This weekend, people around the country will be celebrating what it means to be an American. And what has been more intrinsically part of American culture than the automobile?
In honor of the Fourth of July, here are four for the Fourth, the top four ways four-wheelers have driven The American Way.
Growing up in a modern, middle class American family, vacations were mainly road trips. Traveling cross-country by car encompasses so much that is American, adventure, exploration, togetherness, and, of course, travel.
The entire country became accessible to every American with four wheels with the expansion of the Interstate Highway System in 1956. Driving added excitement and unpredictability to any family vacation. The opportunity for sightseeing and stopping along the way made it possible to get the most out of travel time and see more of the country.
After WWII, pride and patriotism played a part in the American desire to explore the country for which we had sacrificed so much, and visit sites that reminded us of our rich history and achievements.
One of America’s top attractions to this day is a route that doesn’t exist anymore. Historic Route 66 ran 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, through eight states and three time zones, ending in Santa Monica, California. Although officially decommissioned in 1985, enough of the old route and rustic roadside attractions remain that rolling across the “Main Street of America” is still considered one of the most exciting and impactful ways to explore and experience America today.
Tailgating is a truly American tradition and one that wouldn’t be possible without the automobile. Team spirit, and getting a good parking spot, inspired the first informal pre-game parties in parking lots. After driving a significant distance to get to a sports game or event, people wanted to eat, drink, and socialize before entering the venue.
The parking lot was the perfect spot to come together and munch, while the tailgate or back of any station wagon or truck made an ideal surface for preparing and serving food and drink.
American spectators sharing food and drink has been a tradition since the Civil War, when people would watch battles while enjoying picnics and cheering for their “team” on the battlefield.
Many of our most evocative American tunes are tied to our obsession with the automobile. Our movie stars, stories, dreams, and disasters, and the cars that tie to them have been immortalized in the most popular American music.
In “American Pie,” inspired by the death of Buddy Holly, Don McLean sings, “Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.” In this song about the state of society at the time, McLean uses the popular Chevrolet to symbolize American lifestyle headed in the wrong direction.
“Maybellene,” by Chuck Berry in 1955, a song about a hot rod race between a jilted lover and his unfaithful girlfriend, is considered the starting point of rock and roll guitar in America.
“Wake Up Little Susie,” about a couple sleeping through a drive-in movie and missing curfew, joins the ranks of banned American art. Recorded by The Everly Brothers, this number one on the Billboard Pop chart, was banned from Boston radio-stations for what some called suggestive lyrics.
Drive in movie theaters started in 1933 but became popular in the 1950s, as driving became more affordable and integral to American culture. Families with young children could see a show without disturbing other patrons and amorous teens could count on their cars for privacy. Drive-ins have been romanticized in every type of American popular culture, from movies, books, and of course, music.
Popularity of the drive-in declined thanks to an influx home entertainment options and rising real estate costs. But classic car-side cinema is still an attraction in America today. About 350 theaters remain in operation around the country.
American as the Automobile
Driving our culture, entertainment, and spirit, the automobile is intrinsically entwined in what it means to be American. When you get in your car to drive to Saturday’s fireworks display, remember to thank your car for being a huge part of Americana!
Montway wishes you a safe and happy Fourth of July!