Over the past couple of years, Alex and I have driven along a lot of roads around the country. I don’t mind driving too much, especially if I’m in an area I’ve not seen before.
As a kid in the 1960s and early 1970s, our family did a number of road trips, something that was popular in that era before flying everywhere became so common. I especially remember the car breakdowns; a timing chain got stripped in the motor when we were driving through Louisiana; another time, the car overheated in the desert area of northern Mexico, not far from the U.S. border. A kindly Mexican family let us join in an outdoor cookout while someone fixed the car.
Aside from the breakdowns, I recall our driving by Bart Starr’s home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and peeking from the road through the front windows into his living room; and the time we drove into a smog-filled Manhattan where the owner of a small bodega sang the Georgia Tech fight song while we ate lunch. (As a Georgia fan, I was somewhat insulted, but that a NYC person even knew about Georgia impressed me at the time.)
In adulthood, I’ve tended to fly more often than taking long driving trips, or at least fly and rent a car for a shorter-range drives.
While areas around the country offer very different kinds of scenery, there are some commonalities we’ve noticed in some of our excursions.
A few random road thoughts:
• Lawyers now dominate billboards around the country. They’ve become something of a redundant meme, too, where some guy is looking out in a posed “tough” position — he (or sometimes she) is rolling up his shirt sleeves, or making a fist, or standing with his arms crossed as though he’s the only badass lawyer around. Much of what they are appealing to revolves around personal injury lawsuits. It’s true, we are a litigation nation.
• Mega-warehouses are becoming a ubiquitous part of major interstates around the country. Amazon warehouses are everywhere, along with thousands of others that now dot just about every interstate, urban and rural. We’ve see the same thing in Northeast Georgia, especially in Jackson County. You have to wonder if someday, these bemouths might become archaic relics, hulking shells of an economic period that transitions into something else. I wonder, too, where the hell was all that merchandise being stored before the advent of mega-warehouses?
• Every place now looks like every other place. That may not be true in the small towns, but along the interstates, there is a certain bland sameness — the same gas stations, the same restaurants and the same retail stores in suburban areas. Outlet malls, once a unique “destination” experience, are now so common as to have lost their special status. Some seem almost empty, too. About the only thing new along America’s interstates (in the South anyway) are the rise of the mega-gas-station-convivence-store Buc-ee’s. No 18-wheelers are allowed and the massive number of gas pumps is impressive. But the chain is perhaps best known for its sparkling bathrooms, something that’s not common at other interstate pit stops. It’s a quirky store, but one that now has a loyal following around the Southeastern U.S.
• Construction delays along the nation’s interstates is a problem everywhere, not just in Georgia. I’m not sure why, but every major interstate I’ve driven on lately has had a lot of major work being done. Maybe those projects are an outgrowth of the federal stimulus funds from Covid, but whatever the reason, they’re a pain. I learned some new curse words while driving an interstate section around Chicago toward Milwaukee where the roads split and turn in ways that made zero logic to me. It was all to avoid construction but it was dangerous.
• Not all interstates are flat, straight roads. The curvy areas I’ve been on lately include I-40 between Waynesville, NC and Newport, TN; I-26 around the Tennessee/North Carolina border and the section of I-24 west of Chattanooga. The place most in need of a bypass is Nashville, TN where three major interstates intersect downtown, leading to massive amounts of congestion.
• If you like scenic farms and unique barns, I-57 through Illinois, I-65 through Indiana and I-15 south of Salt Lake City, UT, toward Arizona offer some very beautiful rural scenery. The various kinds of barns in Illinois and Indiana are fascinating, as are the large wind turbines that generate electricity for major transmission lines in that area.
• My favorite non-interstate drives: Hwy. 1 from San Francisco to Los Angles; Hwy. 191 from Jackson WY through Grand Teton National Park into Yellowstone NP; Hwy. 1A from York, ME to Ogunquit, ME; the Bluegrass area around Lexington, KY toward Frankfort; and just about anywhere in the Colorado Rockies, notably the drive through Rocky Mountain National Park where I once scared a van load of Boy Scouts in an area with a steep drop-off.
Summer is coming and a lot of families will be driving for vacations — to the beach, to the mountains or perhaps across country.
Long hauls can be boring (thinking of you, Kansas), but there’re a lot of interesting things to see along America’s roads.
Great topic, Mike.
.01: Lawyer billboards: Pam and I saw a sign about a year ago, and I could not stop laughing; "If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an auto accident......".
.02: Construction Delays: I never expect otherwise.
.03: Flat-Straight interstate roads: I immediately thought of the drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
.04 Non-Interstate, intriguing drives: Too many for me to list, but I will say this, I have met many new friends and learned a lot of new information by what I term "Wandering." Life lessons off the beaten path.
Wow! First an ode to dirt roads and now one to just driving in general. Great use of your platform. I didn't make it to reading the end of this "story". Is this what's important?
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