AMERICANS ON THE ROAD: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945 by Warren James Belasco

AMERICANS ON THE ROAD: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945

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A social history of the motel? Yes, and a lot more. From the early days of ""gypsying"" when intrepid drivers packed up their families and set out for parts and roads unknown, on down to the contemporary motel chain, Professor Belasco (American Studies, Univ. of Maryland) shows how the tourist's contradictory desires for adventure and safety reflect broader tensions between ""democracy and status, liberty and order, public welfare and private profit."" Basing his study on travel magazines, trade journals, and diaries, Belasco shows how, in the early 1920s, local politicians and businesspeople, anxious both to control and cash in on the fad's increasing popularity, first established free municipal camps for tourists, then started charging small fees when these ""let-'s-get-acquainted institutions"" began attracting nomads, free-loaders, and other undesirables. The charging of a fee opened the way for private enterprise, and by 1925 private camps were springing up, some offering such luxuries as separate cabins. It was only with the postwar expansion of tourism into a year-round phenomenon, however, that large developers became interested and began edging the Mom and Pop entrepreneurs out of the tourist court business. ""It is an irony of modern travel that those who flee off the beaten track often beat a path for those they flee."" The path-breakers may now be into jogging, gliders, and four-wheel-drive, but Belasco says they find the promise of personal liberation as elusive as ever. If, as Dean MacCannell (The Tourist) suggests, the tourist is the quintessential modern, then Belasco shows us the values he packs along and the structures that emerge en route. A front-seat view, and a good one.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1979
Publisher: MIT Press