Back in the good old days, a teenager had to keep his or her eyes on the road, whether driving or riding as a passenger. It was not just for safety sake, but also for self-protection.


This was during a bleak time for civilization … a time before the introduction of cell phones, smart phones, tablet computers and the like. It was an era of observation when, in order to see something, one had to actually look.


I can remember those days well. No matter how far the road trip might be, the sighting of a certain vehicle was all part of a game. A game that meant either kiss or a hit in the arm. Admittedly these contests promoted keen observation, although we never thought of them in that way. One such game was played during the daylight hours, while the other kept travelers awake during the dark of night.


The nighttime game was known in our section of the woods as “Itto Ditto” The idea of the contest was to be the first to see a vehicle with a burned out headlight. That zealous observer then had the right to either kiss a fellow rider or punch him or her in the arm. I guess that depended on the observer’s opinion of the victim.


This was during a time when car headlights were much less dependable. Seeing a burned out headlight was a much more common event. It was also a great excuse for an officer of the law to pull you over and issue a ticket.


As I previously mentioned, this was a game to be played after the sun went down. Back then no one drove with their headlights on during the day except in a funeral procession. I guess this was reason enough to come up with some sort of game for the daylight hours that involved a seldom-seen vehicle. Thus was born “Slugbug.”


This was just a little over 10 years after World War II and the number of foreign-built vehicles on American highways was relatively small. The sight of such a car was almost a memorable event and thus Slugbug was born.


A slug bug was Volkswagen Beetle. So while cruising the streets of, say, Ames or Des Moines and a Beetle came into view, the first observer could punch their closest companion in the shoulder. I can’t remember if a kiss was ever part of that event.


I forgot to mention that the main rule of either game was to shout out either “Itto Ditto” or “Slugbug” before issuing the kiss or hit. No one liked hearing those words because it meant you were probably going to be on the receiving end of things.


Naturally, there were other game rules that tended to complicate the action. If one blurted out “Itto Ditto” and issued a kiss or slug and the one headlight turned out to be a motorcycle, then the victim was awarded a double kiss or punch to the offender.


I guess there were variants of these games throughout the entire U.S. and Canada. Some involved various colors of cars and trucks, but I’m sure they all worked to keep car occupants observant.


Too bad someone can’t come up with games like that today. Anything to keep drivers and passengers watching the road instead of looking down at their mobile devices. Not only would it save many accidents, it would also alert people to world outdoors.


Now wouldn’t that be nice?


Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.