America loves the open road

By Michael O’Donnell

When you get home from a busy day, it isn’t often that television takes you out onto the open road of information and possibilities.
I’m old enough to remember when Pocatello residents only received four channels — the big three, ABC, NBC and CBS, and the fledgling Public Broadcasting System. It was amazing when Cable One came around neighborhoods soliciting sign-ups for its new cable service in Pocatello that would bring us channels like HBO.
And this is telling, but I remember how edgy it was when HBO brought jazzercise into our living rooms. It was basically filler, but it had enough erotic appeal to become a hit because of the fit women and the sexy music playing in the background as they exercised.
When cable came to town, those who could afford it rejoiced.
Now the vast majority of people in Southeast Idaho enjoy some kind of expanded television programming or use their computers to access almost anything ever produced.
Times have changed.
Unfortunately, a lot of what is available in the world of media entertainment or packaged information is junk.
How many toothless swamp people do we need to see kill an alligator?
And what in the world was the appeal with Honey Boo Boo?
To be fair, I’ve never truly understood why the “Dukes of Hazzard” was the top-rated television show back in the early 1980s. Luke Duke, Bo Duke and Daisy Duke outrunning an idiot sheriff named Rosco who worked for a crooked county commissioner named Boss Hogg was all the rage.
But Friday night’s excellent series called “Driving America,” produced for the National Geographic channel, made it all clear to me.
It was the car in the Duke’s saga that carried the day. It was a 1969 Dodge Charger named General Lee.
The National Geographic special pinpointed Americans’ fascination with automobiles — both foreign and domestic — and how our culture has been wrapped around four wheels for a long time.
Almost everyone knows that the modern practice of assembly line production was launched by Henry Ford when he gave Americans the affordable Model T. But the show gave me more insight on other dynamic players and events in the world of automobiles.
Until I watched the program, I didn’t realize that A&W restaurants were the first drive-ins in this country. Roy Allen and Frank Wright had developed a mighty tasty beverage and decided to offer it to people who could just drive up and score some without stepping outside their automobiles.

When you get home from a busy day, it isn’t often that television takes you out onto the open road of information and possibilities.
I’m old enough to remember when Pocatello residents only received four channels — the big three, ABC, NBC and CBS, and the fledgling Public Broadcasting System. It was amazing when Cable One came around neighborhoods soliciting sign-ups for its new cable service in Pocatello that would bring us channels like HBO.
And this is telling, but I remember how edgy it was when HBO brought jazzercise into our living rooms. It was basically filler, but it had enough erotic appeal to become a hit because of the fit women and the sexy music playing in the background as they exercised.
When cable came to town, those who could afford it rejoiced.
Now the vast majority of people in Southeast Idaho enjoy some kind of expanded television programming or use their computers to access almost anything ever produced.
Times have changed.
Unfortunately, a lot of what is available in the world of media entertainment or packaged information is junk.
How many toothless swamp people do we need to see kill an alligator?
And what in the world was the appeal with Honey Boo Boo?
To be fair, I’ve never truly understood why the “Dukes of Hazzard” was the top-rated television show back in the early 1980s. Luke Duke, Bo Duke and Daisy Duke outrunning an idiot sheriff named Rosco who worked for a crooked county commissioner named Boss Hogg was all the rage.
But Friday night’s excellent series called “Driving America,” produced for the National Geographic channel, made it all clear to me.
It was the car in the Duke’s saga that carried the day. It was a 1969 Dodge Charger named General Lee.
The National Geographic special pinpointed Americans’ fascination with automobiles — both foreign and domestic — and how our culture has been wrapped around four wheels for a long time.
Almost everyone knows that the modern practice of assembly line production was launched by Henry Ford when he gave Americans the affordable Model T. But the show gave me more insight on other dynamic players and events in the world of automobiles.
Until I watched the program, I didn’t realize that A&W restaurants were the first drive-ins in this country. Roy Allen and Frank Wright had developed a mighty tasty beverage and decided to offer it to people who could just drive up and score some without stepping outside their automobiles.

I also didn’t know that the space age led to the release of Oldsmobile’s first “rocket” V-8 engine. It was the first mass-produced overhead valve eight cylinder engine in 1949 and was the last passenger car engine with a standard carburetor produced until 1990.
Maybe the television documentary hit home because I remember the era and some of the cars featured in its presentation of American history.
My father bought his first Oldsmobile back in 1968. It was a family station wagon that Oldsmobile had dubbed the Vista Cruiser. It got the name from the slender windows that were along the sides of the long roof that allowed passengers to look into the heavens.
And compared to the 1959 Chevy six-banger that we had owned, the Vista Cruiser was a rocket.
I recall vividly when my father and I drove that maroon beauty back to Colorado after flying to Nebraska to fetch it. With its 8-track player filling the cab with Mantovani and his orchestra, dad had the Olds doing 105 until I noticed the speed and alerted him to the potential law enforcement issues.
He was just smiling and enjoying the float along a long, straight stretch of highway.
He was feeling rich in an America where gasoline was cheap and good cars could be acquired without breaking the bank.
The National Geographic special also provided me information about the first auto I ever purchased that was unknown to me. The man Adolf Hitler hired to develop the Volkswagen was Ferdinand Porsche. So when I bought my 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle, in some ways I was buying a Porsche.
The German factory where Volkswagens were built was hit by a high-explosive bomb during World War II, but it failed to go boom and the machinery and vehicles inside the factory were spared. The small car with the air-cooled engine would go on to become the best-selling vehicle in America in 1972.
The special on America and its love for automobiles struck a lot of chords inside of me. It covered dynamic muscle cars like the Shelby Mustang, GTO and the Corvette. But it also proved America has always been a country on the move. We like looking at things in the rearview mirror and exploring whatever might be ahead.
Let’s hope we never lose our zeal for the open road and a future filled with hope.
Michael H. O’Donnell is the assistant managing editor of the Idaho State Journal.