Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Descent Into the South

[describing Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon]

I was planing to document my trip from Indiana to Texas with a witty photographic presentation of The Descent Into The South.  But after being awake and/or at the wheel for every minute of the drive, I can only report that any one in a series of pictures I provide would be pretty impossible to differentiate from any another.

In fact, the revelation from this trip that has struck me the most is how homogeneous the United States looks.  I'm sure Census workers would vociferously disagree, but I'm not talking about people - although we did eat in likely the only Chinese restaurant in Lonoke, Arkansas, [a mere 15 miles from Beebe, Arkansas, which is not where my genetic material originated].  I'm talking about visually, the view from roads with low numbers and wide shoulders.

As we drove past Little Rock this (read: Wednesday) morning, I had serious deja vu and commented that we could be on Madison's West Beltline.  Or even VA's Hwy 50 heading west from the Pentagon.  Imagine a sprawling 5 or 6 lane road with a tattered grassy median and low-lying strip malls, restaurant chains, and stand-alone businesses like car dealerships along the outside.

Between the cities, the view looks like the drive to my grandparent's cabin in central Wisconsin (except it looks in March how Wisconsin will look in May) or the drive from DC's NE corner to Baltimore or north from Boston to Maine in late summer.  Two lanes in each direction, very mature deciduous and coniferous trees lining the outside edges, shallow V-shaped median filled with grass and waiting cops, and nothing to break up the view of more-of-the-same-flatness ahead.

I know that Highway 1, I70, I81, and A1A have some pretty different and amazing scenery, as do many other thoroughfares in our expansive inter-state transportation system, but when hours-upon-hours of Arkansas and Texas look like Wisconsin and DC, it throws me for a reality-check loop.

A highlight of the trip was driving across the Mississippi River, only the 6th time I can remember doing so in my life.   In comparison, I have flown across the Atlantic easily more than twice as many times, and the Pacific (including only half-way, to Hawai'i) 6 times as well. 

The one thing that did change during the drive?  We drove through or across three straight states without seeing a Starbucks.  For some that would be a descent somewhere.
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