By Motor to the Golden Gate: 10/20/17
By Motor to the Golden Gate by Emily Post is one of the first commercially written road trip travelogs. Emily traveled with her oldest son, Edwin, and a traveling companion.
The book is essentially two: the travelog with cultural observations and a report on friends visited and hotels stayed at. The second half is an extensive appendix written by Edwin about the mechanics of driving cross country.
Except for the fact that this book is written by a woman — a woman still known for her expertise on etiquette — this book reads like a prototypical privileged white male road trip memoir. A modern day approximation of Post and her book are the numerous culinary themed road trip articles written by Martha Stuart and those pale in comparison to what Post pulled off here.
Post, her son, and her traveling companion who was slumming to perhaps provide a little extra respectability, for all their planning and spending, really had no clue — no practical working knowledge of rural traveling — to make a successful transcontinental drive. That they managed to do it (save for hiring a train to freight their car to San Diego from Winona, Arizona) is amazing. Throwing enough money at something is how the wealthiest get things done.
Beatrice Larned Massey in her road trip memoir, It Might Have Been Worse took inspiration for her trip from Post's. Included in her replication is the shipping of her car from Reno to San Francisco. In Post's case, the car needed to be shipped because it had taken such a beating over the washed out roads and cattle crossings that it was in need of serious repair. I suspect also that Edwin, was ready to quit the trip and leave his mother and her friend stranded.
Women of means in the early twentieth century didn't drive. It was unseemly. So one must have a chauffeur. In Emily Post's case, she enlisted her eldest son but throughout the book, save for a few moments of maternal slip-ups, refers to him just as The Chauffeur. Post as a divorcé, probably didn't want to risk of apparent improprieties by hiring a man to drive her across country but also couldn't break with tradition and learn how to drive herself.
In Massey's road trip homage, it's implied that her husband does all the driving. There is no mention of her doing any of it. However, in the earlier, frankly groundbreaking, volume, Across the Continent by Effie Price Gladding (1915), Gladding takes a much more active roll in the trip at a time when the Lincoln Highway was in its nascence.
Gladding's road trip was borne from a desire to try out the new road. Post was assigned the road trip — hired to make road tripping acceptable to New Yorkers and other people of means. She was hired by the highway commission to write a propaganda piece. Were it not for Massey's fangirl recreation of Post's trip (more or less), I would argue that Post had failed at her assignment.
What Post's book does show clearly is that high end tourism via interstate highways was a potential money maker. Post besides trying out many of the interstate and state highways also writes about the good and the bad of AAA (which had formed back in 1902). In at least one of the included photographs, the AAA logo affixed to the front grill of the motor.
Although coming three years after Gladding's Lincoln Highway trip, Post's book feels older. Her word choice throughout is rooted in the Nineteenth Century — or in an over zealous desire to be a proper as possible by imitating as many Britishisms as possible. She calls her vehicle a motor and describes the act of using it, motoring.
Post's obsession with keeping up with British fashion was nearly the undoing of the road trip. Post chose a car, excuse me, motor, that was too long, too heavy, and too low to the ground, especially in regards to its exhaust pipe. Any bit of weather left the car mired in mud. During the New Mexico and Arizona legs of the trip, Post laments her choice of vehicle, seeing the logic and versatility of American vehicles for being lighter, shorter, and higher off the ground.
The most reprehensible part of the book though is her treatment of people as a source of cheap tourist entertainment. She laments the lack of cowboys and having to pay a dime per photograph to the Navajos at the Grand Canyon.
Her trip ends in California where her bubble view of the world is popped — or maybe just ignored. California to her horror is colorful in its flowers, it's architecture, and its fashion. She doesn't like any of it except for the sunshine (but not the heat). California though is California and the people she meets are cheery to distraction even when she's being insulting.