Early Roadside Memories

Warm spring days bring bare feet, ice cream, sunshine, frisbees, open windows, good moods, bustling downtowns coming back to life, patio tables, sidewalk cafes, festivals and the desire for adventure. The best and easiest way to get somewhere in the USA tends to be via automobile. Road trips, maps, coffee, cameras, new roads, backroads, music, intrigue – whether a trip lasts one day, one week or one month, the open roads continues to be a metaphor for American freedom. Filled with the pioneer spirit, many of us are always wanting to go somewhere. Unlike pioneers, 20th and 21st century travelers are not sleeping in covered wagons. This age of lodging options has a fascinating history that speaks to the changing American culture.

The Motel in America

Maybe the burst of spring weather and a constant dream of another road trip are reasons why I finally chose this book from my bookshelf: The Motel in America by John A. Jakle, Keith A. Sculle, and Jefferson S. Rogers. While I have more to read, I managed to devour quite a few chapters in the Sunday sunshine. The beginning will capture a roadside lover’s interest right away:

A drive of more than 450 miles in a single day was an accomplishment in 1948. Up before dawn, we drove until dark, crossing northern Ohio and then dropping south to Pittsburgh and the new Pennsylvania Turnpike. In the early days of the automobile, auto touring was championed as a way of traveling leisurely through landscapes beyond the control of railroad timetables and the corporate powers that those timetables represented. Motoring was promoted as a means of getting to know the country through the slow, firsthand encounter. As highways improved, however, touring became increasingly a matter of “making time” between big attractions more distantly spaced. How quickly Americans came to trade landscapes glimpsed rapidly through train windows for landscapes glimpsed rapidly through windshields. Our family was no exception. {The Motel in America, page 3}

The authors begin with their earliest memories and associations with motels, as part of giving readers their own context and background, and in turn it invites readers to ask of their own recollections.

I grew up in a family of four sisters; with so many of us, we didn’t vacation every year. However, road trips are well worn into my memory. Aside from playing cards with my sister Sarah in the backseat of the Dodge Grand Caravan or playing stuffed animal games with sisters Annie & Erin, too, our family had travel traditions. We packed a cooler of food – sandwiches, drinks, snacks, and some candy(!) – and at lunchtime we’d stop at one of the interstate rest areas. Mom set out a table cloth, we’d gather around the picnic table and eat our sandwiches. Then we’d stretch our legs before getting back into the car. The picnic areas were budget savers to a big family.

Mom always loved the AAA guide books and the TripTiks for directions to our destinations. We never made reservations ahead of time, but when we were getting close to being done for the day (that probably means that we four girls were getting restless and hungry), Mom would browse through the guide book to see which hotel might suit our needs. The four of us always pleaded for a pool. We needed something to do after being stuck in the car all day, and we did not have a pool at home, so it seemed like a real vacation luxury to us. One time we pulled up to Howard Johnson’s and the pool was green. As we always checked out the pool status first, we did not stay there!

Mom & Dad preferred a hotel that included breakfast, and rooms that would somehow sleep six people. (Relatively unknown family fact: on one occasion or two, the youngest sister slept on chairs pushed together so we could all fit in the room. She was little!) On some occasions we were able to negotiate a good deal for two adjoining rooms; this is when we were older and actually needed more than two beds.

The motels we choose were often the type with outside entrances. They were easier for loading and unloading and usually cheaper than the interior corridor entrance style. The chain hotel names that stick in my childhood memory are Days Inn, Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge, and Howard Johnson.

Over the years, we’ve stayed in many lodging types. My mom, Sarah and I have pitched a tent in the dark in a campground field (reminiscent of auto tourists who simply stopped on the side of the road). I’ve stayed in motor courts with the preservation girls. I’ve camped in state parks, at KOAs, and independent campgrounds. Bed & breakfasts, chain hotels, mom-and-pop motels, I think I have most of them crossed off the lodging list. And each type has a good example and a bad example, but all make for good memories (even if they’re only good after-the-fact).

And as for my continued fascination with roadside America? What could be more exciting than traveling the country and seeing our evolving culture manifested itself in the built environment? What are your earliest recollections of roadside travel? Where did you and your family stay? How did it change as you grew older?

About these ads

3 thoughts on “Early Roadside Memories

  1. My dad hated to drive. We made exactly one family trip, when I was 4, to visit friends in Binghamton, NY. My memory is that we drove all night and didn’t stay over, but Dad insists we got a room somewhere along the way.

    My grandparents took my brother and I on a vacation along the Michigan-side Lake Michigan shore in 1976. We stayed in one single-story doors-open-to-the-outside motel and in the Ramada Inn in Grand Rapids. I liked the Ramada better.

    I think the lack of trips during my childhood is why I like the road today. I’m making up for lost time!

  2. Pingback: Summer Travel: Historic Tourist Cabins | Preservation in Pink

Have a thought to share?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s