Looking for America in a Covered Wagon

In The Travel Habit, Tourism during the Depression by Kiril1 Comment

It is interesting to consider the fact that interest in traveling the United States was strong enough to reach even Mr. Roland Wild from across the pond. Sure, he has an “American wife,” but she seems to hate being called such a thing—interesting behavior for someone who had lived there for the first six years of her life—so that can’t be much of a catalyst for having wanted to go.

Thus begins a slew of vague thoughts on “America,” of which the author seems to understand little but his preconceptions, focusing more on the experience of the travelling itself than any experience he might find from place to place. This despite the fact that he seems to have clear delineations of what is America and what is not, writing that if he only sees New York, he will not have seen America—that “Hollywood, and Chicago’s gangsters, had obscured the real America” (12). Though this is not a statement I would entirely disagree with, it does seem a fallacy to not just presume but sell a series of articles based on the idea/presumed fact that he would “visit America without being dazzled by New York and Hollywood” (12).

Moreover, Wild is making the mistake of differentiating those things from the “real” America. Admittedly, he does not seem to be pretending any great knowledge of the Unted States, stating that San Francisco is his goal for the trip—based on what? Based purely on the fact that he has “always liked the names of cities rather than their smells or what they are famous for” (14). This is not the account of a practiced sociologist, but rather a completely subjective reporter of what now seems to me nothing more than a puff piece.

But—that might be what travel in the US was at that point. At such a time of strife for the nation, the idea of leaving one’s home and getting in a vehicle only to travel for thousands of miles on end for fun reeks of parody—especially in some popular trailer called a “Covered Wagon,” for chrissake. Whoever branded a trailer line with the name “Covered Wagon” surely meant to impress upon the driver the idea that they were pioneering in their journey, venturing to God knows where in order to discover something. And yet, though Wild reports that the trailer is the butt of many a joke, I confess I find myself still inclined to romanticize the idea of traveling the country in a trailer. My grandfather put his wife, my mother and her two brothers in a car and drove them cross-country and back, and I grew up hearing stories about that trip, so it still draws me. At the same time, it seems that driving in a car and with a trailer are two very different things. Making the commitment to truly put oneself within a moving bedroom for months on end is quite a different story from renting even cheap, shoddy motel rooms along the way.

Would one allow you to see the country more clearly? Wild reports that more than expected relied on “personal comfort,” and that no matter how much they get used to the space of a trailer, they “did not see much of America, for [their] eyes were on the ground” (21). It is almost exhausting to think about such a trip, where one is hemmed in by such little space—it sounds nicer to have a parking lot to park in, and a motel room to sleep in, and then perhaps one would see more of the country—if they could step out of their vehicle once in a while and find some more personal comforts.

Comments

  1. Kiril, I really enjoyed reading your post. It is insightful how you are able to point out the presumptions with which this writer has created his piece. Who is to say that San Francisco embodies the “real” USA? On the contrary, many people today and of the past would argue that the coasts of the United States are an outlier of “real” American life. I think Mr. Wild himself concedes this point when he says that he doesn’t want to be, and that he will not be, dazzled by the big cities like Chicago and New York.

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