On the Road

Music—or to be more precise, song lyrics—offer great insight into our culture.  If we were to gather up all the song lyrics ever written, love would undoubtedly be the most common subject. Following closely behind, though, would have to be songs about the road.  Sometimes love and the road are even linked, as in that classic country song, Thank God and Greyhound she’s gone. (really. look it up.)

Yes, there’s something strangely romantic about a road trip.  It’s the stuff movies are made of—Who could forget the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour road pictures of the 40s, or the more modern, if less wholesome, Thelma and Louise or Wild Hogs.  It is on the road where the people in movies discover themselves.

Perhaps that is what makes travel images stir our imaginations.  It may have something to do with our history as explorers—our manifest destiny.  Or it may be the power of suggestion that a good movie or country song provides.  We may no longer get our kicks on Route 66, but now we thrive on I-75. I find myself on Interstate 75 almost daily, and have for most of my adult life.

In case you were wondering, Interstate 75 is 1,775 miles long, spanning from the Canadian border to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, crossing six state in the process.  We have 191.78 miles of the road in Kentucky.  Thousands of people travel along the route every day, most of them it seems at the same time I need to go somewhere. Eighty percent of the nation’s residents are within a 2 day drive of I-75 in Kentucky, helping to explain why we have so much truck traffic. In some parts of I-75 near Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, a truck passes every 2 seconds – 47,500 per day!

As I travel the interstate day after day, my mind tends to wander.  Sometimes I think of the day ahead of me or the one just behind.  I plan out my weekend, or compose my shopping list. I listen to NPR or the occasional podcast. And I study my fellow travelers.  Do you ever wonder where all those people are going, and why?  I think I have many of them figured out.  Collectively, they are a metaphor for our society.

In the early morning hours you can find the carpenters and plumbers and electricians and general laborers on their way to a hard day’s work, making our lives easier and better.  They drive pick up trucks, and usually travel in twos and threes.  They’re tanned, almost always wear baseball caps, and are often handsome enough in a rugged sort of way to make even this 50-something wife and mother take a second look.

A bit later, white collar drivers take to the road.  Their crisp, fresh-from-the-dry-cleaner shirts give them away.  They’re usually in a hurry and talk on their cell phones a lot. The car of choice is either a nice conservative sedan or an “I’m the boss” SUV.

While the office mavens are scurrying to work, moms and dads are also rushing to get their kids to school. The parental taxi service continues into mid-morning with the assorted field trip and during the summer months with swimming practice or baseball games.  Volvos, mini vans and SUVs are the vehicles of choice.

By midday, the Shoney’s gang is out in force. That is the group of retired people who travel from one end of I-75 to the other, back and forth all year long.  South in winter, north as the summer comes. They try to stay within a few miles of the Interstate, and will only veer from the course to spoil a grandkid or annoy a daughter-in-law. They eat at restaurants like Shoney’s, Cracker Barrel, or Denny’s and drive Oldsmobiles and Lincoln Town Cars or sometimes RVs. Did you know there is actually a book about I-75 for such people?  It contains restaurant, motel, shopping and sightseeing listings along the entire length of the Interstate.  Now there’s exciting reading.

The evening brings out the trucks. Long haulers from faraway places like North Dakota or Ontario. I-75 is referred to as the Industrial Corridor of the Nation for good reason.  It has about twice as many trucks as most interstate highways, they say. And I believe them. Those trucks carry our country around on their 18 wheels.  They bring our food, our shampoo, our lumber, our gasoline, and even our children’s X-Box games. As much as we curse the truck driver who whizzes past on a rainy evening, we depend on him, too.

For each of us who travel I-75 or any other Interstate the journey is unique. Different destinations, different agendas, different interests and needs. But each of them—each of us—is alike, hoping to be happy, to be productive in our endeavors and reach our homes each evening safe and secure.

As I leave the Interstate each evening, I can’t help thinking of one more song lyric.  Country Road, Take Me Home.

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