Often we Americans take our easy, seemingly limitless freedoms for granted. I was considering that reality this week, as I bounced on the springy seat of a rental truck and we moved Richard from Chicago to Columbia, Missouri.
We rented a 10-foot truck from Budget Rental Car Company that was perfect for our needs and reasonably priced. We plopped down our credit card, dealt directly with the friendly woman (with two office dogs!) at one of Budget’s Chicago outlets, drove the truck away, immediately loaded it ourselves, and then steered the truck onto superhighways that allowed us to drive the hundreds of miles separating the two cities in a few hours. We unloaded Richard’s stuff in a Columbia apartment he arranged through the internet and were done in one day.
We didn’t need to get governmental approval for our rental or Richard’s move. We weren’t required to hire designated movers to load the truck or drivers to drive it. We didn’t need to buy a special operator’s license, or slip a corrupt government bureaucrat a few bucks to get on our way. We didn’t pay tolls to use those well-paved, safely designed superhighways. Richard didn’t have to register for housing and then wait months until a unit opened up. All of those things that didn’t happen might easily be required in many of the nations of the world.
But not here. One family, one truck, one hard day’s work and driving, and a move of hundreds of miles goes off without a hitch. It’s just one reason why this is a great country. We shouldn’t forget that.
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.
Yesterday I was driving on the interstate. I passed a series of 18-wheeler trucks and thought: “Convoy!”
Convoy, of course, was the huge hit song that helped to spur a mini-boom of citizens’ band (“C.B.”) radio purchases and use in the 1970s. Convoy told the story of the Rubber Duck, Big Ben, and other truckers as they rocketed across the country, using their C.B. radios to dodge Smokey the Bear and other law enforcement personnel.
For a brief instant in the ’70s, people thought C.B. radio was cool and went out to buy C.B. sets. Of course, the idea of suburbanites in their sedans intruding on the world of the interstate trucker was pretty pathetic, and the boom died almost as soon as it started. Does anyone — truckers included — use C.B. radio anymore?
I think there may have been something beyond the brief flirtation with something new, something deeper at work in the brief popularity of C.B. radio. I think people thought it was cool to talk while you were driving, and to communicate with people all around you without being tied to a land-line phone. C.B. radio had its limitations, but it helped to pave the way for cell phones, smart phones, texting, and all of the other instant, portable communications that dominate modern American society.
10-4, Rubber Duck!