I was reading around—I wish I could remember where—and came across this book by a couple of British sociologists who claimed that the greatest uncharted and undocumented migration in America was not that of blacks out of the South after WWII to the cities of the North East but the movement of poor whites out of the South to the west, particularly to Arizona and Southern California.
My family was part of that migration. We lit out for greener pastures in the summer of 1955. For the trip, the old man had bought a ’47 Studebaker, and behind that, in a rented u-haul, we towed all our earthly possessions, up to and including our old refrigerator. The old man drove like a bat out of hell day and night. In Louisiana they were doing some road work; there was the blacktop and right next to that a deep gulley that ran for miles. All through there the old lady was clinging for her life to the armrest and pleading with “Bill” to slow down. But he wouldn’t. It wasn’t in his nature and he enjoyed scaring the piss out of the old lady. Speaking of which, the old lady had a sensitive bladder as she called it and seemed like she needed to urinate all the time. So on and on it went, she saying she had to urinate and he saying he would stop at the next place, and then drive right past, saying something like, too crowded or too dirty or missed the turnoff.
He would stop for us boys only when all of us needed to piss at the same time. Then he would pull off the road and we would all run off into the bushes or down into the roadside ditch to relieve ourselves. I pissed, on one of those short excursions, on a piece of the Petrified Forest, in New Mexico, I think.
The old man had built a sort of bench between the back of the front seat and the front of the back seat. At night I slept on that with the other two of us sleeping on the back seat, all of us sort of packed together like sardines and farting up a storm from the junk we were eating on the road.
When me got to those California Mountains—I had never really seen a mountain before—I figured the jig was up and all was for naught. No way we were going to make it over those. But the old man had thought ahead and filled to the brim with water a metal trash can that he had strapped to the front of the u-haul. We went damn slow up those mountains, with faster people honking at us, and the engine over-heated three times. But we would just pull over, wait till it cooled down, add water, and move on.
The old man drove straight through, except for a night in a cheap motel on the Texas side of Louisiana. Partly because the old man needed some sleep and partly because we boys had been sweating up such a storm we had really begun to stink and needed some cleaning. So I was led into a place the likes of which I had never seen before in the bathroom, a spot with tiles on the walls and tiles on the floor and a thing that water shot out of. That was my first shower.
Hell, we were still on the road, and we were already moving up in the world. And in California we would have indoor toilet and bathing facilities.