“The Americans have found the healing of God in a variety of things,
the most pleasant of which is probably automobile drives.”
(my uncle Paul and my dad, the kid working the last drop of Coke, circa 1936 / on the steps of the state capital of Baton Rouge, Louisiana—road trip via Hwy 78 out of Atlanta)
Sitting for over two hours this morning on the interstate, not moving more than an inch every 15 minutes, I felt almost compelled to roll down my car window and personally shout an apology to all those license plates around me.
“On behalf of the Governor of the state of Georgia and the Mayor of Atlanta, I want to personally apologize to you Texas, to you South Carolina, to you Tennessee, to you Alabama, to you Mississippi, to you North Carolina and especially to you Connecticut…that your journey to your destination, wherever that may be, has found you sitting tangled in this jumbled mess of woven concrete known as the interstates that weave in and out of Atlanta….
I AM SORRY”
This country’s interstate system, which is mostly known as the Eisenhower Interstate System, is celebrating its 50th year of existence. Sitting as I was this morning, debating whether I should simply get out of the car and walk, I was not in any mood to put on a party hat and eat cake.
According to Norman Mineta, the US Transportation Secretary….
“The Interstate highway system is essential to America’s prosperity and way of life. Since its beginning 50 years ago, the Interstate network has provided a vital link for connecting goods to markets here and around the world and bringing together people from our nation’s cities, towns and rural communities.”
The Federal Highway Administration states on its website that…“From the day President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the Interstate System has been a part of our culture as construction projects, as transportation in our daily lives, and as an integral part of the American way of life. Every citizen has been touched by it, if not directly as motorists, then indirectly because every item we buy has been on the Interstate System at some point. President Eisenhower considered it one of the most important achievements of his two terms in office, and historians agree.”
Please excuse my eyes rolling in my head, but I’ve just spent almost 6 hours in my car today traversing said networks of prosperity intended to link my rural world to my dad’s urban world—something that should have consumed all of 2 hours max of some of this time of mine remaining on this earth verses the 6 that I graciously offered up to Father Time with no chance of getting even a millisecond of it back.
I wonder how Ike would have felt sitting for 6 hours on one of these roadways of his when he could have been out playing a round or two of his beloved golf instead?!
Yeah, yeah, I know….the interstate system was touted as being the bees knees for linking our country together…on saving time, money and gas as now point A and point B would be seamlessly connected… smooth and easy sailing…
Those roadway founding fathers had no idea that the commuting public would multiply like rabbits and that the number of cars which would fill up those roadways would eventually become so numerous that the interstates would become obsolete faster than anyone would have cared to guess.
I was having to meet the installers at dad’s today as I had had to get Dad a new dishwasher. The dishwasher is a tale unto itself but today we must focus on one thing and that one thing is the interstate system…at my age, I can only handle one comedy of errors at a time.
The installers were lamenting their commute home from Dad’s this afternoon as there is just no easy way in or out of Atlanta….and I had to concur.
As luck would have it, the dishwasher was up and running just in time for me to hit rush hour traffic. Praying I would make it home before it was time for me to go to bed, plus praying I would make it out alive, I exhaled greatly as I merged into the standing still sea of cars and trucks.
As I precariously snaked my way along the serpentine interweaving of cars, I opted to exit while the getting was good, taking an “old” way home—
This “old way” was in use long before there was a President Eisenhower or a highway system named for him. It was my road home that, as a young man, my grandfather traversed during the early days of his up and coming company—P. H. Nichols and Company.
The road linked him with his clients and customers westward.
This old way, was indeed old.
It was tired and used up like a cheap bottle of wine which had turned to vinegar.
The luster having long faded with bitter notes around each bend in the road.
My aunt called me on my cell phone to check in on how things had been with dad and started the conversation by asking me where I was.
“I’ve just passed Hub Cap City” I unceremoniously replied.
“You got off the interstate?!!” She exclaimed more than asked.
“Why not???…I could either sit on the concrete and pray I wasn’t killed merging onto the next interstate, or I could go a little slower down memory lane….”
Memory lane was calling my name…
This “old highway” was / is very old.
The battered and bruised businesses of days of yore now stand as empty broken shells….
the cheap and tawdry strip malls whispering of grander days all gave new meaning to the word “seedy”.
It was a stretch of road that my mother would have reminded me to lock my doors as my husband would certainly have had a fit that I was even there in the first place.
But this old forgotten “highway” was the same road my dad had taken with his father on his very first grand American road trip.
The same road anyone would have taken prior to 1965 westward out of Atlanta.
It was the time my grandfather, in 1936, had taken his two sons on a grand road trip to Texas and back.
A working trip we would call it today.
As I drove over the great Chattahoochee river, twice, and past roads that whispered of that fateful war between both North and South, reminders of the crossings by those various brave generals and their rebel bands, the signs outside of the used up little cafes and diners boasting of such delectables as “ain’t no thang like a chicken wang”, I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of things that once had been and those things that are trying, in vain, to remain.
Somewhere between the chop shops, the wrecker services, the long closed filling stations and the questionable BBQ joints, of which I make a mental note, I saw the shadows of dusty country roads that had once seen far more cattle crossings than cars.
Kudzu now engulfs and devours the once proud family owned motels offering many a tired traveler a welcoming respite while on the road. Ghosts and specters of the once proud and booming age of Americans and their automobiles.
The old way was no quick way as I ambled behind school buses, dump trucks and those who thought the “back way home” to be quicker than the interstate.
We all thought wrong.
Red lights, stop signs and those “Sunday drivers” on this Monday in no hurry clogged the road coming and going.
Yet I was met around each curve and each dip in the road by the thoughts of a grandfather I had hardly known.
There was something oddly comforting and familiar in this rotting, decaying and dying American artery.
Hours later after having left dad’s, I called letting him know that I had finally made it home in one piece—Dad thanks me for having come to oversee the installation of the dishwasher and worried over how long it took me to get home…
After recalling the cheeky sign for chicken wings, I offer a wearisome yet contented response…
“oh it ain’t no thing…