As a kid, and long before ‘game-boy’s or video equipment became available to occupy the kids in the back seat – it was what passed outside that provided enlightenment. When our family traveled from South Florida to North Georgia, there was strict ‘crowd control’ exerted within the car. My sisters and I could only stare from the back seat out the side windows, into each other (which was not advisable) or into the approaching pavement ahead. The highway ahead rolled like a black ribbon unfurling over the hills ahead and splitting the straight pines at the next horizon. The simple scenery remains fresh in my warmest thoughts. There was value in what to be seen, there was ‘character’ within it all, of which remained to be noticed for years to come. Many features from my earliest trips stood into the late 60’s and 70’s – if you look hard enough, some highlights remain to this day.
As a young adult I drove a truck delivering produce from Florida to New York City, – I can’t think of a trip that I didn’t notice the character along those highways.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s the interstates were still being completed (esp I 95, I 26, I 77, and more) the ‘corridors’ along the way were lined with character. It struck me as a time and evolution of sorts – settings of our past. What I saw ‘reeked with stories of a once thriving economy.
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, it took 22-hours of straight driving from SW Fla to New York City. In those years I drove at a pace too steady to fully appreciate that rich history – yet still I recognized the contribution to the local livelihoods.
In later years a family was attached to my travels – 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. It was a constant to leave a completed section of interstate and pass through a ‘local’ stretch of highway – or should I say that it was a constant to have a stretch of interstate to travel on. This was standard travel for those years (early 70’s). I didn’t have an ipad or Garmin to keep an eye on, we either knew the road or had a map to glance at. My entertainment was watching the trucks gauges (speedometer didn’t work) and observing the world that passed through the windshield in front of me. It was certainly better than the back seat as a kid.
It wasn’t difficult to notice the structures along the way; it wasn’t difficult to notice the businesses which had at one time thrived and supported so many locals – through travelers.
My windshield on was pretty much a ‘picture window,’ and while traveling those highways – I couldn’t help but to experience the change that was taking place outside.
The interstate highway of our country has provided us with expeditious travel, while at the same time we have altered the towns, communities and local economies that were once dependent on the revenue of travelers.
On the eastern shore Interstate 95 replaced US Highway’s 17, 15, and 301 as major routes – these roads were the cash-flow for local businesses and the activities which 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. No different than the great highways route-66 and highway 50 leading West to California. Once the interstates were complete it was rare for travelers to deviate onto the older highways, but occasionally it did happen. When in no particular hurry I continued to search the trail of decaying and lost businesses that remained. They are apparent for those interested.
There continues to be ‘full-service’ gas stations, tire stores, restaurants, and local hotels in decline – and they remain with grass growing in the cracks of those businesses. Weeds have become trees, vines have replaced the shrubbery; deterioration is the only activity present as those 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 ‘Ham-bone,’ 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?
- from the back seat with my sisters, to Life at Sixty.