Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An American Success Story

The interstate highway system turns 50 this month. Here's a pretty good essay.


Give thanks because the Interstate is going to make your holiday trip, this week, and at Christmas, immeasurably faster and easier than it used to be. Only those who drove or rode as children in automobiles in the '30s, '40s and '50s can fully appreciate how much faster and how much easier.

Long distance auto trips back then meant stop and go driving through a maze of dangerous intersections with and without traffic lights; through railroad crossings, perilous curves and steep grades on which motorists too often found themselves crawling along behind heavy trucks. Most main routes led directly through cities and towns and there were few by-passes. For every charming little roadside restaurant now remembered through the haze of nostalgia, there were scores of dirty joints of decidedly uneven quality. If you were lucky you might find a good motel, but often you were left with a grim, run-down tourist cabin.


When it comes to the Interstate I throw all my reservations about Big Government out the car window. I don't care about the history of graft and the lobbying by the "Road Gang" and the fights over "urban freeways" and the tales of pork barrels and political favoritism and the bifurcating of neighborhoods and the scandals of inferior concrete and faulty inspections and on and on. The Interstate got built and it works.


And, yes, I love the predictability of McDonalds and Bob Evans and Best Western and those huge truck stops with sweeping phalanxes of gas pumps. There are some snobs who grouse about the Interstate and brag about how they shunpike their way between point A and point B on the side roads so they can drink in the scenery and enjoy that cute little diner in Outofthewaysville.

Well, the reason they enjoy their trip is because all the truck traffic and a lot of the regular traffic is rolling on the Interstate, leaving those side roads less crowded and more serene. I've heard all their stories about how great it was to travel back in the old days before all those bland chain restaurants and motels "made everything the same."

These people get a little catch in their throats about some great stuffed pork chops they had somewhere outside Dayton back in the "old days" and they forget what it was like to follow a heavily loaded 18-wheeler up a two-lane highway in the not-so-Great Smokey Mountains, or to run afoul of some fat-assed tax collector in a police uniform in a little town on the way to Florida...

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