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Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945 (1979)

by Warren James Belasco

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431474,608 (3.67)4
In Americans on the Road, Warren James Belasco uses travel magazines, trade journals, and diaries to "look at what Americans actually did with their cars rather than try to judge what cars did to Americans." Belasco begins with the earliest days of automobile travel in America--when travelers camped wherever they stopped along the roadside, "gypsying" in their cars or in tents--and moves on to chart the growth in the 1920s of free municipal campsites. As the cost of building and maintaining these campsites steadily rose, towns began requiring patrons to pay a small fee. The steady stream of paying customers prompted entrepreneurs to build inexpensive restaurants and lodgings--and, Belasco concludes, "the motel industry was born."… (more)
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As someone hopelessly smitten by the "wanderlust" virus, I am more than sympathetic to Americans' peripatetic impulses: the "grass is greener" syndrome , if you will. The desire to escape current and mundane responsibilities and see new places is ingrained in the American spirit. The automobile is like crack to a traveler providing freedom and unlimited possibilities.

The car became an escape from modernity, represented by the railroad, and modern industrial society uses sightseeing (the author quotes sociologist Daen MaCannell) to turn artifacts of the industrial revolution "into tourist attractions. . . In Williamsburg, Rockefeller oil money pre3serves colonial candleworks; in New Mexico, government billboards direct motorists to Indian ruins. Such exhibits protect modernity in two ways: by confirming the optimist's belief in progress and the pessimist with the unattainable past."

It's ironic that trains, symbol of modernity, were viewed in many respects the same way we view airplanes today: too fast, no way to stop and stretch one's legs, unnatural, can't see the countryside except in a very limited way, claustrophobic, etc. There was a nostalgia for being closer to nature (you know mosquitoes, ticks, sunburn, sweat, stuff like that.) Motoring in the early 20th century was best with difficulty: flat tires, breakdowns, lousy roads, lots of mud after it rained and often washed out bridges. Hotels along the way often required dress codes and motorists who arrived covered in dust and grime from the way, were looked down on. These difficulties were considered a positive by many. "Ordeal was considered an escape from luxury." and "we grow weary of our luxuries and conveniences," were prevailing justifications for hardship. But as Emily Post said, "ordeal was good for character." (Such bullshit.) ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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Touring has been a major element in the American infatuation with cars.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In Americans on the Road, Warren James Belasco uses travel magazines, trade journals, and diaries to "look at what Americans actually did with their cars rather than try to judge what cars did to Americans." Belasco begins with the earliest days of automobile travel in America--when travelers camped wherever they stopped along the roadside, "gypsying" in their cars or in tents--and moves on to chart the growth in the 1920s of free municipal campsites. As the cost of building and maintaining these campsites steadily rose, towns began requiring patrons to pay a small fee. The steady stream of paying customers prompted entrepreneurs to build inexpensive restaurants and lodgings--and, Belasco concludes, "the motel industry was born."

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