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Remembering travel totems

GAYS MILLS - You know what you don’t see much of anymore? The mind reels at the thought.  OK, for example phone booths, slide rules, home milk delivery, pagers, cursive writing, incandescent light bulbs, cash, phonebooks, mimeographed copies, and ashtrays come to mind, as well as many other things that either have disappeared or on some kind of cultural endangered species list. Actually, what I was going for here were window travel decals on cars, the kind that show where you and your car have traveled. When is the last time you saw an auto travel decal?

I’m not sure where these colorful decals went but they are very rare today. I recently saw a car in LaCrosse that was decorated with several stickers (not decals) and they were all part of a series: same design, same lettering, same black and white (although classy looking) sameness, and each one was for a national park. I felt a pang of sentimental nostalgia and realized that travel window decals of old were essentially gone.

Curious, I checked on eBay and of course window decals are available there under the category of vintage auto memorabilia. At a cost well above the 25 to 50 cents (I’m guessing here), they sold for in the 1950s, which was the heyday of such decals. Looking for a unique hobby? Collecting these decals could be it and you would no doubt be in a very exclusive group.

In the 1950s, families generally had one car. It was often a station wagon. Station wagons were the forerunners of the popular minivans of the 80s and 90s and the sport wagons of today. Families seemed to travel more in those earlier days and it was often in the family car. It was a symbol of pride to show where you had been using travel decals, particularly if there were pre-teen children involved. There were a lot more children per family then, so it became a thing. Teenagers quickly become way too cool, then as now, for such a thing as travel decals. 

The decals usually showed a state map with the name of the state in big, bold letters. They might show deserts, mountains, farm fields, beaches, forests, monuments, and all in cartoon style artwork.  The windows in station wagons came in handy with lots room to decorate.  Decals on other windows would restrict driving vision and may have been illegal.

So now, we post selfies on Facebook and tweet about trips (and everything else.) It’s easier to trade in a car that isn’t covered with travel stickers. No longer will you pull up to a friend’s house and be greeted with, “So, I see you went to Idaho.” But, I for one miss seeing those travel totems of old.

Meanwhile, rear car bumpers have become the place to declare yourself to the world, to show your brand. Bumper stickers on your car can identify you as to political leaning, sport team loyalty, favorite breed of dog, honk if you love (fill-in-the blank), etc. and create a sort of a moving bio of you as a person.