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“Man, you gotta go.” The Road Goes On Forever and the Party Never Ends

More from the virtually inexhaustible John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive

Born in 1940 in New Canaan, Connecticut, John Margolies became interested in roadside attractions as a child, riding in the backseat of his parents’ car on trips to neighboring Hartford. At age 16, he obtained his driver’s license and began sightseeing in his 1948 Oldsmobile.

In 1962, he obtained a BA in journalism and art history at the University of Pennsylvania and enrolled at the Annenberg School of Communication. Upon graduation, he was appointed Assistant Editor of Architectural Record and then Program Director of the Architectural League of New York.

In the mid-1970s, he began photographing vernacular architecture, taking extended road trips across the US. Initially, he knew little about photography, says Phil Patton in Roadside America (2010). “He stuck with his venerable Canon cameras,” using “a basic, 50mm lens almost exclusively and ASA 25 film” to “obtain maximum color saturation.”

Margolies normally rented a car and “embark[ed] in the late spring or after Labor Day, when the families and tourists were not crowding the roads.” He packed “coolers for keeping the film cool” and “separate bags for [toiletries] and kitchen [supplies].” Most nights, he stayed in motels, which he documented in Home Away From Home: Motels in America (1995). He always brought “clothespins to secure the drapes” and “a Fred Flintstone night light on a 20-foot extension cord to illuminate unfamiliar bathrooms,” says Patton. He preferred to photograph early mornings with cloudless, blue skies and would skip sites if the light wasn’t right or if cars blocked the scene. As he stated in Roadside America, “I love the light at that time of day; it’s like golden syrup. Everything is fresh and no one is there to bother you.”

[This one goes out to Captain Monroe, landscape photographer.]


{ 10 comments… add one }
  • ghostsniper October 8, 2019, 5:22 PM

    There are people out there right now that think some of that Margolies stuff is racist.
    Since I lived in that time and saw some of those things that makes me racist as well.
    who’d a thunk it?

  • Geoff C. The Saltine October 8, 2019, 6:22 PM

    The fun part of America. They are still there Ghost, and no you are not anymore racist then me or 65,000,000 others
    Take a Road Trip. You will find us if you look,we wear Red Hats.
    This is what makes America great;people doing what we all do best.
    Put one foot in front of the other and build a “Road Side Stand”,
    and make a lot of money for your family and create memories for millions.
    America at its best.
    Winning we are.

  • Auntie Analogue October 8, 2019, 10:28 PM

    My dear Mr. Van der Leun, when, a couple or weeks ago, you first posted a teaser of John Margolies’ photos, I went to their location on the Gubmint website and, over two days & nights, spent hours upon hours flicking enjoyably through every one of his images.

    Just goes to show that you never know which sort of addict you’ll run into. (!)

  • Anon October 9, 2019, 1:20 AM

    Stocked up for the blackouts, Gerard?
    Whats the buzz there?

  • ghostsniper October 9, 2019, 4:53 AM

    My “Roadtrip of a Lifetime” would start with a brand new 3 wheeled Goldwing and last 6 months.
    I’d start at the NE tip of Maine and aim my scooter toward San Diego. Then, zig zag up and down the country from border to border in an ever easterly fashion, hitting the capital in every state, till I got to Florida, then back up here to my estancia in the woods. Documenting everything along the way in pix and video, and writing everything down in a notebook computer. From there, a number of books would be created from the gained experience, all of them on the NYT best sellers list (an easy task these days). Then my life would be complete and I’d be ready for the promised land.

  • jwm October 9, 2019, 9:33 AM

    In 1991 I saddled up my my one and only Harley Davidson, a Springer Softail that I had custom painted to match my 1950 Schwinn B6. I went from So Cal to Tennessee, to Virginia Beach. Passed through West Virginia, where I heard real Bluegrass for the first time. I visited Detroit, the city I was born in, and finished it up with The Run to the Fun ride from the HD engine plant in Milwaukee to Rapid City South Dakota. While we were staging up for the ride, one of the HOG leaders asked for some volunteers. I said, sure, and found myself on the road crew riding right behind the road captain, and just ahead of Willie G. and the executives from the motor company. We blocked traffic for the exits and entrances, pumped gas for the riders, and led the way across the mid-west for three incredible days.
    We stopped in Wall for the last break before running into Rapid City. As we staged up, the run swelled to unbelievable size with all the Sturgis crowd coming out to join.
    The road captain was giving us a last briefing before rolling out while a monster thunderstorm was charging in from the south. ZZ Top was leading the ride in their purple low-rider Caddy. The exec’s from HD followed the band. The road crew followed the execs. Except for me.
    I got picked to ride behind the crew, and pace in the remainder of the run, at this time well into the thousands of riders. I’m not kidding. When I heard that I actually got weak in the knees, out of breath and dizzy. That ended with a push of the starter button. Once we rolled it was like I was standing outside myself watching me have the most glorious moment of my life.
    And the thunderstorm missed, and we rode in to Rapid City dry.
    Had four days of party in Sturgis, and rode home through Wyoming, and Utah.
    Did it four more times before giving up the Hog. No regrets.

    JWM

  • TED Bartlett October 9, 2019, 10:31 AM

    Ghost & JWM, I’ve mentioned this prior but I bought an 82 Sportster when I was 19. I’m still riding it. It certainly is not meant for long road trips but is fun to take on back roads and putt around the countryside. Also, WVA roads are crooked as a broke dick dog.

    Some years ago while riding to the annual Wynoka OK snake hunt, our small group found ourselves enveloped within larger and larger groups of bikes as we approached the huge sand dunes. 100 HDs roaring down the highway will certainly force a smile.

  • Vanderleun October 9, 2019, 12:58 PM

    Great great story jwm.

  • ghostsniper October 9, 2019, 1:56 PM

    Well JayDub I guess that softail made it doable. I bow deeply none the less. My ’59 hawg had a hard tail and an honest to gawd 30 degree raked springer that went all the way out to there. Just one 250 mile round trip across alligator alley and back did it for me. I felt like the entire team of Miami Dolphins landed on me and my hands tingled for days. I sold it soon after. Any future long distance open wheelin’ will be done with many japanese cylinders all balanced to cancel each other out.

  • Brio October 10, 2019, 3:21 AM

    The first photo of the Barrel Drive-in brings back memories. In the 70s, I lived with my grandparents for two years during my high school years. They lived in a small mining town about 60 miles from Phoenix. Several times a month we would all squeeze into my grandfather’s 50s Pontiac with the silver hood ornament.

    We would drive to Phoenix for some major shopping of groceries and occasional purchases of clothing or household goods. No matter the season, my grandfather would hang a thick, rectangular canvas water bag on the hood ornament—in case we needed water to drink or if the car overheated. I don’t recall either event happening.

    On the way home after a long day of shopping, we would always stop at the Barrel for a drink. My grandmother started the tradition. I am assuming she just liked the look of the Barrel and it was about halfway home. Even though the sign says “beer” it was actually root beer that they sold.

    I haven’t driven by the Barrel in almost 50 years as I have no need to head in that direction. I have no clue if it still exists. I would have thought the Barrel was in Apache Junction but I guess East Mesa goes on for miles.

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