As a kid, family ventures in the car from SW Florida to NE Georgia for family gatherings (Dad was from Ga) was along those two-lane ribbons of flowing asphalt. A long look from the back seat was a view across the rolling pavement ahead, like a gentle wave crossing the hills then splitting the straight pines at the next horizon. The scenery remains fresh in my warmest thoughts. The value of what I noticed passing from the side window, the ‘character,’ remained present in the late 60′s and early 70′s – some remains to this day.
As a young man I drove truck delivering produce from Florida to New York City, – I never ‘didn’t’ notice the character.
During the time interstates were being completed (esp I 95, I 26, I 77, and more), the ‘highways’ were corridors lined with discarded character, all standing as recent fossils of our past; they ‘reeked with stories of a once thriving economy.
In those days I passed way too fast along the by-ways to fully appreciate that rich history, still I recognized that contribution to the local success.
As a professional driver in the early 70′s I was bound to a schedule, and to the interstate’s effectiveness in meeting my deadline. In the eighties, a family was attached – stopping along the by-roads was simply too much of an interruption, too stressful (to the wife). I tried several times, but to stop and take a picture of some old structure was simply too much trouble for her – ‘getting there‘ once again was the point of our ride – a family destination, and I understood.
As noted, within the years that I worked as a driver the major interstates were incomplete. Constantly leaving the completed sections of interstate and passing through the ‘local’ stretches of highway was a ‘norm’ to traveling. This was standard travel for my generation. I didn’t have an ipad or Garmin to keep an eye on – I watched my gauges (speedometer didn’t work) and looked out the windshield.
I couldn’t help but to notice the structures along the way which had at one time thrived and supported so many locals and travelers.
The windshield on the truck that I drove was pretty much my ‘picture window,’ and while traveling those highways – I couldn’t help but to experience the change that was taking place.
Our country’s interstate highway system has provided us with expeditious travel, at the same time the luxury has altered the towns and cities that were once dependent on the revenue of travelers, especially the ‘truckers.’
On the eastern shore Interstate 95 replaced US Highway’s 17, 15, and 301 as major routes – these roads were the economy for local businesses and the activities which in-turn had sustained generations of families.
In the South highway 441 was another more northern route through Georgia which was replaced by Interstate 75, altering the local impact of those visiting the south from Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Once the interstates were complete it was rare for travelers to deviate onto the older highways, but occasionally it did happen. When I was in no particular hurry I searched for the trail of decaying and lost businesses that remained apparent for those interested.
I noticed full-service gas stations, tire stores, restaurants, and local hotels in decline – I noticed the grass growing in the cracks of those businesses. Weeds have become trees, vines have replaced the shrubbery; deterioration is the only activity as once important structures become relic’s of our past.
I suppose I was touched because my father was associated with the trucking industry, as a kid I was in the position to listen in to the ‘trucker’s stories’ while they sat around the truck stop savoring their coffee. What a bunch of characters the ‘drivers’ were, especially ‘Hambone,’ short in stature but rich in the tallest of tales – always captivating those around with his never ending stories of antic’s.
This past summer I took a small ‘raft’ (pontoon) making my way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans (and then to Biloxi), 1800 miles worth (Raft The Mississippi) - lets just say it might have been practice for blogging a ride along some old highways, we’ll see.
And now after completing 30 years as a firefighter for the City of Asheville, NC. I just may find myself with an opportunity to ease down a few of those overlooked highways, in a little less of a hurry - Why Not?