library and some of the dorm buildings with our young seminarian. He proved quite knowledgeable, as one would expect, about the day to day life at St. Mary. The students rely almost solely on support from their home parishes and the Knights of Columbus, and earn little income even as newly ordained priests. As our guide put it, seminarians do not measure success in terms of money, but in the Grace that comes with serving others.

He had heard his call when contemplating the Miracle of Transubstantiation: that part of Mass when the host becomes the Body of Christ. I’ve often told my scouts to pay special attention during this sacred moment, and humbly pray to the Holy Spirit for His gift of Faith as they receive the Sacrifice Most Holy.

During the remainder of the ground tour, our seminarian also related a tradition that involved placing either a Bears or Packers cap on the statue of a cardinal (I forget which one), depending on which team won over the weekend (or which fans gained the upper hand after dark). I also remember the outdoor Stations of the Cross, and the little grotto being renovated nearby.

The Lake itself was a wonder. Built along its shores across from The Chapel of Mary are great stone piers and a boathouse.   The three adjoined piers jut out into the Lake in somber elegance, and atop the center pier is a tall gazebo of staid columns.

This center pier, called The Belvedere (see below), offers a magnificent view of the surrounding Lake and forest area, and is well worth the short climb to the top. Of all the memories I have of the outdoor campus, The Belvedere remains the most remarkable in my mind. Its majestic prominence reminds me of the prow of a great ocean liner from a bygone era, bravely sailing from shore into the storms and troubles of the world.   Like the seminarians this school trains, nurses, and then casts upon the waters, with the hope they will prove as steadfast.

Image

Also of special note is the Chapel of Mary. Completed in 1925, it was made to honor the Virgin Mother under her title of the Immaculate Conception. This Chapel dedicated to Mary is a true rarity in our western world, and Her numerous titles (in Latin) adorn the upper walls inside. Our seminarian lead us in a prayer service in this hallowed place.   We humbly asked Our Lord, through the intercession of Mary, to support our scouts throughout their lives, and for each to be open to whatever God has in mind for them. It was a moment of special grace to hear again the words of Jesus, encouraging all to follow Him.

After our short prayer service, we left the Chapel and enjoyed a picnic lunch near the soccer field. The rest of that afternoon passed in quiet pursuit of the small fish in the Lake. Quite a few of our scouts got lucky, and one boy caught over 20, releasing each one back into the tranquil waters.

 
I didn’t land any fish that day.  Yet, I trust that some of the young fishermen I came with will one day, like the Apostles before them, hear the call of Jesus and become “fishers of men.”

–   Pete Murphy                       April 2014

*          The home page of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary is: www.usml.edu/

Telephone (847) 566-6401

The Newfoundland Ferry

THE NEWFOUNDLAND FERRY

 

I was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.  At the age of 3, I emigrated to the U.S. with my Parents and infant Brother, settling in the far south suburbs of Chicago, in the same Village where my Aunt and Uncle lived.

 

I have few memories of my time in St. John’s before moving to the U.S., but many more of my trips to Newfoundland during my childhood.  Airfare being out of reach for my Father, those visits began with a long car trip through the U.S. and half of Canada, then on into Nova Scotia.  It was there that we left the mainland for The Rock, crossing on the Newfoundland Ferries:  from North Sidney, Nova Scotia, across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland.

 

Our earliest trips, in the late 1960’s, took four or five days.  From Chicago north to Detroit, over the Ambassador Bridge (or under the companion tunnel) to Windsor, Ontario, then east on the Trans-Canada Highway through Quebec and New Brunswick, and finally Nova Scotia.  We drove big Fords for the most part, and in those early years stopped most nights to sleep in roadside motels.

 

This was, of course, long before GPS systems, as satellites themselves were in their infancy.  Traveling by car wasn’t quite as routine or predictable as it is now, and we had many adventures along the roads between Chicago to North Sidney.

 

Getting lost was not uncommon, since few road maps included every road you could find yourself on.  Meals were also hit or miss, but I remember some great little diners, with uniformed waitresses and the best apple pies in the world.  The big burger franchises hadn’t yet forced these roadside Mom & Pop restaurants out of business.

 

Finding a service station was also tricky.  Dad usually started looking around the half-tank mark on the fuel gauge, and his solemn rule was never leave the highway unless you could see the gas station from the exit.  Even then, it was a search for whatever station would take your gas card.  Gas prices were still pretty low, and we always got an oil check and window wash from an attendant when we pulled in.

 

Arriving in North Sidney, Nova Scotia, was an exciting time.  The ocean crossing awaited us, and the seaside Town smelled of salt air and diesel exhaust from the huge engines of the dockside ferries.  By the time we made it, we usually had reservations on whatever ferry was in port and heading to Port Aux Basques.

 

Not always knowing our planned departure time, Dad usually called from a roadside payphone when we were less than a day from North Sidney.  Most times we were lucky enough to get a cabin for the 12 hour crossing, on one of the big Canadian National (CN) Marine Ferries, with names like William Carson, Leif Eiriksson, and Ambrose Shea.*

 

Our first look at the boat we were to make the crossing on usually came when we neared the ferry parking lot.  Whether on a bright sunny day, or a cool early Spring night, the images of those vessels is something I will never forget.

 

The ferries were massive, holding 4 decks of cars, trucks, and even trains.  Purpose-built for the crossing, I remember distinctly the dramatic white superstructures of the ships, with the red-orange CN smokestacks atop the tall decks.  I remain awed by the sheer power and majesty of these behemoths, waiting in their docks to brave the fathomless seas.  They appeared, then as now, equal to the task.

 

Once checked in through the gatehouse, we parked our car in the long line of other vehicles waiting to drive on board.  The ferry lot was marked with lines to facilitate loading, and once our car was in line we had to leave it there until departure.

 

Most times, this afforded us the chance to walk around the nearby community of small restaurants and shops.  There was usually a subtle vibration in the air, as those big marine engines idled in port, waiting for their next trip across the North Atlantic.

 

Soon it was time to board, the ferry whistle echoing the quiet streets with notice of departure.  We hurried to our car, and with a thump of the steel ramp drove on board.  Dark and damp, the car decks were a hovel of activity, as each vehicle was parked close to its neighbors and chained down to the deck.  This was pretty important, as at the end of one crossing we learned that a VW bug had broken loose and smashed into a few of its nearby companions.

 

Next we walked the deck to the narrow stairs that lead up to the cabin levels.  We carried a few of our suitcases, but my Brother and I were too excited to notice these mundane details.  We were on board!  Heading topside, we couldn’t wait to look down the sides of the ship and into the water.

 

If the shore waters were a bit oily, once out of the harbor the big ocean rollers more than made up for it.  The rocking of the ship as we hit the open sea was subtle, but the long drop to the surface from the upper decks (as demonstrated by a quick shot of spittle) was awesome.  On some crossings, the spray made it up to even those dizzying heights, hitting my lips with the salt tang of water that had perhaps journeyed around the globe.

 

There is something both familiar and ancient in the taste of sea spray to me.  I can’t help but recall how we all once came from the sea, that it makes up the very blood in our veins.  Not the noticeably sour taste of the science experiments that all kids do to demonstrate dissolved solutions (and we’ve all tasted that concoction), but the more subtle reminder that this water covers most of the world, and transcends the fleeting taste it delivers on the lips.

 

Our cabin below was every bit as exotic as the seas above.  Once out of sight of land, we made our way downstairs to the tiny metal compartment that was to be home for the next half day.

 

On night crossings, we settled down in bunks, with heavy curtains to hold you in place if the ship started to rock.  Each bed had its own light for reading, and came complete with a flat pillow, tight sheet, and coarse woolen blanket.  Under the beds were those ubiquitous orange life preservers we hoped never to need.

 

In the morning, our bathroom was another new experience.  The tiny sink had a shower head attached to it, and with no tub or shower enclosure, you could spray water till completely soaked as the suds drained down into the middle of the room.  Small bars of red-wrapped CN soap helped us clean up, and then it was off to the galley for breakfast.

 

CN Marine had a well deserved reputation for excellent food in those days, and rumor had it that some very fine chefs opted for employment with the line.  I remember many great meals, including hand carved turkey and ham, homemade mashed potatoes, eggs cooked to order, and slices of chocolate cake.  Our meals on board were among the best we had on those vacations.

 

Back on deck, we watched as dim brown outlines above the dark water resolve into our first look at Newfoundland from the sea.  It is quite a site, and one that stirs the heart of every Newfoundlander.  Soon, though, we’d get the call to head back down to our cars and prepare for departure.

 

Our voyage nearly over, my Brother and I were usually so engrossed with seeing St. John’s that we little noticed departing the big ferries.  I do remember the dark of the lower deck turning bright when the cargo doors opened, and how my eyes hurt when we finally drove outside into the sunshine.

 

We usually left Port Aux Basques quickly, to rejoin the Trans-Canada and the long drive to Newfoundland’s Capital City.  My aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends were all there, waiting for our arrival and the endless visits it would entail.

 

Before one of these crossings, while in North Sidney, my Brother and I participated in the age-old ritual of a note in a bottle.  We had drained our glass-bottled sodas outside a small grocery store in the streets of town, and filled out notes giving our names, addresses, and that part of the sea we intended to launch our messages from.  We corked them and let them go late one night, in the middle of our passage.

 

I’d like to say here that we heard something of them in later years, but like so many things lost to the sea, we never knew what became of those bottles.  I guess I’ve thought of them over the years:  floating on the vast oceans, washed up on some nameless shore, or broken to pieces in a terrifying storm far from land.  These images never lessen my joy and wonder in crossing the ocean, and indeed, have made my voyages since then even more exciting.

 

Ships in the end are magical things, giving us the seas and landing us on distant and exotic shores.  Our earliest form of global transportation, they remain the fulfillment of our dreams of travel.  The opportunity of a sea voyage is something I don’t believe I could ever refuse.

 

–           Pete Murphy            May 2014

 

        This Article appeared in print in the August, 2014, issue of

        Downhome Magazine (Volume 27, No. 3) 

Tinkles

TINKLES

            When I think back on those long car trips I took with my Folks and younger Brother in the late 60’s and early 70’s, one of my fondest memories is of how we kept ourselves busy during the long miles.  Handheld computer games, even the simple ones like Mattel Football or Simon from Milton Bradley, were still quite a few years away.  The truly overwhelming assortment of distractions offered today by Kindle or iPad were beyond anything even NASA could conceive of in those years.  So, we enjoyed simple pleasures.

Most summers we would load up the Ford LTD and head out on highway.  Two weeks away from home:  staying in motels (the best of these had pools), eating at diners, seeing the tourist sites, and spending many hours driving each day.  Aside from the occasional two day stop in a major city or destination, we lived on the roads.

Seatbelts technically came in most cars back then, but were simple lap belts that were soon buried under the seat cushions.  A useful weapon to swing in a pitched battle with my Brother during our legendary back seat wars, their regular use was largely discouraged.  These wars were always a conquest for more space, and usually settled with a hasty truce, after the third or forth threat from the front seat of “pulling over and coming back there” finally seemed imminent.  And so, we could sit up and look out the windows, lay across the back bench seat, or scoot down in the floor wells of our old Ford.  The floor was where we kept our toys and the best place to play, out of sight of Mom and Dad.

In the weeks leading up to vacation, it was a ritual to assemble the stuff we would bring to play with in the car.  Aside from the back seat, there was no other place to pack our playthings, so we had to pick toys that would fit and still allow room to play, fight, and sleep.  I kept several cigar boxes my Uncle had given me over the years, and filled them with toys, paper pads and pencils, books, and magazines, in preparation for the trip.  It was a meticulous process, and my first real experience with decision making.

Of course, we also played car bingo, 20 questions, I spy, and tried spotting the license plates from all 50 states (no surprise that Hawaii was the toughest to find).  But the tiny toys that filled many hours on the road for my Brother and I were tinkles.

I think my Brother and I coined that name, and it certainly doesn’t occur in this context anywhere else that I’ve found.  It’s probably derived from trinket, as mispronounced by my much younger self.  For us, it came to mean any small toy that would fit (with several others) in a cigar box.

These toys could include just about anything, from Crackerjack prizes to gumball charms, Matchbox cars, old campaign pins, souvenir pens, superballs, sliding puzzles, and magnetic corgi dogs.  Whether discovered in a parking lot, bought from a vending machine, or found at the bottom of a Crackerjack box, they made their way into a cigar box to tour the U.S. with us.

My very first collection, and from which all of my later collections would grow, was my tinkles collection.  They really did provide us hours of fun on the back floor of that old LTD.  I remember drawing a crude map on a blank sheet of paper, and then setting a magnetic corgi dog on top, while its twin brother on the bottom moved it through parks, farms, and cities.  Or taking apart the 3D plastic toy puzzle/keychain, bought for $.50 from a vending machine at a highway oasis, and then handing it up to the front seat for reassembly.

The souvenir pens were a treat, particularly the “floating” ones, where the Maid of the Mist sailed across the front of Niagara Falls, or the Disney Train crossed in front of the Contemporary Resort.  Tipping the pen the other way let you relive the experience, pretty much forever.

If you were lucky enough to find one (and talk someone into buying it), the mini slide viewers were one of the best tinkles around.  Sold as souvenirs at many of the places we toured, each was shaped like a camera or television, and looking through the small magnifier revealed a colored picture of the place.  It was a personal and private show you could enjoy whenever you needed a break from watching the road.

Nighttime in the back seat was special, with most of the traffic gone away.  It was quiet all around outside, and looking through the rear window revealed either the bright lights of tall highway lamps, or the soft glow of stars.  The AM radio up front was usually turned down, playing soft jazz or country western.  My coveted pen light was near at hand, and as long as I didn’t shine it up front or onto the roof lining (or directly into my Brother’s face), I was free to play with my tinkles so long as I could keep awake.  Shining the light through the little plastic and metal figures made them seem to move.  Worlds, cultures, and centuries came and went in the back seat of that lonely Ford, driving down the back roads at night.

Like all things from my childhood, taking tinkles along on car trips eventually came to an end.  Those I didn’t lose ended up in a cigar box in storage, like so many sad scenes from Toy Story.  But this story would be incomplete if I didn’t mention that some few were found and saved, and more than a few were picked up on eBay over the past couple of years.

Image

I’ve shared them with my kids, getting them started on their own tinkle collections.  Although these simpler toys may have a tough time competing with iPads and Kindles, I think it’s worth the fight.

And today’s seatbelts are harder to swing as weapons in the back seat.

 

–           Pete Murphy     May 2014

Welcome!

Compass

Greetings intrepid reader!  After many years of mundane writing, I am returning to my passion for travel and journalism.  Here you will relive with me vacations of the past, during those less complicated years of the 1960’s and 70’s.  We will also find new destinations, and explore today’s travel from a sensory, and often reflective, point of view.

I hope you will consider this time well spent.  Now, let’s get moving!

 

Pete Murphy