Friday, March 2, 2012

Life is a Road Trip, Part 2

So how exactly is life a road trip?

On that 1974 trip, on the second day, I made it all the way to Evansville, Indiana, where my sister had been living for a year. She was to join me for the last leg of the trip, to Kansas City. But she didn't expect me to reach it in a mere two days, and she wasn't home. She was in Chicago (I think) at a store manager's meeting for her chain. She pulled in late in the day, I spent the night with her, and the next day we went to final 500 or so miles to Kansas City.

So again I ask, how is life a road trip? On that three day drive so many years ago, three things struck me as being awe inspiring. That is, three things other than just the realization that long distance driving, something I'd never done before, agreed with me. The first of those three things was the mountains of Pennsylvania. Range upon range, for mile after mile. Up one mountain and down another. A village or town here and there, plus some barns with hex signs, but the view from I-80 was fantastic.

Now, in Rhode Island you don't see many mountains. The few trips I made during the years of my conscious memory included some mountainous places, but nothing like the concentrated peaks and valleys of Pennsylvania. In the coming years I would see more mountains of greater height, and I've driven that same I-80 route maybe 25 more times, but I think none has given me the awe that the first view of them gave me.

The second was driving through Akron, Ohio, past all the rubber plants. They faced either side of the interstate, I think it was I-74 by this time. Bricked-plant after bricked-plant, on both sides, spewing their industrial smoke and odor. I was familiar with the odor from the one rubber plant in Providence, RI, the one we drove by whenever we went to Roger Williams Hospital to visit Mom during one of her many stays there. But the size of Akron was something to behold.

I had visited the industrial areas on the north shore of Boston (Lynn and Saugus), and driven through other industrial areas. But something about the Akron tire-monger row impressed me. It showed me something I had studied in school, but hadn't really grasped: America was different in its different regions, yet at the same time inter-dependent. If you drove a car, no matter where you lived or bought it, you depended on Akron for your tires, not that pitiful little smeller in Providence. And it made me wonder: What else was out there in that great country that I as yet knew nothing about?

The third thing was the frontage roads in Missouri. This may seem pretty minor, but that was the first place I saw them. Once you left the St. Louis suburbs, along I-70, each side of the Interstate had frontage roads. We topped a hill, and could see three miles ahead to the top of the next hill (which, in itself, was kind of amazing, to be on a road and be able to see three miles ahead; nowhere in RI), and there were the frontage roads. It was unnerving to have a car coming at you on the right, even though the right-of-way fence and 20 feet of grass and ditch separated you. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why they had those extra roads.

Since then I've driven many other Interstates, and seen miles and miles of frontage roads, many more impressive than the Missouri ones. But that first view of them, on June 13, 1974, showed me that different parts of the country did things differently. How much there was to learn.

So why is life like a road trip? Unfortunately, I'm out of time and must close. Come back to read part three.

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