Yes, yes, I know I’ve been remiss in my blogging duties lately. Mostly it’s because of a lack of things to write about. I used to think that I had something important! to say. Not so much anymore. Not that my life isn’t interesting and fun…to me it is. But we all have lives. The more people I meet…the more lives I get to hear about, the more arrogant I am to think that mine is any more important or special than anyone else’s. For it’s not.
Plus, I seem to have run out of stories. And without stories a blog is…well…pretty boring. “Today, I woke up and…” Zzzzzzz.
I often write about my trips back and forth between Florida and Washington State. This last time I drove up and it was the most uneventful cross-country trip ever. I’d get in the car, set the cruise control for “+9” and just sit back until I ran out of fuel or had to pee, two things I tried hard to get to coincide - not always successfully.
(And I’ve long wondered why gas stations don’t put urinals out at the pumps? And a soda machine. It would be so convenient if I didn’t have to go inside at all. Just defuel while I‘m refueling, grab a cold soda and I‘m off for the next 400 miles.)
Whatever romance Kerouac and H.S. Thompson found on the American road is gone, replaced by an endless, boring ribbon of Interstate highways, where moronic drivers doing the speed limit sanctimoniously guard the left lane as though their ultimate purpose in life depended on not letting dangerous law-breakers pass. I’m often reminded of comedian George Carlin’s insightful routine about drivers: Everybody who’s slower than you is an idiot, and everyone driving faster is a maniac. I’m usually the maniac.
The title of this post refers to a book of the same name by a writer named William Least Heat-Moon. He made a cross-country trip by staying off the Interstates and travelling only on secondary roads, those that are depicted in blue on most maps. It's an epic adventure, one still worth reading if you have not.
Cross-country travel has changed so much in my lifetime. The Interstate highways didn't always go where you needed to be. And the Interstate usually bypassed the town itself. You had to get off and go into the town to get something to eat or fuel up. It took a while, but now virtually every exit on the Interstate has food and fuel and every motel chain imaginable.
The Interstates offer a level of sameness and predictability. You know that the McDonalds at the next exit will have the same Quarter Pounder with Cheese as the last one. There’s comfort in that. It takes the chance out of stopping at a sketchy place with bad food, especially when you’ve got a car full of wife and kids with delicate digestive systems.
It was different in the 1960’s and early ’70s. You’d drive along, looking up ahead for the big, red “DINER” sign. The joke was that a lot of trucks parked outside meant the food was good. Sometimes that worked, sometimes not. On the Interstate, you might not see the sign until you passed the exit - D'OH!
Then the federal government started putting up signs prior to the exit alerting you that there was “Gas, Food and Lodging” ahead. Sometimes they’d add “Phone” back when there weren’t at least four phones in every family car (five if you include GM’s OnStar). Eventually they actually started putting signs up telling you which brands of fuel, which motels and which restaurants were at the next exit. Now, if you don’t see the McDonalds sign you just keep driving until you do. We make our overnight room reservations on the go with Hotels.com.
I’d like to say that I miss the old days…but I don’t. When you have to be 3,000 miles thataway in a couple of days, our modern Interstate system can‘t be beat. If you’re not in such a hurry you can always eschew the big road and take the “blue highways.”
I had driven a company car home from Washington last year. The boss cleverly gave it to me to use, knowing I’d feel compelled to bring it back for one more season. But this year I don’t yet know how I’m getting home. I could fly (but I won’t). Or I could buy a car (or maybe a motorcycle!) and take the long way home.