HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — Summer Vacation season has been kind enough to circle around once again, and for those families fortunate enough to be spending a week or two away from home, the most common form of vacation transportation will be the family car.
It has ever been thus - or at least since the 1950s. Though the speed of air travel has its attractions, for most of us the line, "I'll turn this car around RIGHT NOW! " is much more familiar than instructions about locating exits or inflating underseat life vests. And if you're feeling a bit nostalgic for the open road, or if it's been too long since you heard the magic words, "Are we there yet?," Driving Vacations Through the Ages will take you right back to those high times on the highways.
An interactive presentation of MSNBC, Driving Vacations is a cheesy but entertaining survey of the phenomenon of road trips in the 20th century. With ample use of period music, interviews that sound like they were recorded over the phone, and the choice of audio narration over text, Driving Vacations has the feel of a radio documentary, coupled with the unmistakable look of 'vintage' (as in, August of 2001) Flash-based animation. While that may seem an odd combination, this lightweight package fits together nicely - aided by the latitude that comes with an exhibit aimed more at entertainment than education.
The "Ages" referred to in the site's title are broken into five decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, as well as the "Early years" - and span developments from the 1912 construction of the coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway, to the 1990s phenomenon of SUVs that didn't even require roads (though few have ever left them).
Each section offers an essay about that period's favorite vacation destinations, from Yellowstone to Disneyland, and an interactive salesman pitching some sweet fourwheel deals. These once in a lifetime bargains range from a "state of the art" 1925 Model T for 270 dollars, to a "high-tech to the max" 1999 Volkswagen Beetle for the low, low price of "16 grand."
Selected decades also include Reader's Tales of vacations on the road, and the interesting, albeit potentially painful, feature of the Cost Factor - which reminds visitors of just how much cheaper vacations used to be. Examples include a 1950s motel room for $7 dollars, and a $1 dollar adult admission to Disneyland.
Within, and in addition to, these features are bits of historic trivia, related cultural developments (eg. the rise of Howard Johnson's), and such ephemera as a set of postcards written during a 1947 cross country trip and later found in an antique shop.
Every segment can be replayed immediately or revisited later through icons near the bottom of the browser window, and in an effort to be extra helpful, Driving Vacations even tells you which icon to select next as each segment ends. A link to Additional Driving Stories at the bottom of the window takes the visitor to current MSNBC news coverage of subjects that may be of interest to the holiday road warrior.
While the site is a few years old now, its age isn't a major drawback. The material is fairly timeless and the lower bandwidth requirements of the older multimedia productions actually contribute to a smoother ride for dial-up users. (Though I was left wondering how the feature might have summed up the first few years of the new century.)
Driving Vacations through the Ages can be found at http://www.msnbc.com/modules/summer_driving/decades.
(And if Driving Vacations gets you thinking about setting off on your own road trip this summer, but you'd rather not limit your sightseeing options to the obvious destinations, Roadside America offers all the attractions that will never make it into Conde Nast. From the World's Largest Cow (38 feet high), and a survey of Giant Muffler Men across the nation, to an investigation into competing claims for the honor of having 'America's only' 2-story outhouse, Roadside America offers more than 5000 alternatives to the typical holiday fare - just in case you're a little tired of Grand Canyons and Statues of Liberty.)