We’re east of Indianapolis, stuck on I -70 heading west, in a traffic jam that must be 20 miles long.
Indiana is a fine state with many fine citizens, but there’s not much in the way of scenic beauty in the flatlands along I-70.
Yesterday we drove from Columbia, Missouri to Columbus, Ohio. It’s a straight shot on I-70, and it was one of those journeys that offer the best and worst that the American interstate highway system has to offer.
At first we rolled through the Missouri and Illinois countryside on a sunny Sunday morning. We racked up the miles and made good time on good roads, listening to the radio and marveling at the freedom of a fun weekend road trip.
Then, as traffic picked up, we encountered the road rage crew — hyper-aggressive drivers who can’t stand to wait in the passing lane with everyone else. If you drive, you know the type. You first notice them in the rear-view mirror, darting back and forth through the traffic as they come barreling up. Then they are upon you, passing cars on the right, stupidly flirting with a semi or two, squeezing into a too-small space in the passing lane left by a driver who still adheres to the quaint notion of maintaining an assured clear distance, and leaving the brake lights of law-abiding motorists flashing in their wake. If they have to wait to pass, they show their impatience by swinging out to the left of the passing lane to see what is keeping them from driving 90. I always feel safer when the ragers pass by without incident.
At the Indiana-Ohio border we caught up with the western edge of a slow-moving storm. On a desolate stretch of road, traffic just stopped for no apparent reason. We were out in the middle of nowhere in the blackness, the rain pelting down and the traffic inching forward, not knowing whether we were dealing with an accident or a road closure. It was raining so hard that even putting the windshield wipers on rapid speed provided little visibility relief. There was nothing to do but grit your teeth, stay alert to the traffic flow, and plow through the storm. After traffic finally picked up again about 20 miles and an hour or so later, we had to deal with interstate truckers driving faster than conditions warranted to make up for lost time and coating our car with road water in the process.
The day ended with a drive down an unlighted country road in the downpour on our way to pick up Penny and Kasey from the kennel. When we finally pulled into our garage, our dry and snug little house never looked so good.
Effingham, Illinois is located at the intersection of I-70, one of the major east-west arteries of American commerce, and I-57, which runs from Chicago to Memphis. It’s one of those towns that repeatedly advertises its existence as you approach, on road signs that appear over hundreds of miles.
So, when Kish and I finally got there, we pulled off to get some gas and a bite of breakfast and we were greeted by . . . this. A towering sign for the “Avenue of Mid-America,” advertising just about every generic franchise in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I’m guessing that this sign was built when the Effingham city fathers were proud that their town was selected as the intersection point for two major roadways and interstate travel was still new and exciting. Now, it’s kitsch.
Although Richard is hundreds of miles away, we’re still linked by I-70, the east-west highway running through the middle of the country. Yesterday we left Columbia, got on I-70, drove eight hours or so on that same road, passed the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis, and exited in Columbus. It’s oddly comforting to know that we are joined by that continuous strip of asphalt and concrete rolling through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.
Driving from Columbus to Indianapolis yesterday, you could see the signs of America’s ongoing economic struggles, without having to look very hard for them.
It’s a straight shot from Columbus to Indianapolis, on I-70 West. That’s one of our main east-west highways, linking cities like Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Denver. When the economy is really cooking, the road is packed with long convoys of semi trucks that can make the drive a real pain. In America’s heartland, trucks are the true wheels of commerce. Yesterday, there was some truck traffic, but not that much — certainly not as much as in boom times.
Another highway-oriented economic indicator is billboards. The number of billboards dotting the I-70 roadway reflects its status as a major transportation artery. Yesterday, many of the billboards were available for lease, which suggests that some companies may have cut back on their advertising budgets or that the businesses that formerly used the billboards have gone under.
From what I saw on my road trip, I’m not surprised by the continuing bad news — like yesterday’s report of higher than expected filings of new joblessness claims.