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The Open Road

Getting behind the wheel can be stressful. Congestion, construction, and detours are no day at the beach . . . especially when all we want to do is make it to the beach. Most of us enjoy a good road trip, but with so many obstacles taking the air out of our tires, who can blame us for just wanting to get from Point A to Point B? What happened to the days when simply riding in an automobile was cause for celebration, and the journey was as exciting as the destination?

The Strong’s collections include a scrapbook from one family’s trip to Yellowstone, the country’s first national park. Trekking from Cleveland, Ohio, in a 1914 Ford Model T, the Wards camped in a tent along the way and ultimately earned a photo op with a wild bear. (Smokey and Yogi’s friendly faces hardly inspired more appropriate caution in subsequent decades.) Those without the means to hit the road lived vicariously through board games trumpeting the thrills and dangers of automotive travel. The Flivver Game punished would-be drivers for neglecting to fill the gas tank and rewarded them for overcoming mechanical trouble.

Families with disposable income put millions more cars (especially station wagons) on the road after World War II, and companies designed travel-themed games to be played in the backseat while keeping an eye out the window. Travel games took a hit, however, after President Eisenhower implemented the interstate highway system in 1956. As cars bypassed local roads and entire towns, the scenery just wasn’t the same. Passengers matching roadside sights with those designated on the Car Travel Game board played a modified version using “ONLY the BLUE spaces”—merely half the landmarks—when driving on a toll road, where mail boxes and schools appeared less frequently, if ever. Same goes for giant beets, I’d imagine.

Despite the interstate’s lull and the newly accepted dangers of bear encounters, there’s still joy in car travel. On winter nights, my parents drove me slowly through Philadelphia streets to admire the Christmas lights. On summer days hurtling down the Atlantic City Expressway, my grandparents’ favorite Sinatra standards floated over my seat and out the open window. Today, when I visit family in New Jersey, I eagerly point out my favorite sights along the Pennsylvania Turnpike: a battalion of wind turbines on the horizon, the Lehigh Tunnel that blasts through a mountain—a mountain!—and the rock formation that looks like Sam the Eagle (trust me) when viewed from just the right angle. They make me too happy to feel stressed, and they never lose their luster when approached with an open mind and innocent spirit.