At Home On The Highway

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The market for travel trailers and other recreational vehicles grew steadily in the sixties and exploded between 1967 and the gasoline shortage of 1973. Vacationers and retirees once again traveled in familiar surroundings, this time with color televisions, microwave ovens, wall-to-wall carpeting, air conditioning, and other new conveniences. At the same time, the homemade house car made a comeback of sorts as hippies took to converted school buses and eclectic houses on trucks, with wooden sides, stained-glass windows, and potted plants.

If there is a common road down which all these vehicles have traveled, it is a dual highway of security and independence. The suburban house, with its comforting array of furnishings and devices, has always been the paradigm for vacationers in homes on wheels. They have felt secure because they carried that house with them wherever they went, even while pretending to be escaping it and all its responsibilities. In a century during which radio and television have gradually brought the whole world into the home, house cars, trailers, and motor homes have enabled the home to move out into the whole world.

While the portable home has combined security and independence, home and away, in an entirely unprecedented fashion, it has hardly bound together levels of society so neatly. Recreational vehicles have always been symbols of status and increased leisure time; vehicles used as residences have almost always been associated with a second-class way of life. Americans cherish mobility, but only when the journey has an uplifting purpose and ends up safely, at home.