The Other Side of the Road

The rural landscapes of Interstate driving fascinate me. They are so different from the local, traffic-choked highways that we drive on a daily basis. Driving home from Florida, I watched scene after scene of these rural landscapes roll by at 70 mph.

I saw a lonely ranch house beside a frontage road. There were no other homes in sight. Behind the house was a massive field scattered with farm equipment. Did the house belong to the farm? What was it like living the old Tom Petty line: with a freeway running through the yard?

There are countless junkyards at the sides of the Interstate. At speed I couldn’t make out much detail, but as these places, with their rickety-looking structures blurred by, I wondered what treasure might be found among the junk.

Perhaps the surest sign of a dead, or dying town on the Interstate is an abandoned gas station. The windows are boarded up, the pavement looks like it has been through an earthquake, cracks worming their way in all directions. The fuel pumps are long gone, but occasionally the sign remains with prices from another age: Unleaded gas: $1.49.

Billboards sprout up among the trees and rubble of the rural roads. It fascinates me that in the southern states—North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia—many of these billboards advertise adult stores. Signs for Adam & Eve and the Lion’s Den stand side-by-side with billboards quoting Biblical verse. One billboard in particular caught my eye. At the bottom, barely legible, the sign read: THIS LAND FOR RENT OR LEASE. CALL NUMBER ABOVE. The main sign—the part “above”—was blank. There was no number to call, or if there was, it had been weathered away long ago.

We passed great swaths of forests, and also places where it seemed entire forests had been leveled. On the east side of the road, somewhere in southern Virginia, I saw what seemed to be acres of tree stumps. It was gray and rainy, and the scene looked like a page out of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.

There is a strange phenomenon I experience when driving on the Interstate. When driving south, I feel like I am driving south. It looks like I am driving south. When driving north, I feel like I am driving north. It feels different from driving south. I can make a mental adjustment and for a while, it will seem like I am driving south. In both directions I am driving on the right side of the road. So why do they seem different?

And while we are on the subject, why is the weather always great when we leave for vacation, steadily improving to fantastic along the way; and why is the weather always crummy on the way home. It never fails to rain. We return to gloom and cold.

Also, after being away for three weeks, we returned to a home without heat. The heat should be fixed tomorrow, but it makes for a cold night.