‘The romanticism of the American road trip’
By Patricia Baer
As the weather turns warmer, I start to daydream about weekend road trip getaways. Not that the winter has ever kept me off the interstate, but as I get older I feel less inclined to take extended drives after the snow falls.
I would like to believe I am too young for this to be happening, but over the last couple of years, my night vision has decreased to a level where I find myself skipping evening activities if they include traveling a dark rural highway. So as a result, my winter wandering tends to be limited.
Whenever my daily routine starts to feel claustrophobic, a daytrip somewhere—anywhere—eases my restlessness. By spring I am itching for a long drive and a few days away from home.
I think it is the romanticism of the American road trip that calls me to the highway, the notion that adventure can be found in time spent on the road.
Whether it was from playing The Oregon Trail in fourth grade or watching the wackiness that ensued when the Griswalds headed for Wally World, somewhere along the line I bought into the belief that unforgettable experiences occur when traveling on four wheels.
My first long journeys by car were not quite cross-country experiences but did involve traveling with my father to historic sites and tourist traps across the Great Plains when he still lived in states west of the Mississippi.
I recently came across a photo of my brother and me standing in front of a giant statue of a prairie dog from one such trip through South Dakota on our way to see Mount Rushmore. In it I stand with a poufy ‘80s perm, and my grade school-aged brother is in jeans, despite the heat, because that was the summer he refused to wear shorts.
I do not recall if we intentionally stopped to see the attraction billed as “Prairie Dog Town” or if there happened to be a gas station nearby and its statue caught our attention during a rest stop, but I remember looking forward to telling my friends at school about this crazy thing I saw while on the road.
Out of curiosity I recently looked up the history of the road trip concept. The first transcontinental journey by car in the U.S. was completed in 1903 by H. Nelson Jackson and Sewall K. Crocker, “accompanied by a dog named Bud.” To me, that is the ideal vacation—passing a couple of months driving from coast to coast with a canine companion at my side.
It sounds very “Travels with Charley.” Eventually, I plan to undertake such a journey. I look forward to the day when I can leisurely travel the old Route 66 path to California. Still not quite cross-country, but it is long enough for me and guaranteed to offer chances to see more crazy things about which I can tell my friends. For now I will settle for adventures closer to home.