Ratay, Richard. Don’t Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip. New
York: Scribner, 2019. 288 pages, ISBN 978-1501188756. $17.00.
I picked this book up at the recommendation of my social media friend Stephanie Stuckey. If you are not familiar with the Stuckey’s story, I recommend following their brand on Twitter.
Stephanie is doing amazing things toward bringing this American standard back to life.
Well, anyway, I thought this would just be a fun read and had no real intention of reviewing it.
By the time I was ten pages in, I realized I was on to something more than a casual read and I grabbed my notebook in order to make notes and take down page numbers.
In a book that is equal parts memoir, history, sociology, humor, and travel writing, author
Richard Ratay tackles the quintessential American vacation; the “road trip.” Immortalized in one
of my all-time favorite movies, National Lampoon’s Vacation, the road trip is that much looked forward to vacation
while also being that dreaded cooped up with the family in a car for long hours event. Ratay uses
this event to display family love and strife while highlighting changes in American life. Has
progress really been that great or have we lost something along the way that may never be
While not being a history book per se, readers will learn about New Deal construction projects
and the blueprint for the 1956 passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which helped create
more than 41,000 miles of interstate highways.
The end of World War II led to a boom in travel fueled by an increase in disposable income, the
accrual and usage of vacation time, returning soldiers who were bitten by the travel bug, an
increased birthrate, and finally, an increase in personal automobile ownership.
This travel boom fueled developments such as the rise of the gas station, increased attendance at
national parks, and the creation of large-scale destination amusement parks leading to the decline
of the old-fashioned roadside attraction.
Readers take a veritable walk down memory lane throughout as Mr. Ratay recounts family trips
and things we all probably remember. I can distinctly remember two memories that the author
recalls in the text. The first being the idea of “making time.” This is described as “progressing
toward the day’s destination as quickly as we could.” The other is his father not wanting to stop
for gas until the last possible minute, as this would slow down our “making time.” I can
remember these times vividly as well.
Throughout, the book is filled with forgotten memories of things such as cb radios, fuzz busters,
billboard ads, playing family games on the road, budgeting candy and souvenir money, Howard
Johnson’s, arcades at hotels with games such as Space Invaders, 8-track tape players, wood
paneled station wagons, the rise of the mini-van, and I am sure you will find many more.
For me, I did not feel the editorializing about the failure of the 55 mile per hour speed limit to
either save gas or save lives really needed inclusion. It seems out of place and not something that
furthers the story. However, the author does show how his family turned the low speed limit into
a game by having the family be on high alert for law enforcement in order to avoid a potentially
costly and time wasting ticket. There is nothing worse when you are trying to “make time” than
having to explain to an officer why you were driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.
The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 is seen as the beginning of the end of the road trip as
Americans knew it. Ratay frames this Act as democratizing air travel, bringing flight prices
within the grasp of the average American. In addition to lower fares, new routes opened up
allowing travelers to either arrive at, or near, their final destination hours, or in some cases days,
before they could while driving. “Making time” took on a completely new meaning.
However, in our haste to arrive at our destination in a timelier manner did we lose something
along the way? Instant gratification became more engrained in our lives. The focus became the
destination and the journey was no longer important. As the author points out, we now miss the
“curious sights and amazing views, the unexpected delights and unanticipated dangers, the
colorful characters and unforgettable people who could only be encountered when travelling the
highways of America.”
This, I feel, is the most important idea you will take from this book. I can’t recommend this book
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