A short essay by George Ade (1866-1944):


SOME people think that the first purpose of motoring is not to travel but to arrive. The driver who carries his helpless victims from Buffalo to Albany in one day goes about accepting congratulations, whereas he should be hauled into court.

Nothing emitted herewith must be regarded as a narrow-minded, pedestrian protest against motoring in general. The joys of life may be made to increase with the multiplication of cylinders. The privilege of cutting across country and the diversion of travel from stiff and straight rail lines to shady by-ways – these are real boons.

Attack is being made only on those motorists who are obsessed with the belief that because a car can hit up fifty-five an hour, it is hanging back when it does a measly thirty-five, and who further count up the result of their tours by the miles instead of by the smiles.

The main idea with the road-whippets seems to be the necessity of registering at some far distant point within a highly sporting time limit. Probably the man at the wheel gets most of the zest to be derived from the performance. He feels that exultation which accompanies the controlling and directing of mighty energies. By hanging over the gear he steadies himself physically, and he finds mental employment in repeatedly solving the problem of how to avoid sudden death.

If you like that kind of motoring, by all means claim the privilege of driving. Then, when the car turns turtle, you will have some thing to hang on to besides a Blue Book.

If you are a back-seat passenger, with a cargo rating the same as that of a suitcase, a thermos bottle, or a golf bag, you will find yourself rock-a-byed through whirling landscapes, and realize all the time that you are merely a limp Something, riding on the winds of Chance.

The driver seems grimly confident that he can always zip within eight inches of the car which comes tearing head on – insanely seeking a collision. How superb of him not to give more roadway than the other fellow gives! And will it be a first-page story, with photographs and the names in black caps? Or will it be bunched with the other casualties of a busy day on the bloody highways?

It seems that the driver himself is never frightened. He is too busy boring a hole in the atmosphere to consider the other people in the car. Their nerves may be kinked into hard knots, and their eyes may be protruding, and their hearts may be suspending action for thirty seconds at a stretch, but what wots it? The delirious chauffeur is having the time of his young life.

Usually, one of the sufferers is the owner of the car. He is simply excess baggage. His only privilege is to produce more money at regular intervals.

Besides, he knows that a classy driver and a high-powered car are both deeply insulted at the very mention of a speed limit. If held down to twenty-five miles an hour, they feel that they have been demoted and had their stripes cut off. They are publicly shamed when they take the dust of cars costing one thousand dollars each, or even less. What is the use of going on the road unless all of the white-faced spectators along the route can be properly impressed?

These must be the facts, because we know that only a few persons, possessed of abnormal cravings, like to travel at top speed. Yet the rarest sight in the world is a long-waisted, expensive car moving through a rural district at a sane and safe and sensible pace. It is always trying to arrive at some point, one hundred miles ahead, before six o clock in the evening.

Among the back-seat victims may be found at least one Invited Guest. When he is asked if he objects to stepping along on high, he supinely answers, "No."

To be auto-shy and favour a moderate gait is evidence of moral inferiority, the same as being seasick or wearing woollen underwear.

Probably persons really alive never come so near to being dead as when they fall out of a motor car at the end of a jolly 200-mile spin.

"Spin" is the word. They know how it feels to be a gyroscope. The blood of each is congealed – partly because he has been folded away in a cramped posture, and partly because he has been visualizing himself as the central attraction of a large funeral. The intellect and the emotions are in a totally benumbed state. Memory is a mere blur of shimmying houses and reeling telephone poles.

The one compensation comes two weeks later when the sufferer has recovered sufficiently to announce to the envious stay-at-homes that, after taking a late luncheon at Upper Swattomy, he arrived at Manchester in time for dinner.

When a person travels at the speed rate ordained by all high-salaried drivers, he sees nothing much except the roadway. So far as relaxation and instruction and gentle diversion are concerned, he might as well be put into a hollow projectile and fired out of a big Bertha from one city to another.

If he could take a large sleeping powder and lie down in the bottom of the car, after leaving a call, he would be in better condition at the end of the run, because he would not be compelled to put in several hours unspiralling his nerves.

It is well known that the start of a long run is always delayed. Every car that you see burning up the pike is in danger of being late at the next important destination, thereby losing caste.

We spill the golden hours with prodigal foolishness, until we find ourselves in an automobile, and then every minute becomes as precious as a pearl.

There are exclamations of dismay when a sharp detonation tells of tire trouble. Instead of finding it a privilege to get out and stretch the legs and gaze at scenery which consents to stand still, the birds of passage all begin moaning and looking at watches. It is now 4:13 and they expected to be in Springfield at 5:30; but it begins to look as if they might not arrive there until 5:45! Too bad!

Americans are accused of offering too many sacrifices to the mud idol of Aimless Hurry. They never hustle to such small purpose as when they make this mud idol their motor god.

Every day we see them go grinding and flash ing past our quiet place in the country. Their faces are tense. They stare straight ahead through the disfiguring goggles. They are half-crouched, to fight more successfully the on-rushing current of air.

They are temporarily ossified – studies in suspended animation. They may be willing to turn around and look, but the cervical vertebras have become locked together and will not rotate. They can see nothing except the white road way, the speedometer, and the undertaker.

The speed worshippers and schedule slaves have taken the joy out of what should be a restful antidote for brain fag. Motoring would seem to be a proper prescription for nervousness. As a matter of fact the poor neurasthenic who is – or is the victim of – a speed maniac might as well go over to the electric light plant and ride on the flywheel.

Now is the time for an organization of passengers who wish to protect themselves against dare-devil drivers. It should be oath-bound and effective, the same as the Ku Klux Klan. Declaration must be made that the purpose of motor touring is to bring enjoyment to all occupants of the car, even if the driver does earn the contempt of Ralph de Palma and Barney Oldfield.

The maximum rate of speed should be thirty-five miles an hour. The moment the speedometer registers thirty-six, an automatic contrivance should cause a placard to appear on the wind shield immediately in front of the driver. The placard would read as follows: "You are fired."

Or, better yet, have each passenger secrete on his person, before the start, a short leather billy stuffed with sand or bird-shot. This so-called "persuader" is the kind that has been used professionally in all of our large cities since the world was made safe for democracy. Just as the indicator passes the thirty-five-mile mark, each passenger will take a firm grip on the small but dependable weapon and do his duty.

It needs to be understood, once and for all, that even those on the back seats retain their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The driver must watch the roadway; but why should all the others be compelled to help him? When the speed becomes so whistling that the pleasure jaunt resolves itself into a gamble with death, the passengers find themselves gazing straight ahead with a sort of fascinated horror. Mile after mile they discern nothing but a thin white streak, the farther end of which is linked to the horizon.

They should not be compelled to close their eyes and curl their toes in order to avoid going into the ditch.

They should be able to converse among them selves without having their teeth bent inward.

Just as there is no fun in motoring when every new mile becomes another hazardous adventure, so there is no profit in motor travel if too many miles are negotiated each day.

Even when the members of the party are permitted to look at the growing fields and the grazing herds and the comatose villagers on the front porches, they find themselves, after a few hours, definitely filled up with sight-seeing. They are stuffed with impressions.

The average mortal can eat about so much food in twenty-four hours without discomfort. He can listen to so much music and look at so many pictures and read so many pages of a book. By the same token, he can speed only a limited number of miles across country and retain a normal human interest in his surround ings. Let him overtax his capacity, and men tal weariness supplements his physical torpor, and he is suffering from what may be designated as motoritis.

Therefore let all who have suffered unite in a demand for:

1st: A speed limit of 35 miles an hour.

2d: A distance limit of 100 miles a day.

Any one not satisfied with the above arrangement may board an express train and lie in a berth.

Automobiles must stop their scooting and learn to tarry.

The occupants of a car should not be compelled to huddle under the lap robes, like hibernating bears, for hours at a time.

All of our motorists, everywhere, are rushing past the things worth seeing, instead of stopping to enjoy them. There is no township, however remote, but has within its boundaries some exhibit which will instruct or entertain the caller.

In order to crowd the one hundred daily miles with rare entertainment, the thing to do is to stop and visit in every town. You can get acquainted in two minutes.

Don't annoy the postmaster and don't go near the bank. The banker will think that you want a check cashed. Drive right into the heart of Main Street and pull up in front of a red-white-and-blue pole. The barber is the lad for you. He is always sociable, and he can immediately put you in possession of the local traditions and scandals. If there is anything in the whole countryside worth visiting he can give you the needed information, surrounded by details.

Tell him that as you drove in through the residence district, you were more than favourably impressed and that you have stopped off for a visit and what is there to see? He will immediately submit a list of attractions, which may include the Carnegie Library, a blind pig, and a milch cow that took first prize at the state fair.

Or, better yet, he will ask Elmer to finish the man he is shaving, and he will put on his coat and take you out to meet the town celebrity. It may be the old soldier who gave General Hooker a lot of good advice at Lookout Mountain, or the woman who has been working twenty-two years on a patch quilt which will eventually have seventy-five thousand pieces of silk in it. Or he may want to show you the birthplace of the man who played the slide trombone with Sousa's Band for seven years. Every incorporated town has some hold upon fame. Here are some sights dug up in smaller Indiana settlements which are entirely over looked by the tourists:

A town idiot who can foretell the weather and has not made a mistake in five years.

A red-headed negro who drives a pink mule art eclipsed by nature.

An endless chain whittled out of one piece of wood.

A house which was one of the main stations on the "Underground Railway" for fugitive slaves, before the war.

The quarter-mile track on which Dan Patch received his first try-out as a pacer. First valued at $500 and later, after establishing a world s record, sold for $100,000.

The cream separator first used for making quick applejack out of hard cider.

And so on, and so on. Our neglected nation has stored up a wealth of recent legends and is rich in "character types". The way to "See America First" is to resist the silly habit of rushing furiously from one city to another. Seek out the communities in which the residents are severally important as individuals and not mere names in a directory.

Get the habit of stopping and visiting at the slightest provocation. Bestow a little friendly attention on the native population, and it will warm up and begin to radiate hospitality. The city man who is not "stuck up" always makes a sensational hit in the small town. Of course, if you are a metropolitan yap with a movie education and a vaudeville sense of humour and want the "rubes" to perform for your entertain ment, you had better keep right on travelling. And ask the local garage man what his charges are before you hire him. When the rural worm turns he gives a correct imitation of a boa constrictor.

In order to insure more leisurely habits of travel and arouse a proper interest in the varied charms of all outlying regions, we need in this country an entirely new sort of guide book for motorists.

The kind of book now in use devotes too much attention to the roadway, instead of giving spicy information about what may be seen from the roadway.

It is a mere chart, whereas it might be made a document bubbling with human interest.

Even when it turns aside to say something about a town on the route, it gives inconsequential facts, such as the population and the altitude above sea level. Even the people who live there do not know how much they are elevated above sea level. And who cares about the population? The question isn t how many people live in the town, but what are they up to?

Let us have road guides which will keep the tourists sitting up and interested. Something like the following:


0.0 Hicksville. Started by Truman Hicks about 1800. The town is famous on account of the Liberty Hotel (large faded structure on Main Street), it being claimed that more travelling men have committed suicide within its walls than in any two other hotels in the state. The elderly persons seen along the business thoroughfares are retired farmers. They are talking about the taxes. The small vacant room next to the post office was used as a manicure parlour for three weeks during 1917, but public sentiment prevailed. In order to get out of town as soon as possible proceed east on Main Street. Note on the left the drug store owned by Henry F. Pilsbry. After local option went into effect, and be fore the Eighteenth Amendment was passed, Mr. Pilsbry bought two large farms. Look out for stretch of bad pavement. The contractor who did the work was related to the mayor. Cross R. R.

2.6 Bear toward left with County Poor-Farm on right. The old gentlemen with carpet slippers, seated under the trees, thought they could outguess the Board of Trade.

3.3 On a distant hill to right note the spacious farm dwelling owned by Waldo Jefferson, who holds a world record for being converted, having joined church every winter since 1879.

4.2 Jog left, passing on left country schoolhouse attended in 1874 by Rufus Jinkins, for many years head bartender at the Burnet House, Cincinnati, Ohio.

5.1 Sparrow's Grove. In the general store of Eli Nesbit may be found stick candy dating back to U. S. Grant's first Administration. Worth a short visit, as it claims the distinction of being the only village in America which does not offer souvenir post cards for sale. Straight on past a fawn-coloured bungalow with purple trim to:

5.9 Large stock farm owned by Lee J. Truckby, who never took a drink of liquor and has been married four times. He believes in infant damnation and is opposed to hired girls. May be found back of the barn, keeping tab on the help. Visitors just as welcome as the foot and mouth disease.

7.2 Nestling in a grove of jack oaks may be found Zion M. E. Church. Built in the Centennial year. Cupola added in 1888 after a design by the County Superintendent of Schools. The cantata of "Esther" was given at this church during the darkest period of the World War, netting $41 for the Red Cross.

8.4 On the left the Saxby home. There are four Saxby boys, all of whom can move their ears.

9.8 Note at right in pasture a venerable elm tree. It is said that under this tree the Potawatami chiefs, while intoxicated, signed a treaty with Colonel Hoskins, receiving $2 worth of merchandise for all territory lying west of Sandusky.

11.7 Nubbin Hill (Pop. 63) . Locally famous as the home of Baz Turnbull, who travelled with a circus for two years. Mr. Turnbull is said to be the only man in the township who still knows where to get it. He is employed at the cream depot and may be easily identified as the one wearing a derby.

13.2 Log cabin back in woods at left, built in 1838 by Jephtha Halliday, father of twelve children. The second oldest son (Gale) moved to Chicago, where he was well known to thousands of people, having officiated for years as train caller at the Illinois Central Station.

16.7 Chautauqua Grove in suburbs of Peatsburg. The tab ernacle may be seen in distance. It was in this grove that a member of the Peabody Family of Swiss Bell Ringers became engaged to Professor Herman Belcher, mind-reader and mesmerist. They were married later at Alton, 111., separating at Crawfordsville, Ind.

16.9 Peatsburg (Pop. 1,500, many residents having been overlooked by the census enumerators; who, in 1920, reported a total of 967). Has more pool players in proportion to size than any other place in the world. Jasper Wilkins, champion checker player of the seventh Congressional District, lives in small frame cottage back of the Harney & Co. Hardware store. Mr. Wilkins is a member of the Volunteer Fire Department. His wife takes in washing. George Spelvin, who may be found in front of post office (cataract over left eye), has been working for 15 years on an invention intended to do away with steel rails in the operation of railway lines. He will exhibit blue-prints to those who can be trusted.

17.3 New iron bridge spans the Catouchie River. Note names of County Commissioners on tablet. All were candidates for reëlection and were defeated.

19.4 Near hitch-rack immediately in front of the Parson farmhouse (bed of nasturtiums in front yard), two citizens of Putnam County engaged in a desperate fistfight in October, 1920, the subject of the controversy being the League of Nations. Said to be the only time when the whole thing was really settled.

20.4 Favourite picnic grounds for Sunday-schools and benevolent orders. Over 1,000 empty pop-bottles picked up during last fiscal year.

22.0 Bennington (Pop. 8). Mr. Klingfeldt, age 93 (brick house with portico), can remember when tomatoes were not supposed to be good to eat.

23.2 Artesian well at right. Water highly impregnated and therefore supposed to have medicinal value. Visited by Irvin Cobb during recent lecture tour.

24.8 Fair grounds at right. On half-mile track Lulu Livingstone in 1908 paced one mile in 2.48 without toe-weights. In Floral Hall two years ago was exhibited a rutabaga which bore a striking resemblance to Eben Mosely, president of the Juniper State Bank. It was seen by thousands.

26.8 Juniper (Pop. 3,402). County seat, and known far and wide as "The Pride of Putnam." Has had a cafeteria since 1915 and gets all the Douglas Fairbanks releases within a year after they are seen in large cities. Ellis Trimble, office above the Help- Yourself Grocery, was one of the greatest criminal lawyers in the northern part of the state up to the time they took his liquor away from him. Mae Effingham, a native of the town, is now a member of the Winter Garden chorus. Photographs of Miss Effingham, in costume, may be found in the window of the Applegate Piano and Music Store. Clyde Applegate (the one with the gold in his teeth) can relate many interesting anecdotes dealing with her girlhood back in the old home town.

That is merely a suggestion; it is simply a stray leaf taken from the guide book of the future. But surely, even from this sample, you can begin to sense the possibilities.

Europe has no monopoly on hallowed traditions, and the Wabash has legends the same as the Rhine, if we will just dig them up.

Travel slowly. Stop often. Get under the cover of every neighbourhood. Snuggle up until you can feel the very heart-beats of your beloved countrymen. The more you find out about them, the less inclined you will be to pay $2.50 to get into a theatre.