Three straight days on I95 and he thinks maybe he’s beginning to understand. There are the trucks, as constant and threatening as storm-driven waves. There are the strips of commerce at every exit, long rows of low, boxy structures appointed to the disbursement of hamburgers, gasoline, and pharmaceuticals. One afternoon, along a stretch of rural South Carolina, he spied a herd of Angus grazing in the shadow of a billboard advertising adult toys and DVDs. It seemed as fitting a metaphor as any for this strange slice of America.
Anyone who’s traveled will tell you that the interstate is not where the truth of a people is found. But doesn’t it stand to reason that the highway – and that which we find along it – is a direct reflection of what we hold most dear and demand most expediently? After all, those stores could be trading in bicycles, or books, or beef from the farm up the road. Those billboards could be advertising something other than images of willing women and discount cigarettes and 0% financing on all 2007’s.
He can’t help but wonder how his life might have been different had he been reared in one of the many small, time-savaged ranch houses that line 95. Some list sadly, as if the big trucks have buffeted them for one year too long. Like the cattle, they loll in the shadow of the billboards and only a few miles away from that peculiar breed of exit ramp commerce. What sort of lives do these people lead? He wants to know. And he doesn’t.
But for today, there is only forward motion. He’s found the Dodge’s sweet spot, where the 318 sings most efficiently, returning nearly 13 mpg. He keeps the cruise control set at 68 and stays in the middle lane, letting the trucks wash around him. One is packed with chickens in cages so low they can’t move. They can only turn their heads out of the wind and watch their feathers litter the pavement behind them.