The Cruise Control Culture by Michael Vecchione

Unfortunately, in the electric powered, climate controlled, and pine tree air-freshened vehicles of today, the drive has taken a backseat to the destination. In the movie Cars, a 2006 Pixar Animation Studios production, the history of Route 66 is used as a teaching tool to relate the common roadway to a place of freedom. The main character of the film, Lightning McQueen, is a racecar accustomed to the loose lifestyle and the fame that accompanies being a top competitor in the World Grand Prix. Lightning McQueen is introduced to the idea that it is important, when on the road, to slow down and enjoy the ride that the road offers as much as the destination it is leading to.

Sally, another main character of the film and a Route 66 local, already possesses this appreciation for the road. In an attempt to pass this appreciation on to Lightning McQueen, she states that before highways were constructed, “Cars came across the country a whole different way…The road didn’t cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land…it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn’t drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.” The film does an excellent job of comparing how roads were used before June 29, 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, and how they were used after. Prior to the passing of this piece of legislation, from which came the construction of major highways, driving was not seen as a nuisance or a task that had to be completed before progress could be made on something more significant.

Driving, and the emotions, feelings, and sights that the act produced, was done by many citizens living in the United States for leisure and enjoyment. When interstates and highways became more prevalent in the country, the act and purpose of driving was transformed.  Driving was given a new definition. In the work “Landscape in Sight,” author, publisher, instructor, and sketch artist in landscape design John Jackson claims that the road developed into a place of, “managed authoritarian system of steady, uninterrupted flow for economic benefits” (Jackson 192). With this new purpose, driving became something done as a step to achieve something greater or more pleasurable. The focus of the driver was directed towards to destination and no longer what the journey itself had to offer. Contemporarily, this mindset is overwhelmingly what drivers in the United States have when they enter their vehicle. Whether driving to work, school, or a vacation, most drivers want to know the easiest and fastest way to get to their destination and not necessarily the most scenic or adventurous.

Cars. Perf. Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newman. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2006. Film.

Jackson, John Brinckerhoff, and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz. “The Road Belongs in the Landscape.” Landscape in Sight: Looking at America. New Haven: Yale UP, 1997. Print.

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