ADAPTING FOR SUCCESS IN A CHANGING WORLD: ROUTES TO ROOTS AND DOLLARS
Even with congestion, pollution and crumbling infrastructure, the network of highways we have assembled remains a monument to achievement.
In the U.S., the Interstate System has been called the Greatest Public Works Project in History. The Trans-Canada (and its successor freeways/autoroutes), along with the railroads, hockey and the CBC is said to have played a major role creating a notion and feeling of Canada, even if full national unity has at times remained elusive.
These roads cut travel times significantly over the older generation of inter-city auto travel (U.S. Routes/Provincial Roads). They also opened commercial markets and made places, once remote, accessible to all.
At the same time, as these modern conveniences were achieved, there was also the sense that something else had been lost. It was Charles Kuralt who years ago observed:
“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything”.
It has generally come to be accepted that there is much to be gained by the exiting the fastest and most direct routes. In fact, it is by travelling along those older and less rushed routes that we are able to get a glimpse of our roots. A drive into our physical core can reveal our emotional core as well.
“The backroads connect a country that still seems rather fine and strong and enduring”, wrote Kuralt in 1985, “You don’t read about this America in your morning paper. But it’s there”.
30 years later – it’s still there – though even it’s less spoken of and reported on in the digital age that has all but replaced the morning paper of that earlier time.
Many of the folks that Kuralt reported on have passed. So have some of the places. But others are there. As importantly, so is the spirit of the place. In my be a bit harder to find – in the midst of all the fast food places, big box stores and “convenience” shops.
But it is there – our route to our roots.
To some our back roads evoke a romanticism and idyllic imagery – a “Main Street-Disneyland” , “Mayberry” or “Mayfield” (Home of the Cleaver family form Leave it to Beaver).
Yes, there are quaint Main Streets, beautiful backroads and “places with character and history” – “little towns that time forgot and the decades cannot improve” (invoking Garrison Keillor’s description of Lake Wobegon). But that is only part of the picture. A more realistically balanced and honest picture can inform and inspire as well. Quaint or not, together what lies there is an integral part of our experience – who we are and what we are about.
So, just what is to be found when one takes that turn off the turnpike, thruway or freeway?
The road at the end of the exit ramp is a familiar one in a variety of ways.
“It is the quintessential American road”, wrote Phil Patton in his introduction to the 1986 book “Open Road: A Celebration of the American Highway” (Touchtone Press). Describing what he meant, Patton continued:
“…the simplest, straightest road, a road in the center of the country heading west, a road in between places. Dorothea Lange and Robert Frank photographed it. Steinbeck and Kerouac wrote of it. Country music sent its maudlin, lonely, seeking, escaping heroes down it….Migrants, looking for a better life, took the road. So did adventurers, vacationers and killers”.
It’s also a place where, writes Patton, “the truth about America, its heart and soul, collective and individual, is always to be found somewhere around the next bend”. Similarly, roads are a shared place; public spaces created by the automobile and like television, highways are a national network, a mass medium. “Like television, American highways are a national network, a mass medium…
The roads, concludes Patton, “are much more than a means of transportation. They come as close as anything we have to a national space. They are a national promenade, “America’s Main Street”…
As these roads do not just lead to destinations but also have become destinations too, it should not be surprising that to many a turn off the interstate is “worth the trip”.
Moreover, this notion of “worth the trip” is important not just to the traveler. It also matters to those not journeying – be they armchair travelers, communities and businesses.
These trips and the experiences they generate enlighten.
They also generate dollars.
And, on that aspect (the dollars) we will have more in future postings.
This article was first published on http://www.journeysinto.com.