Apple pie, hot dogs, fireworks, football Sunday: these are undeniable images that represent a bigger ideal of American culture. The car and the open road sit right alongside those other images as representatives of an American ideal, but how did it get that way? Where did our connection to our cars come from? Literature has impacted the way we look at cars as much as any other medium. From the epic sweeping road trips of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, to the Southwestern landscapes viewed from the window of a car in John Steinbeck’s In Search of America, the car has woven itself into the fabric of American life.
On The Road
Perhaps the most famous road trip book in the world, Jack Kerouac’s brilliant semi-autobiographical account of his adventures across the USA tops any list of books that brought the car into the American consciousness. In it, Kerouac details the wild adventures he and his fellow Beat movement friends (like Allen Ginsberg and Neil Cassidy) had. From San Francisco to New York, down to New Orleans and elsewhere, Kerouac used the road as his canvas. The book has gone on to inspire a thousand other road trips hoping to capture the same spirit that Kerouac and his cohorts did.
Fear and Loathing
Controversial, and wildly popular, Fear and Loathing is writer Hunter S. Thompson’s most popular work. Drawing from his real life experiences in driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Thompson paints a portrait of American life that is largely defined by the road. Las Vegas itself came about as a result of the expansion of roads throughout the Southwest so it is no surprise that Thompson’s protagonist not only drives there, but is in Las Vegas to cover a race for the newspaper he works for. A more modern and out-there take on the classic idea of the American road trip, Fear and Loathing has kept the dream of the American road trip alive.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America
When one envisions a road trip through the states, they usually think of the American Southwest, with its endless deserts, large rock formations, and solitary two-lane highways. Much of this is owed to writer John Steinbeck’s novel Travels with Charley. In it Steinbeck travels the country with his French poodle Charley in a converted pick-up truck. Searching for the America he used to know, Steinbeck provides vivid and bleak descriptions of the landscapes and people he sees, most notably the American Southwest. His writings conveyed a deep connection with the country, and with the roads that connect us all.
For as long as America is around, the mythos that surrounds the road trip will be too. Future writers will undoubtedly canonize the America they see through the eyes of a road trip, in their own ways and times. So hit the road and bring a journal with you. Whether you bring your old clunker, rent a car, or want to put your new ride to the test, there is open roads and stories waiting for you. Who knows, maybe your next journey can be the next chapter of America and its relationship to cars.