I know what it's like to ride in a guided missile. I once woke up in the back seat of our family's Dodge Polara station wagon as my father drove our family through the desert southwest. With the rest of the family sound asleep in a time-addled road-trip haze, my father had buried the needle on the speedometer at somewhere past one hundred and ten miles an hour. The tires made a thin hum as they struggled to maintain contact with the earth's surface, and a look of serene bliss was on dad's face. He had half a tank of gas, and an endless strip of straight, black asphalt ahead of him.
The Polara was one of the last great beasts from a car company that specialized in making steel machines for carrying freight and families. Three in the front seat, three in the back seat, and two more in the "way-way back" facing out the rear window - who needs a mini-van?
We used to fight, my brothers and I, over who would end up in those rear-facing seats. We would then spend the rest of the trip negotiating the three cubic feet of dead space between those seats and the back seats, crawling over whatever or whomever happened to be sitting in the way. This was a world without car seats. As California continues to change the laws regarding child safety, I am certain that I will be driving my son to the DMV strapped into his car seat so he can take his test and finally be free of constraint - or at least the little plastic cushion he has to sit on now. Of course, back in the days when the interiors of a station wagon were approximately the size of the Brady's living room, you had time to consider how to brace yourself before the impact with any other vehicle or object foolish enough to get in the way. It is my theory that mall lots with "nose-in" parking were created specifically for the mooring of these majestic land yachts.
The danger of all of this unrestrained play inside a vehicle is not lost on me. When I was quite small. My family was returning from a fun afternoon of froclicking in the park. As usual, I was in the dark recesses of the Plymouth Valiant station wagon's cargo compartment. At the top of a hill, my mother had to brake hard when another driver ran the stop sign in front of her. My floppy four year old body was tossed forward and my left eyebrow caught one of the very sharp metal edges left from an age when child safety was still essentially "Don't run with scissors." Blood poured down my face, and I'm sure that my mother thought I had lost an eye. In retrospect, I'm reasonably certain that if I had there would have been a whopper of a lawsuit. Instead there was a frantic race to the emergency room where I received a stitch or two before we took our collective jangled nerves home. I carry a scar to remind me of those days - the days when dinosaurs ruled the road.