Travel 30 Years Later

A look at 1984 and 2014 road trips

Common in 2014, cell phone cameras did not exist in 1984.
Thirty-some years ago, my husband David and I took several road trips to explore California and other areas out west. With a few exceptions, we had no itinerary that required us to be a certain place at a certain time. These were the days of Cabbage Patch Dolls and The Cosby Show, Cheers and The Golden Girls. These were the days of Reagan/Bush.

Since then, we have traveled to other countries, Japan twice and most recently Germany, where detailed planning was essential because of people we were connecting and staying with. These later trips were great adventures but we were longing for travel with no planning, with the freedom of not knowing where we would be each day and not knowing where we would sleep.

This year we took a journey with openness to serendipity. With the exception of visits to two friends on the way and a nephew’s wedding in Aspen, Colorado,with a stay at an expensive condo, the rest of our trip was wide open. The wedding was the catalyst for a five-week road trip with the opportunity to explore the four contiguous states we had never seen—Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

Some changes

Although the feeling of adventure was the same as 30 years ago, I soon realized how different this 2014 trip was from 1984. For one thing, we were carrying more prescription medicine. Physically, later years make a huge difference. But other things had changed too.

In the early 80’s, seat belts were in all cars but seat belt enforcement had not begun. On this recent
trip, we were diligent about wearing them—after all, those tickets could add up. We were not so diligent about speeding, though, and when we arrived home, there was a speeding ticket for $75 from Iowa. Caught on a camera that showed there was absolutely no defense against the ticket. Speed and red light cameras have been born since our earlier trips. Years ago David got an “energy-wasting” ticket on an Arizona Indian reservation because his over-the-limit speed consumed more gas than necessary. This time, in addition to the ticket based on a speed camera, he was stopped by a police officer for speeding, not on a reservation, and was lucky enough to get off with a warning. By the way, the average cost of gas 30 years ago was 91 cents a gallon, a far cry from this summer’s $3.05 to $3.76 a gallon depending on the remoteness of the area and the tax rates. If we had had a Tesla like our California friends Nancy and Steve Ross instead of a Camry, we would have saved much money on gas and plugged in at superchargers. I guess we're a little behind in updating technology in some cases.

Photo of Tesla charging. Courtesy of Steve Ross.
We would never have guessed years ago that a good business to invest in would be water that people paid for! This trip found us carting bottled water around in the back of our car. And if we wanted to know the outside temperature then, we stopped the car and got outside to find out that it was hot enough for discarded chewing gum to blow in the breeze and melt on my sandals. This time, all we had to do was look at the dashboard to gauge the outside temperature. We could also see how many miles we could go on our tank of gas. Sometimes, David ran this a little close with the hope of finding cheaper gas in the next town. 


Navigation and information access was also dramatically different. Then there were only paper maps for us. This time I still used AAA maps to easily see the big picture, but there was our old TomTom navigator which gave us mileage, time estimates and maps. Susan, as we named the digital voice that was guiding us, was sometimes slow and constantly changing her mind but was, for the most part, quite helpful. Of course, if we had really been up-to-date, our navigator would have been built into our car. (Some catching up to do here too.)

We also had more female company—my iPhone’s Siri. In the early 80’s we had no cell phone. To keep in touch with family at home, we had to find a pay phone. (Try to find a pay phone these days!) While driving on Interstate 70, we made calls home to check on things and friends called to check on us. On this trip, we could connect my iPhone to our Camry’s car speaker through Bluetooth and ask Siri questions like, “How wide is Nebraska?” or “Where is a Holiday Inn Express nearby?” Then she would ask if we would like directions or would we like her to call the hotel. She dialed and we could book rooms from the car on the way to the next town where we would stay that night.

On this trip in 2014, we could use reward points for free stays at the Holiday Inn Express. In the lobby of a hotel where we wanted to sleep that night, David used his cell phone to talk with someone at the chain’s 800 number to get the best price. Then he often managed to get us an upgrade by showing the clerk in the lobby his Priority Club card. We managed to stay free for eight nights this time, many of them upgraded rooms.

Satellite screen capture from my phone.
 As a passenger, I had an enhanced view of our journey—I could look out the car windows but I could also use my iPhone to see a satellite view as we drove along. Wow! My friend Brycia at home suggested that I use the app “Find My Friends” so she could follow us vicariously as she watered our newly planted trees and filled our bird feeders at home.

In the early 80’s, we had no laptop and hotels did not offer Internet connection. We just were not there yet with technology. And when we traveled in the late 90’s with a laptop, many hotels had no Internet connection and those that did charged for it. This time I could check e-mail and go on the Internet from my car as long as there was a cell tower close enough for connection. Most hotels/motels now provide free Wi-Fi and if it was not good, I could use the hot spot option on my phone. Back home in the early 80’s, we had a Commodore 64 for the kids and a Kaypro which I used to send the text of my photo columns to the Baltimore Evening Sun using a landline phone cradle to transmit data at 300-bauds.

Although David insisted on bringing along some CD’s for music in the car, he did not have to. I have a collection of music downloaded from iTunes on my phone which plays through the car’s speakers via Bluetooth. Maybe he just did not like my selection of New Age sounds. When we realized we had missed an episode of the Colbert Report, I connected to the Internet on my phone as we were driving along and played it for us to listen to on the car’s speakers. David did talk about the advantages of getting Sirius satellite radio for the car in the future so we could always find NPR. 


I always take lots of photos on our trips but much has changed. Years ago, I carried Kodachrome and Tri-X film for my two Nikon FE cameras and then had to wait eagerly to see the developed slides and contact sheets after we returned. Now instant gratification rules and I love it. On this trip I could shoot photos with my Nikon D800 and see them immediately. Or I could shoot with my iPhone and upload immediately to Facebook. Later, on the laptop, David wrote blogs and used some of my photos.

Unlike the early 80’s, in the days of the 20-cent stamps for letters, we did not need to send postcards to our digitally connected friends who followed us on Facebook. However, we did send postcards almost daily to my unconnected, nearly 93-year-old father who these days gets the remote control confused with his cordless phone.
A selfie postagram sent from cell phone while driving.
The amazing thing though was that we did not have to buy stamps and find a mailbox. What’s more, the postcards were my original photos, often those with us smiling into my iPhone for a selfie, a word that did not enter our vocabulary until 2013. I took photos on my iPhone, opened the Postagram app, added the photo, wrote a message, chose the recipient and paid 99 cents charged to my credit card. And all this while on the road. My father then received a printed original postcard in the mail. Talk about convenient, not to mention price! The cost of a stamp for letters today is 49 cents and for postcards 34 cents while generic scenery post cards run 50 cents and up.

If I had remembered to set my Apple TV wall frame before we left, I could even have sent my photos to the frame for when we walked into the house at the end of our trip.

Yes, thirty years have brought many changes in travel style for our road trips. One thing, however, that has not changed was the warmth and friendliness of people we met along the way then and now. For those details, you’ll have to read David’s blogs:

Part 1: Western Maryland

Photography by Bonnie Schupp and music "Hide and Seek" by Time for Three

Building B at the MVA

Waiting at the MVA

Seems like it was just two years ago but the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland informs me that after eight years, it is time to renew my license. They also tell me that I need to do it in person. I assume it is because I need a new photo even if I still look the same as I did eight years ago.

I expect about an hour wait and make the logical assumption that the best time to go is in the middle of the day. People working 9-5 might go into work late after going to the MVA or they might leave work early to get there before 4:30 when they close.

As I enter the Glen Burnie parking lot, signs tell me that I need to go to Building B. I do not have to drive around very long before I find a parking space. My logic looks good. 

Entering the building, I am assaulted by a sea of bodies sitting on metal benches, 13 stations that I note immediately and two monitors. I am forced to look far to my right, in an illogical spot, to discover the information line. It moves quickly, I tell the clerk that I am there for license renewal and she hands me a printed  slip of paper with the number B 100. 

I find an empty seat on one of the benches with the backrest angled way too far back. I would find out soon that maybe there was some thought put into the bench design. Maybe people could more easily take a nap, although I don’t see how anyone could take a nap in that environment and I do not notice anyone doing so. 

The Alphabet Lineup

Every few minutes, an automatic voice announces, “Now serving [a letter and number] at counter [1-15]."  The problem I notice right away is that none of the letters is B, mine. The sounds of the letters run together. Why do they choose letters that sound the same, especially with an automated voice? BCDEGPTVZ all sound the same as do XFS, IY, MN and JK. Why don’t they choose letters that do not sound like one another such as AHLOQRUW? I begin to wish they had decided on the lettersBINGO. At least the letters do not sound the same and I could imagine my bingo chips in a straight row.

I do not look at the monitors after I notice rapidly changing images and text. Why should I submit myself to advertising and public service announcements? After I begin to confuse the sounds of T with G and V  and the sound of F with S, I look at the monitors again. There in large letters on the left monitor is the number being serviced and the station that is servicing it. Duh! That must be for the sound challenged people like me and for the numerous Latino people waiting on the benches with me. I spend a few minutes looking at the content. Each ad flashes on the screen for about ten seconds while the service number that is announced flashes large on the screen for about seven or eight seconds before it moves over to the smaller list on the left. Advertising receives priority even at the MVA.

Now I notice the sequence of numbers: T 524, G 47, G 48, S 33, V 68. Some of the T’s are three-digit numbers while some have only two digits. Makes no sense. And where are the B’s? I want to hear them buzzing. I figure the different numbers stand for various categories of MVA business and eventually I hear a few B’s. It is disconcerting, however, that the B numbers are around B 34 when I arrived while my slip of paper shows B 100. My optimistic brain tells me that I might be waiting an hour and a half rather than the hour I was expecting. Thank goodness for my iPhone and a water fountain in the back.

Wait Time Outlasts Battery

After an hour and a half, I hear B 71 but this is in the middle of many other letters. By the time I hear T 43, my phone is down to 40% battery power. K 17 is annouced in Spanish but the other K’s are not. How do they know they need to announce that one K in Spanish but not the other K’s? Right after T 525, a middle-aged blond woman storms out of B Building yelling, “Fucking stupid! Dumb jerk!” No one pays much attention because their thoughts are also filled with four-letter words in the discomfort of their long wait.

By the time K 14 is announced and not long before B 55, my phone is down to 29% power. Then at T 52, the low battery warning pops up. That’s when I turn my Mophie charger/case switch to green to juice my phone before the battery dies. I hear B 96 just before a man sits close enough to me that I immediately know he is a heavy smoker, but I can now feel the light at the end of the tunnel and I don’t move.

B 100! Bingo! I unfold my body and walk to station #2 as directed and find a pleasant MVA employee handling my license renewal. She takes my photo which looks just like I feel inside and offers to take another one. The second looks a lot worse than the one on my old license. Could it be that I am ten pounds heavier and eight years older or could it be that the color their equipment turns out is so poor that I look jaundiced?


When I ask about the wait time, the nice woman putting together my new license explains that the letters stand for different types of business that people are there for such as learners’ permits, name changes and other details. For some reason the learners’ permits get through faster because of earlier closing for that category. As a result, there are more employees handling B numbers, license renewals, later in the day after the learners’ permits are finished.

She says that early, just before the MVA opens at 8 a.m. or late, around 4:20 just before they close the doors at 4:30, are the best times to come for shorter wait times. This I learn after little more than 2 ½ hours waiting to renew my license. At least I can warn my husband—his renewal is next.

So much for my theory about the middle of the day at MVA.