Is the golden age of the road trip a thing of the past? Or might it still be alive and, well, doing much better than you might have thought? And what of the future, when we’re promised that our vehicles will drive themselves, leaving us simply to ride along and enjoy the trip?
The trigger for the thoughts that follow is a book, On The Road: Vintage Photographs of People and Their Cars. The book was published a few months ago by Hoxton Mini Press, which is based in East London, and is the result of The Anonymous Project, filmmaker Lee Shulman’s effort to preserve and share through storytelling people’s memories they captured on Kodachrome photographic slides.
Schulman began his project in 2017 and as of the book’s publication, he had collected nearly 800,000 slides, more than 100 of them — taken on driving trips in the middle of the 20th century — reproduced in the book.
Shulman writes that the slides are “little windows into our past,” and that he has gathered them together “like a road movie, together they form a bigger picture: that of our shared collective memory.”
I’ve read the brief text and looked at the photos, and then looked at them again, and then again a few days later, and my first thought was memories of road trips with my parents and my younger brother back in those days of mid-century.
We did road trips to New England, to see the fall leaves, to Texas to visit relatives, and a few years later to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, where a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman showed my brother and me how to find worms under rocks to use for fishing.
There was a trip to humid South Carolina to visit my parents’ friends from the days when they and the friends were on active duty, working in Navy hospitals during World War II. There were multiple trips from Illinois to Montana, where my grandparents lived for a couple of years after my grandfather retired as a prison warden and took a job as a consultant to the governor to help with the aftermath of the riot at the Deer Lodge state prison.
Looking through On The Road reminds me of those trips, of cars without air conditioning, but also of sites seen and of family together. Clouded by nostalgia, my first thought was that the era had ended.
But then I thought of my own parenthood, or our road trips, in big van and minivan, but also some involving airplanes and rental cars. Again, the last memories are of sites seen and family together.
These days, I do what I can to avoid flying, which has meant some wonderful road trips, including one in 2020 from Las Vegas to Orlando to Michigan and back, and with an 11-year-old granddaughter not only riding shotgun, but demonstrating how she and her smartphone make for amazing navigation services.
Again, the trip provided an array of sites to see, but also visits with family along our route.
And just as there was a theme to the slides shared in On The Road, so, too, there’s a theme to my memories, and perhaps to yours as well.
The golden age of the road trip is not a thing of the past, but of the present and, most likely, of the future as well, as families gather themselves in a vehicle and share the sites and the time together as they travel.