Long before electronics to mentally occupy the kids in the back seat – it was what passed outside our windows that provided the travel entertainment – anyone could see, some noticed.. As a kid in the fifties, when my family traveled – we were under strict ‘crowd control’ from the parents, options were few. My sisters and I could only stare out the side windows or into each other (which was not advisable). Our yearly trek from South Florida to Northern Georgia left plenty of time to stare into the approaching pavement ahead. That particular highway rolled like a black ribbon unfurling over the land ahead. The two-lane highway split the fields, towns, and straight pines along the way into the next horizon. That simple scenery remains fresh in my warmest thoughts. I found value in what was out those windows; there was ‘character’ about and it stood to be noticed for more years to come. Little circles. Many features from my earliest trips remained along the way into the late 60’s and 70’s – few stand today. Yet now and then a landmark is spotted.
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.
In my young adulthood as I drove a truck delivering produce from Florida to New York City, – I can’t think of a trip that I didn’t continue to notice the character along those highways.
As a 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 could still recognize the contribution of those byways 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.
Within the early years that I drove truck the semi, the major interstates were incomplete. It was a constant to leave a completed section of interstate and pass through a ‘local’ stretch of highway. 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 – or just followed the road signs. My entertainment was watching the trucks gauges and observing the world that was passing by the windshield in front of me. Driving 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 – the business came through the travelers – and had for many years.
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 – those byways were the cash-flow highways 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 completed, it was rare for new generation travelers to deviate onto the older highways.
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 stood with grass growing in the cracks of those businesses. Now when found standing; weeds have become trees, vines have replaced the shrubbery; and the only activity present is deterioration. Structures becoming relic’s.
I suppose I was touched because my father was associated with the trucking industry and I was in the position to listen in to many of the ‘trucker’s stories’ while drivers sat around the truck stop sipping their coffee. What a bunch of characters those ‘drivers’ were, especially ‘Ham-bone,’ short in stature but the richest in tales – 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 once more, in a little less of a hurry – Why Not?
- from the back seat with my sisters, to Life at Sixty.