Tag: J. B. Jackson

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.

“Another Travelin’ Song” – a perfect narrative of The Road’s duality by Jenelle M Janci

While it may be painfully obvious, a song that has always captured the spirit of The Road for me is “Another Travelin’ Song” by Bright Eyes. The song’s bumping country bassline propels you through the song, and I can’t help but to see tires spinning while I listen to it. Bright Eyes’ frontman (and my lifelong obsession) Conor Oberst makes his intention clear from the song’s first stanza.

“Well I’m changing all my strings/

I’m gonna write another traveling song/

About all the billion highways and the cities at the break of dawn/

Well I guess the best that I can do now is pretend that I’ve done nothing wrong/

And to dream about a train that’s gonna take me back where I belong”

In this, Oberst sees the road as both a way to a destination and a destination itself, a duality J.B. Jackson notes in “Roads Belong in the Landscape.” Andrew F. Wood speaks to this too, but specifically in relation to Route 66. In that particular case, The Road itself has become a tourist attraction.

Oberst alludes to some mistakes he’s made, and hints that perhaps The Road could be an escape from them. However, there’s still a purpose of returning home.

 The next two lines echo the problems Oberst just introduced us to.

 “Well now the ocean speaks and spits and I can hear it from the interstate/

And I’m screaming at my brother on a cell phone he’s far away”

Oberst sets the scene here – we can clearly see the type of road he is traveling on. I always loved the image of him yelling at his brother, perhaps because I can relate, having three older ones myself. However, after reading Jackson’s piece and seeing the road as a destination itself, this line has new meaning for me. Oberst was trying to use the road to get away from his problems, but modern technology makes it impossible for him to fully escape them. Even on the road, he’s not away from his issues.

 Fast forward to the end of the song, and Oberst realizes this.

 “So I will find my fears and face them/

Or I will cower like a dog/

I will kick and scream or kneel and plead/

I’ll fight like hell to hide that I’ve given up”

Just like how the road offers two options – taking you to a destination or being the destination itself – Oberst sees that he too has “two paths diverged in the yellow wood”: to face his problems, or to run away from them.

 While our in-class discussions have given new depth to this song, my history with it goes way back. I’ve put this on nearly every traveling playlist I can remember. Most memorably, I remember driving home from Ohio on I-80 during Spring Break 2014. My boyfriend and I went to visit my brother, and as with any road trip, it’s a big step to see if you can handle being in each other’s vicinity for that long of a time.

On our way there, my boyfriend got a speeding ticket – our first ever – and he was pretty sour about it for a bit. However, like Oberst had to in the song, he made the choice to let it not ruin our trip and to deal with it when we got home.

I-80 is a straight shot through Pennsylvania, and is pretty monotonous. However, on our way back, we drove through a mountainous area with a beautiful view. I remember putting on this song as we entered that stretch. While we were definitely headed home, in that moment, The Road was its own destination.