Sunday, May 7, 2006

Sunday Drive

A long time ago, when I was born, I understand that gasoline costs all of 30 cents a gallon. In those days of ridiculously low gas prices, one could fill his or her car for a mere $5.00. The impact of cheap fuel on American culture can't be underestimated. Entire industries arose due to the cheapness of gasoline in those days--drive in restaurants, drive in theatres, and so on. In those days a family was often more likely to drive to their vacation destination than to fly to it. As entertainment on a Saturday night, teenagers might well "cruise" the "strip." Back then, Americans could be said to live in their cars.

Sadly, with the energy crisis of the Seventies gas prices began to rise. This was partly the cause of the demise of many drive in theatres and restaurants. Families started to look to alternatives to driving as a means of reaching their vacation spots. Teenagers would even eventually give up cruising. Among the things that were lost with rising gas prices was the custom known as the "Sunday drive."

Like many families in those days, my own family would often go for a drive on Sunday afternoons. And like many families who went on Sunday drives, we had no particular destination in mind. We would simply travel across the countryside, letting the road take us where it would. Quite simply, when it comes to Sunday drives, the journey is indeed more important than the destination.

That is not to say that we would not stop at various places. Often we would swing by one of the drive in restaurants (usually Dog 'n' Suds or A & W) and get some root beer and maybe some hot dogs. Sometimes we would go to an ice cream parlour for ice cream cones. It was not unusal for us to stop by a roadside park (another result of America's love affair with the car) for a rest. One place we would often drive by was Shepherd Farms, where they raised buffalo even then.

Here I have spoken of the Sunday drive as an American custom, although it is found elsewhere as well. Indeed, the concept of the Sunday drive may well be as much a part of English culture as it is American culture. The term "Sunday driver" appears in The Beatles song "Day Tripper," while The Kinks' song "Drivin'" is an outright ode to the custom of the Sunday drive. I don't know if the rising price of petrol has curtailed Sunday drives in England the way it has here in the States, but I would rather think it has.

The last time I looked at gas prices around here, they were about $2.70 a gallon. I realise compared to some areas of the country that might seem low, but it is still enough to dissuade most families to consider driving as a Sunday recreational activity. I find that sad, as I enjoyed the Sunday drives of my childhood. It was not simply an excuse to get out of the house. It was not even an excuse to peruse the countryside or to swing by a drive in or ice cream parlour. At least for my family, the Sunday drive was a form of bonding. It was an activity in which the entire family could take part, which the whole family could enjoy. In many respects, then, I think we lost something very important when gas prices curtailed the practice of the Sunday drive. We lost another activity which allowed families to be together.

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