The effect of the automobile on recreational habits was often decried in the 1930's: the substitution of a passive amusement for something more active; standardization and regimentation; the moral problem of the parked sedan and roadside tourist camp. The Sunday-afternoon drive was devastatingly described -- the crowded highways, traffic jams, and accidents; the car windows tightly closed against spring breezes; and whatever beauties the landscape might offer lying hidden behind forbidding lines of advertisements. "One arrives after a motor journey," one eminent sociologist wrote, "all liver and no legs; one's mind is asleep, one's body tired; one is bored, irritable, and listless. 25 But what such critics forgot was that the great majority of Sunday and holiday motorists, or even vacation tourists, would have been cooped up in crowded towns and cities except for the automobile.
The country they saw may at times have been almost blotted out by billboards and the air they breathed tainted by gasoline fumes. But the alternative in many cases would have been the movie, the dance-hall, or the beer-parlor. The steamboat and the railroad began a century ago to open up the world of travel and provide some means of holiday escape from one's immediate enviromnent, but until the coming of the automobile, recreation along these lines was a rare thing. The wealthy could make the fashionable tour in 1825, the well-to-do built up the summer resorts of the 1890's, but every Tom, Dick, and Harry toured the country in the 1930's -- thanks to the automobile.
Much of the criticism of the way the automobile was used in leisure-time activities may have been justified, but any gen, eral condemnation of its part in national recreation implies that pleasure travel, outdoor life, and many sports should have largely remained the prerogative of the wealthy few who could afford other means of transportation.