If you grew up in America in the 1970s and 80s, a vacation with your family likely involved piling in a car with your parents and siblings and being stuck with them for eight or more hours on the open road with little other than each other to keep yourselves entertained and sane. Entire movies were made about The Great American Road Trip. Yet this world has slowly faded away without our hardly noticing thanks to cheaper airfare and advances in technology and convenience.
My guest today set out to document what he calls the Golden Age of Road Tripping before it vanishes from our collective memory. His name his Rich Ratay and in his book Don’t Make Me Pull Over! he walks readers through the history of the American family road trip. Today on the show, Rich and I discuss how it was actually bicycles that kickstarted America’s interstate highway system, when automotive road tripping really started taking off, and all the iconic businesses that built up around the nation’s new pastime, including Stuckey’s convenience stores, motels, and attractions like the world’s largest frying pan. Along the way, Rich shares stories from his family road trips growing up as a kid, particularly his memories of his dad taking on the role of leader, protector, and refueling-stop-minimizer during their expeditions. We end our conversation discussing the decline of the family road trip, what we miss out on when we take a plane to our destination, and why Millennial parents are ushering in the return of road trips to American culture.
This episode is definitely a nice drive down memory lane, and great one to listen to as you hit the open road.
- When and why did Americans start building cross-state and cross-country roads?
- What was the first transcontinental highway?
- When did American families start taking to the roads for vacations?
- How was the road trip executed before gas stations, roadside restaurants, etc.?
- How was that infrastructure implemented?
- The ways in which the interstate highway system fundamentally changed America
- The rise and fall of Stuckey’s (and other roadside stands and diners)
- On running out of gas and driving on fumes
- The role of Mom and Dad in the dynamics of a road trip
- How roadside attractions sprung up
- How road trippers used to entertain themselves in the car
- What caused the decline of the great American road trip?
- Why young millennial parents are bringing back the road trip
(Via The Art of Manliness)
For my Japanese friends who marvel at my stories of road tripping with my family as a son and as a dad, check this show out.
I am disappointed there was not more mention of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways. Route 66 is OK, if you’re into that sort of thing.