Don't Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Tripby Published 03 Jul 2018
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Part pop history and part whimsical memoir in the spirit of National Lampoon's Vacation—Don’t Make Me Pull Over! is a nostalgic look at the golden age of family road trips—a halcyon era that culminated in the latter part of the twentieth century, before portable DVD players, iPods, and Google Maps.
In the days before cheap air travel, families didn’t so much take vacations as survive them. Between home and destination lay thousands of miles and dozens of annoyances, and with his family Richard Ratay experienced all of them—from being crowded into the backseat with noogie-happy older brothers, to picking out a souvenir only to find that a better one might have been had at the next attraction, to dealing with a dad who didn’t believe in bathroom breaks.
The birth of America's first interstate highways in the 1950s hit the gas pedal on the road trip phenomenon and families were soon streaming—sans seatbelts!—to a range of sometimes stirring, sometimes wacky locations. Frequently, what was remembered the longest wasn’t Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, or Disney World, but such roadside attractions as “The Thing” in Texas Canyon, Arizona, or “The Mystery Spot” in Santa Cruz, California. In this road tourism-crazy era that stretched through the 1970’s, national parks attendance swelled to 165 million, and a whopping 2.2 million people visited Gettysburg each year, thirteen times the number of soldiers who fought in the battle.
Now, decades later, Ratay offers a paean to what was lost, showing how family togetherness was eventually sacrificed to electronic distractions and the urge to "get there now." In hundreds of amusing ways, he reminds us of what once made the Great American Family Road Trip so great, including twenty-foot “land yachts,” oasis-like Holiday Inn “Holidomes,” “Smokey"-spotting Fuzzbusters, 28 glorious flavors of Howard Johnson’s ice cream, and the thrill of finding a “good buddy” on the CB radio.
A rousing Ratay family ride-along, Don’t Make Me Pull Over! reveals how the family road trip came to be, how its evolution mirrored the country’s, and why those magical journeys that once brought families together—for better and worse—have largely disappeared.
"Don't Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip" Reviews
Don’t Make Me Pull Over is a tribute to the American family road trip, but the book encompasses a whole host of topics – 1960’s and 1970’s pop culture, the history of roads in the U.S. including the creation of interstate highways, a short look at airline regulation and eventually deregulation, the development of motels, the creation of the drive-through, and so much more. Much like Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, Ratay effectively weaves in fascinating factual detail fluidly providing information on whichever topic he has introduced. He manages to briefly and efficiently address many side items that add depth and fullness to the story without bogging the reader down with too much information. The result is a compulsive and highly-entertaining read that kept me turning pages late into the night to finish it.
My family moved some while I was growing up, and we lived abroad part of the time. As a result, we didn’t road trip much except the 6-7 hours it took to go see my grandparents because most of the places we went required flying to get there. However, my husband grew up taking long road trips and loves driving long distances even now. Thankfully, he has imparted that love to our family, and we drive every summer to Colorado and have taken other fun road trips to Arizona and South Carolina, always stopping to see all sorts of fabulous National Park sites as we go. Some of my kids’ favorite trips (and memories) involve road trips we have taken. While I am unfamiliar with some of the roadside attractions Ratay highlights, I have been to Wall Drug in South Dakota, and his mention of it caused me to fondly recall one of our best road trips through the length of South Dakota stopping to see Wind and Jewel National Parks, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands (one of my kids’ all-time favorite things to see), and Custer State Park, home to hundreds of buffalo. While Wall Drug was a hoot to see (it goes on and on and on now), the Corn Palace would be the side attraction I would highlight for anyone heading through South Dakota. To me, that is the beauty of this book: I learned about a myriad of topics, but the book also sent me back in time helping me recall both events from my childhood and fun trips my husband and I took with our children.
A while back, I read Sting-Ray Afternoons by Steve Rushin, and I marveled at how little I recollected about many of the things Rushin mentioned from the 1970’s; as I read that book, I almost wondered if we had lived through the same decade. Don’t Make Me Pull Over was the exact opposite – I felt like I was taking a trip down memory lane, and I loved every second of it. He references the handheld Madden football game, Pop Rocks (and the rumor that Mikey’s stomach had exploded when he ate them with Coke), Atari’s PONG, Mad Libs, riding in the back window of a car, MTV (and the Buggles), and tons of other things I vividly remember from my childhood.
My one quibble with the book is that Ratay reaches the conclusion that the family road trip is a thing of the past, and for those few who still drive long distances, it is no longer the same experience. I completely disagree. When we travel by car, the kids do watch their iPads and listen to music some, but they frequently do it together. We still play the license tag game and the alphabet game (we choose a category and work our way through the alphabet naming things in that category, each time starting from A – I am terrible at it when it gets very far at all), and we have Fam Jam where we listen to whatever is a family favorite that particular summer- one year it was a new Taylor Swift album and another it was the Hamilton soundtrack. I also find it is the one time that my husband and I are able to talk uninterrupted (usually) for hours – there are no chores to be done, errands to run, etc. We have discovered countless gems that we would have never seen if we had flown. I believe that for some families the road trip is still alive and well; it may not be the only way we travel, but when we do drive some place far away, the trip is always an experience that we will treasure for years to come.
Don’t Make Me Pull Over is a fabulous read, and I highly recommend it. I felt the book started slow but am so glad I kept reading. I received this book to read and review; all opinions are my own.
If the cover and the title make you curious about the book, chances are, you will enjoy it. The design evokes nostalgia and humor, and Richard Ratay delivers both. In between reminiscences of family road trips from his own childhood in the 1970s, Ratay explores some of the aspects of road tripping, such as the interstate highway system, rest stops, and drive-thru restaurants. He looks at the rise of automobile travel, paved roads, camping, and motels. Some detours include thoughts on video games, candy cigarettes, and the CB radio fad. He calls it an "informal history," and that becomes especially clear when he injects a fair amount of attitude when describing the "strangling effects" of government regulation -- on airline routes and fares, on highway speed limits, on the use of seat belts. A mostly fun and light hearted look at the fading era of the family road trip.
(Thanks to Edelweiss and Scribner for a digital review copy.)
Wonderful history of American travel, not just family road trips. As one reads, memories good and bad will come to every reader. Even though long road trips have gone out of fashion, we continued to take them with our kids, even today as they are adults. They are a special bonding for families and never fail to give a good travel story or adventure, that faster plane travel cannot provide. Part non fiction and part memoir. Recommend to those who enjoy travelouges and fond memories.
How many times have you heard that as a kid?? While an age contemporary of the author, my family never took a road trip anywhere but I had friends who did and my husband did and I lived them through their stories.
This book is so much more than reminiscing about being packed into a car the size of a boat and barely being let out for food or bladder relief until the destination was reached. What is it about dads anyway? I may not have taken road trips when I was a kid, but once married with kids of our own, my husband introduced the concept to me and our kids and he, too, wouldn’t stop for anything. I remember one trip where they kids had nothing but saltine crackers for a whole day because we were headed for someplace by nightfall.
What makes this book fascinating, really fascinating, is the back story of road travel itself. We all know that before the interstates travel was on those two lane roads that crawled through towns and with any luck the car you were in was behind a truck hauling felled trees. No, the author takes us all the way back, all the way to when roads themselves were invented. I mean, if you’re going to go somewhere you really benefitted if there was a path.
Once you had a path you needed somewhere to go. And you needed somewhere to “go” when you were on your way. A rest area. How surprised was I to find that the very first ‘rest area’ was a place to stop and sit at a picnic table and have your lunch. And that first invented area to rest is not 10 miles from my front door!
The author takes us everywhere, tells us everything about tripping, tells us how it all came about into one package that became everything we needed. Cars, roads, maps, gas stations, restaurants, campgrounds, picnics, rest areas, amusement destinations, and then how all these things evolved and then devolved with the coming of air travel and ultimately the loss of locking a family into a tiny space but which was really a monstrously huge car and forcing them to interact with each other without electronic means. This is the stuff of our memories, the stories we tell to our children (and wives), the life that we used to live and will never know again. If you are of the age that this was your life, you do NOT want to miss this book. Even though my family never took a road trip, I could still feel the wind in my face.
“Don’t Make Me Pull Over” by Richard Ratay, published by Scribner.
Category – Travel/Comedy Publication Date – July 03, 2018.
Remember the family vacation where the family was packed into the car and the fun began. This book tells the story that most of us have lived through, either as children or parents.
Watch out for the noogie!
This was a time before cell phones, hand computers, GPS, and in care movies. Mom kept everyone contained, well for the most part, by playing silly games. How about the license plate game or the Alphabet game, remember those. When gassing up the car meant potty break and you better be back in the car when Dad was ready to go. The stories go on and on and Richard Ratay will tell them all and you will remember everyone one of them.
This is not only a story of the family vacation but also a story of transportation. How did maps come about? What was the evolution of the motel and Holidome? What was a fuzz buster and the explosion of the CB? Good Buddy!
There is no way you are not going to enjoy this book, it is a nostalgic look at an era that will never be seen again, or should I say experienced again.