Thursday, October 11, 2018

Holiday Ro-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oad

My public library as a table in the front as soon as you walk in called the "Luck Day Display." On the table are a bunch of "hot" books that have a limited check-out time (7 days with one 7 day renewal). A few weeks back I went to pick up some holds that I had and my eye caught a book on the table. Usually I ignore the table because of the prevalence of books about the present situation we find ourselves in thanks to a duped working class, but this time, I was  stopped cold in my tracks. The book had the eye grabbing title DON'T MAKE ME PULL OVER by Richard Ratay. How could I not stop with a title like that? I literally said. "Ooooh" when I saw it. (Honestly.) I grabbed it, checked it out with the other books I'd reserved and went on my way. It is easily one of the best reads of 2018 for me. (2018 has been an interesting reading year for me and the number of non-fiction books that will make my best of list is going to be interesting.)



The book chronicles the history of that grand American tradition: the road trip. It is a terrific combination of an informational, historical account of our culture's obsession with cars and the importance of infrastructure to the growth of our nation and a narrative reflection of the experience of the road trip. Filled with loads of amazing contemporary American history, I found myself googling things every three to four pages for more information on a person, place or thing mentioned in the book. Not for a lack of information but because some of the things mentioned could easily fill books of their own and Ratay doesn't overwhelm you with too much info, instead parsing it out in perfect portions for you to enjoy. From the very history of our highway system to the ancestors to places like The Great Wolf Lodge, the Holidome, the book is an informative but light read.

Where the book really shines though, is the narrative sections, where Ratay takes us along on a road trip with his family. I smiled until my face hurt. We didn't take a lot of long road trips like the ones Ratay describes in his book, but what he describes is still comically relatable. I spent weeks at a time with my grandparents in the summer and they took me all over the Northeast. I have fond memories of the beaches of Maine, hunting for Champy on Lake Champlain and visiting old relatives I didn't know in Wilkes-Barre. Reading this book made me wish that I'd embraced my writing earlier and kept journals or notebooks in my youth.

One of the things in the book that really struck a chord was Ratay's obsession with "making time." My father was obsessed with "making time" while driving too, whether it was from Syracuse to Long Island or our house to Wegmans. I discovered this weekend that he is still obsessed with making time as we drove from Spring Hill, Florida to Syracuse this past weekend. I'm more of a "journey not destination" guy, part of my continued rebellion I suppose, and where I hoped for a leisurely drive, he clearly set the tone. And I didn't like it.

We left in the early evening and chugged along all night. No stops for food. Minimum bathroom or stretch breaks. No time for anything slightly equating sightseeing (to be fair, it was night) or souvenir shopping. Factor in the fatigue I was feeling from getting up early and taking the flight down, it was a difficult trip. It was a trip I always wanted to take, but my father's obsession with "making time," finding the cheapest possible gas and obsessively tracking our gas and mileage made it less fun than I hoped. I don't know if I'd ever do it again. Not that I could, since both my kids tend to get violently ill in the car.

I think road trip movies have also colored our view of the road trip. Those experiences are as ingrained in our collective memories as actual road trips we took. NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION kind of romanticized the road trip for my generation. (There's an essay in me about how when we first watched the Vacation movies, we were Rusty and now we're Clark.) (There's also a second essay in me about my theory that the quality of a Vacation movie is in direct correlation to the quality of the Audrey actress.) Movies like SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and CANNONBALL RUN added to the mystique of the road trip too. We all pretended we were Bandit or JJ McClure racing to outrun Sheriff Buford T. Justice or trick the nebbish AF Foyt, even if it was our parents driving.

For now, I'll stick with the short road trips we take now. Maybe, eventually, my kids won't get sick when we are in the car for long periods of time. They are getting better, but it looms every time we get in the car for a trip longer than a few hours. The book certainly got me thinking about it again, despite the trip last weekend. It also gave me two solid book ideas that I wrote in my notebook. If you've taken a road trip as a kid, as a parent, as a couple or are thinking of taking one, this book is a lot of fun.

3 comments:

Brian G. Fay said...

I am likely the making time kind of guy, but it's mostly because I spend a lot of the time in the car doing math. I like thinking about how many miles an hour we are really doing (dividing the reading on the odometer by the actual number of hours we have been on the road) and how far we should go before getting gas. The girls help me slow down and speed up. Our daughters have thankfully always been great in the car and once a year we drive from Syracuse to Florida. My wife and older daughter pass out under the influence of motion sickness pills. My younger daughter reads, listens to music, and plays on her phone. Most of those long drives are me behind the wheel watching the world go by. I wish that I came out of those times with book ideas. If I don't get an idea down soon, it goes away.

I'll check out the book. Next time, have your dad call me. I love that kind of road trip.

John Zeleznik said...

Three book/story ideas came from this road trip and I had brought my notebook with me, so I jotted them down at the next gas station break. I don't know if I'll wind up doing anything with them, but they are there. All I need is a prompt of a few words and I'll remember the idea.

John Zeleznik said...

I also do the odometer thing.