The great American highway
I’ve just finished reading Travels with Charley, Steinbeck’s travel narrative about his search for the true America. He purchased a truck with an RV fitted to the back and went on his way, braving the unknown. He disguised himself by growing a beard so he wouldn’t be recognized. And he found America, but not the one he thought he had lost.
I have this same dream. I’m an amateur traveler at heart. I like the open road, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my comfort to travel it. I love going overseas, but I can’t afford it. I’m a traveler in search of travel. A tourist with nothing to tour.
My biggest dream is a simple one – one I’ve mentioned before – to follow my personal Great American Highway: Interstate 90. I want to drive it from Pacific to Atlantic, from it’s origin in Seattle to it’s termination in Boston.
Now, I’ll admit – I love Seattle, and above anywhere else I want to visit Boston. So the trip has added benefits. At the same time, it’s not a scenic route by any means, winding through some of the most boring landscape our country has to offer. I get nothing of America on the Interstate – nothing but its billboards and exit signs, it’s sweeping turnpikes and its varying degrees of upkeep.
Still, it’s a feat I’d like to try someday. The list of great cities I’d pass through is immense: Seattle, Spokane, Bozeman, Madison, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Syracuse, Boston. I-90 is the longest road in the United States, touching 14 states and crossing over 30 additional Interstates. Its 3,100 miles are staggering. It would take me three weeks to really soak it all in, to stop every hundred miles and experience another slice of American city life.
Steinbeck did it with the basics, shunning the larger roads in order to keep his focus, seeing the land as it was, with roadside stands, homes, characters, sights and sounds. His feat took him around the country, from the Northeast and back. He tried to stay off of the superhighways, criticizing them by saying, “When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”
For me, it’s just about doing it. It’s the perfect drive, in my opinion – giving anyone the chance to see both coasts, hundreds of cities and millions of people. I have a history that has revolved around Interstate 90. I was born in Sioux Falls, smack dab in the middle of the road. I spent nearly every vacation hurling myself down the road. When I went to college, I started every trip down the road in the opposite direction. I-90 spends more time in South Dakota than in any state aside from Montana. I-90 spans the state, gives it length, provides a cricual corridor – the only connection between east and west river. I-90 is as much a part of my life as my childhood address or the Big Sioux River.
Someday, I’ll do it. I’ll write about it. And you’ll all know that you heard it here first. Right here. Right in the middle of my journey, right in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Right on the intersection of Interstate 29 and my beloved Interstate 90.
Right at home on my native Interstate.