Monday, February 18, 2008


I have always enjoyed highway travel. There is a feeling of freedom there, a feeling of independence that I think might (in part) come from being in-between well defined places - in the gap in the map that seems to belong to everyone and no one all at once. An illusion, of course, the omnipresent highway patrol cruisers tell you that, but a potent illusion all the same - one that seems all the more poignant in these days of peak oil (and now, perhaps, peak food) since it isn't really clear how much longer the asphalt and concrete rivers of our firefly American empire will continue to flow with traffic. How much longer the highway experience and its strange euphoria will still be available and affordable for folks like me. I had a bit of a trip today, a usual run down interstate 80, coming home from my girlfriend's place. I thought I would record some brief observations, just for my own enjoyment...

-I had wondered why I always shared 80 with great convoys of Fed-Ex trailers, some double or even triple trailers strung together, especially through central PA. This trip the obvious occurred to me. The eastward terminus of 80, only a few hours from my starting point this morning, is New York City. Those Fed-Ex convoys were loaded this morning in Hoboken, or some other Lagrange point of the socio-economic gravitational pull of Manhattan island, with freight from the bustling commercial center of the eastern seaboard megalopolis. Route 80 would be the most direct road west, toward the continental interior and, beyond that, the pacific.

-There is a strange feeling in the highway rest-stops of a toll-road expressway, as Route 80 is in central Ohio. The rest-stop is nowhere, a part of no political entity, it feels self-contained... like a sort of pocket universe. This feeling is particularly acute at the Angola rest-stop, on Route 90 west of Buffalo, which is in the space between the westward and eastward lanes of the highway - you access it through a glassed-in pedestrian bridge. I have been to most of the Ohio turnpike rest-stops east of Toledo at this point. None of them have quite the no-zone feeling of Angola, but they all still conjure the feeling of liminality. One wonders what will happen to these little enclaves when the oil runs out. What will our descendants make of them? How will they understand why we needed so many bathrooms, so far away from everyone?

-Heading east while I headed west, I spotted the most tangible sign I have seen yet of our imperial entanglements, perhaps of our eventual demise. Strapped to the back of a flat-bed truck, somewhere in western PA or eastern OH was an MRAP. It was squat, and beige and angry looking - like a Chevy Tahoe on steroids with military training and a bad attitude. I wondered if it was heading for its point of departure, for a ship heading for Iraq or Afghanistan. Of course, my oil-fueled reveries are, in part, what have conjured up our need for such monsters.

So I suppose, in the end, the highway will have to go. I will miss it, though, when it is gone.

1 comment:

dr alex said...

yes! I, too, love highway travel. I love to drive alone, as it's a great time to think through whatever's on my mind at the time. I love to listen to music in the car. I love to travel with thmarn, talking for hours about anything, or driving while she sleeps in the seat next to me.

I agree that the liminality is part of the attraction--you're nowhere, and yet somewhere specific (as you'd find out if you had to stop there) at the same time. you're en route, yet the highway is a place of its own. you're free to just keep going, or to stop anytime you like to look at anything. you're totally isolated from your fellow drivers, yet your life depends on their attentiveness.

I think alex and andy should take a road trip sometime!