I am starting a “Roads Less Traveled” drive (pun intended) to encourage people to stay off the Interstate and take those less-traveled roads that the Interstate caused to be – you guessed it -- less traveled.
I came to this decision during a recent trip my wife and I took from north-central Georgia to far south Georgia.
It was about 300 miles one way, and we weren’t in a hurry, so I said, “Let’s take the back roads and stay off the Interstate.”
She grabbed a map – my better half is an ace navigator and a little bit dangerous when she has a map in her hands. I started driving and she started navigating.
It was awesome!
We meandered our way through countryside and small towns, stopping at antique stores and curio shops when we spotted them, taking our meals at mom-and-pop restaurants to sample their specialties and talking to local people who represent everyday Americans.
Many of these people had grown up in their local community and had families who went back for generations in that area. Many of the businesses had been in the family for generations.
As we passed through towns, it was interesting to note the variety of cultural influences upon which different towns were formed. Street names, store names, building names all reflected the influence of the dominant person, family, ethnic force or whatever had caused it to spring from the earth.
Many of the places on our circuitous route were hundreds of years old, dating back to the very infancy of our nation, and proud of it. We saw stately Old South mansions -- some renovated to their former glory, some not.
We saw lots of farmland, trees and open spaces between towns. In fact, it surprised us how much distance and land there was from one small town to the next.
When you get away from the metropolitan culture that thrives along Interstates, the countryside looks a lot like the farmland I grew up on in Wisconsin.
We also saw firsthand the impact the Interstate had on these small towns, which had sprung up along what used to be major thoroughfares before the Interstate turned them into afterthoughts.
We saw closed businesses, shuttered buildings that still sported remnants of their former glory, now faded. Some looked like they’d been closed for decades; some looked newly closed.
The more recently closed may have been victims of the stalled economy; I guess that federal stimulus funding didn’t drift too far off the Interstate.
We saw homes in states of disrepair ranging from falling apart to just needing some TLC; but in fairness, the disrepair was a minor phenomenon. The vast majority of homes were well cared for.
The drive would have been five or six hours had we stayed on the Interstate; it took us closer to nine hours taking back roads and stopping a lot.
But it was absolutely worth it, because it brought home a startling revelation: America is alive and well outside the high-speed Interstate corridor.
Now I know there are some who might say that we left a larger carbon footprint because we drove longer, and that may be true. But the added time was because we drove slower and stopped more, so in reality it was probably about the same.
Besides, if I have to stop for gas, I’d rather pay the small-town owner whose family has owned the corner station for generations. If I have to eat, I’d rather do it at a locally owned restaurant than in the chains along the Interstate. If I need a snack, I’d rather stop at the local grocery store to get it.
Don’t get me wrong -- I have nothing against the 47,000-mile Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, the formal name of the Interstate. I’ll use it when I have to.
But there is a vast America outside the “I,” and I mean to explore it one town at a time, on the Roads Less Traveled. Maybe I’ll see you out there.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is a regular contributor to PRB and lives in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (678) 350-8642 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.