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Nothing Is More American Than The Summer Road Trip

woman looking at map on road trip
Image CreditLeah Newhouse/Pexels

Through an unfortunate twist of fate, I rediscovered the joys of the road trip and all that America’s highways and small towns have to offer.


“See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet — America is asking you to call…”

The opening line from this advertising jingle, made famous when sung by Dinah Shore in the 1950s, speaks to the America of the postwar era. In those years following World War II, families took to the road in much the same way that the nation assumed its position on the global stage — ambitious, dynamic, searching for opportunity.

Few things seem more American than the road trip, when friends, families, and individuals take to the ribbon of the highway in pursuit of adventure. And while it’s arguably never a bad time for a road trip, few times seem more opportune than a summer vacation to set course for sun, fun, and relaxation.

Exploring the Country

I rediscovered the joys of the road trip through an unfortunate twist of fate. Nearly three years ago, my mother’s health deteriorated such that her continuing to drive became unwise and impractical. As such, I ended up inheriting her automobile — a Chevrolet, as luck would have it.

Some months after the shock of this family health scare subsided, it dawned on me: I have a car in my backyard. More than a decade of living without an automobile in the nation’s capital had conditioned me to rely on public transit. And while maintaining a car was a financial luxury I could not afford right after I purchased my home, paying off my mortgage, not to mention the grant of a free and well-preserved automobile, meant I now had the means to use this car to explore. And explore I have.

What started off as day-long sojourns to nearby locales turned into weekslong excursions to far-flung destinations. My car has taken me to major sporting events that represent pure Americana: the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and the Kentucky Derby. In between the big spectacles, I’ve also found time to explore scenic byways and small towns, from Madison, Indiana, to Madison, Georgia.

A Big, Beautiful Country

My travels have led to some big thoughts during my time behind the wheel. For one: Goodness me, this is a huge country. While I’ve driven over 20,000 miles in the past couple of years, nearly all of it for pleasure, I’ve barely left my own time zone, and feel like I could explore so much more up and down the East Coast.

Having previously lived abroad, I understand why people want to venture beyond America’s shores and explore the rest of the world. I hope to do more international travel myself someday. But for the moment, I relish the chance to learn more in person about parts of my own country that I had not visited previously. (Not to mention that getting in one’s car is far more convenient, and far cheaper, than jetting off to Rome or Paris.)

People can easily become inured to it, but the car itself represents a triumph of technology and ingenuity. Think about it: I can hop in a car in Washington and before sunset can find myself in a place like Savannah or Indianapolis. Those journeys would have taken our Founding Fathers weeks, if not months, and even a century ago would have consumed multiple days.

American transportation has become so easy that we readily take it for granted, but we shouldn’t. Ironically, electric cars may give us a new appreciation for the reliability of our existing transport because I could barely make it through Virginia, let alone all the way to Savannah, without having to scrounge to find a charging station.

And upon arriving at my intended destination, I can readily find a roof over my head and a place to eat. Yes, roadside fast food has its drawbacks, nutritional and otherwise; we all can grow weary of greasy hamburgers and fries after too much time on the road. But the fact that whole industries exist in anticipation of customer desires — to, as Tom Bodett says in the famous Motel 6 commercial, “leave the light on for you” — represents a triumph of capitalism in meeting Americans’ needs.

Explore Your Homeland

Not long before I began my journeys, I wrote a tribute to football coach John Madden that used the following Madden quote from a 1990 Sports Illustrated profile:

What I’ve learned traveling around is this: People are nice. You go to a big city, and you hear the world is going to hell, but it’s not true. Small parts of it are; the whole isn’t. Hey, all we have to do is spread out a little bit, because we have a lot of space. You get out there, and it makes you feel better about America. The thing works.

My time on the road has echoed Madden’s journeys in his famous bus. Most people are friendly, cordial, and welcoming. They’re not obsessed with politics the way most people in Washington are, or at least they haven’t bothered to tell me that.

After a recovery from my latest bout of surgery, I’m heading back on the road this summer. I plan to spend as much time as possible far away from Washington and our depressing political season. I invite you to join me on the road, to explore our wonderful country:

“Make a date today to see the U.S.A., and see it in your Chevrolet!”

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