A historical and nostalgic look at the family road trip.
In his first book, a mix of memoir, history lesson, and travelogue, advertising copywriter Ratay waxes wistfully over the rise and fall of the tradition of traversing the United States via the nation’s superhighways. Using as a jumping-off point his personal experiences in the 1970s as a child stuffed into the back of a station wagon with his siblings (“although ordinary Joes couldn’t afford a plane ticket, nearly every family could afford a car, often two”), the author covers a wide variety of topics related to family road trips. He discusses the construction of U.S. interstates, the need for dining establishments, gas stations, and motels for the families on the road, and the sights a child might have longed to see, including a whole slew of “World’s Largest” objects or animals. Ratay includes details about the rise of theme parks, including Disneyland and Disneyworld, Knott’s Berry Farm, and others, when more safety features, including seat belts, were introduced, and how the use of CB radios kept people in touch with one another on the road. He also shares his thoughts on how cheaper air fare and the need for faster travel have helped make the long road trip somewhat of a relic. Some of the more minute details—e.g., about the roof design on Stuckey’s restaurants and their distinctive yellow-and-red billboards—may not appeal to a wide audience, but much of the narrative will find favor with older readers who can readily recall their own experiences riding in the car while Dad drove and Mom navigated. By sharing this history, Ratay also provides a useful juxtaposition against the modern vacation, with each person engaged with an electronic device rather than each other and the surroundings outside the windows.
A lighthearted, entertaining trip down Memory Lane.