Episode #8: Don't Make Me Pull Over!
"Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"
A family cruising across the country crammed together in a wood-paneled station wagon has become the cliche icon of the American road trip, but it was a reality for many families in the latter half of the 20th century. Interwoven into the history of the Great American Road Trip is the economic and population boom that followed the United States' victory in World War II, massive infrastructure investment on the part of the federal government, and an interventionist American foreign policy in the 1960s and 1970s. The legacy of the road trip is a robust cultural history steeped in Americana and memories of a simpler, more family-oriented era.
This week, the Can't Make This Up History Podcast is proud to host author Richard Ratay. Rich grew up in Wisconsin and has 25 years in the advertising industry. His new book, Don't Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip, weaves the history behind the nation's transportation network, today's speed-driven consumer culture, and the explosion of the amusement-tourism industry with his own humorous anecdotes of traveling cross-country with his family as a kid in the 1970s. Don't Make Me Pull Over! is Rich's first work, and it has been extremely well received since its publication in the summer of 2018, including praise from the New York Times Book Review and vacationer extraordinaire, Clark Griswold himself, actor Chevy Chase.
Key Points in Today's Podcast Some of the major topics I discuss with Rich in this episode are:
Early transportation history through the wilderness of the early and expanding United States.
The hilarious first attempt to cross the continental United States by automobile that involved two men, a bet, and a pit bull.
How the American victory in World War II fueled families' desire to tour the country.
How millions of road travelers changed the way Americans approached everything from restaurants to lodging.
How road tripping for a kid in the 1970s is different from that of today.
What we can do to recapture the magic of the family road trip.
I didn't grow up in the seventies like Rich with the smokeys and the station wagons, but I did grow up in the nineties in the pre-personal electronic device era and can tell a noticeable difference in our road trips from those of today. We had games and disagreements over radio and communal conversations. Those things are harder to come by in 2018. When my family goes on a long road trip today, with me now in the drivers seat instead of in the back, often my wife is perusing Facebook on her phone and my children (because they are strapped immobile into five-point safety harnesses mandated by law) are sometimes playing on their tablets. I can see why Rich lamented the end of an era when his family piled quietly onto an airplane for a two-hour flight to Washington, D.C. in 1981.
We need more time to unplug from our increasingly invasive technology and connect to the family. I was encouraged to hear Rich say that road tripping statistics among millennials (of which, depending on methodology, I sometimes am and sometimes am not a member) are up. I think for all the grief, some deserved, millennials receive from their managers and pundits on talk radio, this up and coming generation has figured a few important things out. They seem to understand that people and relationships are important. Materialism, stuff and things and having more, doesn't seem to drive them as much as my or Rich's generation.
I hope Rich is right and more young families resurrect the Great American Road Trip albeit this time with much more fuel efficient vehicles. America's highways are where memories are made.
For the Ever Curious
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, consider checking out these resources:
Books and Videos by Richard Ratay
www.richardrataywrites.com - Rich's website offers biographical information, information on Don't Make Me Pull Over!, and links to some of the many reviews his book has received.
1974 Gas Shortage: News Clips and Raw Footage - American families who wanted to cruise the nation's highways in the seventies, including Rich's, had to navigate around the oil and gasoline shortage that defined the decade. This video offers a glimpse into the hardship motorists had to deal with at the time.
National Lampoon's Vacation - Likely the most beloved road trip movie of all time, National Lampoon's Vacation parodies the entire culture surrounding the Great American Road Trip. See the trailer on YouTube here.