Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Road Trip! But Not for Me

To the left, the vehicle in which Onkel Hankie Pants and I took our first road trip together. There was no radio so I read out loud from Dorothy Sayers to provide entertainment. The car was an Austin America, and quite fuel-efficient.

Tomorrow (for it is still Tuesday as I write), Brother #1, The Herbalist, and their daughter, son-in-law, and grandson will be leaving on a road trip to see the Herbalist's mother in northwest Ohio. They are renting a minivan for the trip, and in spite of that and $4+/gallon gas, they will probably save a bit over the cost of five airplane tickets. And what a trip! I can almost smell the Cheeto and Oreo crumbs now! Yes, I'm a little envious.

The road trip has been part of American life since well before the invention of the automobile. Sometimes the road was a river, as in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Some road trips were forced by circumstances, as in The Grapes of Wrath; others were voluntary, as in Kerouac's On the Road or Steinbeck's other road trip book, Travels with Charley. True, tales of wandering are as old as Exodus or The Odyssey, and there's a long European tradition of the Wanderjahr. But what makes the great American road trip such an important part of American culture is, I think, the vastness of our country, coupled with the fact of its diversity in unity. A road trip across America, even in these McDonaldized, Walmartian days, can bring a kaleidoscope of new experiences, combined with the familiarity of a common language and a shared history (and so far, no passport control crossing state lines.)

A few weeks ago, I happened upon this column lamenting the imminent demise of the American road trip. Subsequently, I've been seeing similar (mostly not as good) columns in the Op Ed pages of several newspapers and websites. Well, maybe we can ride trains (a great experience, true, but different), or perhaps we'll live to see hydrogen-powered cars. I hope we can come up with some way to save the planet, be energy-independent, and still have road trips now and then.

Think of all the great art that has been inspired by road trips! I've already mentioned a few books. I'm sure you can think of more (remind me in the comments section!) And then there are the movies -- Sullivan's Travels, Powwow Highway, Harry and Tonto spring to mind -- and Easy Rider, if you must, though I could do without it.

What are your favorite books or movies about road trips? Tomorrow I'll be posting my musical road trip playlist.


Diane said...

I do love Sullivan's Travels.

We didn't vacation much when I was a kid, but our two trips WERE road trips.

Songbird said...

This isn't a book or a movie, but my family loved road trips and Sunday drives. I'll miss that, but I do agree, it's mostly gone now and with it the opportunity to see places from ground level, which is sad.

Cathy said...

I remember Sunday drives - and occasional road trips. It has become so darned expensive now to travel - is it because we expect so much?? (As we don't pack food for the trip - we eat along the way), we expect our accommodations to be so fancy instead of bare basics?

Auntie Knickers said...

Well, of course, there is the $4+/gallon gas, too. Actually, on our trip to the Midwest (via bus and air), OHP and I did pack lunches. The days of travel were long, the airport and airline food overpriced, and we enjoyed our nice sandwiches and other treats. On the way back, we had our seats changed because we had brought a bag of peanuts!