The interstate system – championed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the automobile manufacturers – was created by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The system today consists of 46,876 miles of multi-lane highways criscrossing our country. Fort Wayne has Interstate 69 bypassing it on the west and the north edges, and the fairly new 469 Bypass on the south and the east sides.
I have traveled throughout a good part of this country by vehicle – 40 of 50 states – most of it by interstate highways. I like to travel by myself because it gives me time to think. It gives me time to look and gawk as I travel – no obligatory conversation or small talk. And, it gives me time to sing to my CDs.
In my travels I have gone through almost every major city in the United States, either skirting around on a bypass or heading through the heart of the city. A couple of weeks ago, I drove to Sebring, Florida, to the home of my oldest son and daughter-in-law. Besides the fact that I am getting too old for 2300-mile round-trip journeys, I find myself getting more annoyed at the Interstate system.
I remember reading quite some time ago during the debate over Harrison Square that at one time a public referendum was held as to whether or not an interstate should go through Fort Wayne – similar to the likes of Dayton, Ohio (or many other cities for that matter).
I have to tell you, after this latest trip, I am extrememly glad that an interstate did not make its way through Fort Wayne. I took the route through Ohio beginning with U.S. 33 and picking up Interstate 75 at Sydney, Ohio. Then south to Cincy and across the mighty Ohio river and on to Lexington and Knoxville, through the gentle hills with the roads cut through the stratified hillsides.
I stopped in Marietta, Georgia, for my free Choice Rewards night (nice – a free hotel room).
The next morning I girded myself for my battle with Atlanta. See, I have this absolute anxiety issue with Atlanta. I have been through it and around it numerous times in my travels, and I guess it must have been a bad experience way back when – which I can’t even remember now – that has made my life a living nightmare when I approach Atlanta.
I don’t have a GPS and won’t get one (see my post on how technology is dumbing us down). I use a good old-fashioned map and internet maps – hmm, okay – I guess I do cheat some. I decided to cut right through Atlanta and take my chances. I am not sure whether Atlanta has straightened up or I have mellowed, but I actually slid threw very easily – 6 to 8 lanes of traffic and all.
I had it made from that point on – with one small exception. Once I got to a certain point in Florida, I took Highway 27 out of Ocala and made my way to Sebring. Highway 27 is a four-lane highway and is becoming built up to the point of maximization and to the point where traffic creeps slowly along. As I drove, I had to wonder how much more the State of Florida could handle in population and construction growth.
I had a wonderful visit in Sebring and watched an amazing sunset over Lake Jackson, which I captured on my cell phone to bring home with me – a little bit of Florida at my fingertips. I also went to Lake Istokpoga, which is the fifth largest lake in Florida. While my love is rivers, any time I am around water, I am happy as a clam. I decided to bypass Atlanta on my way home with the notion that I would take Interstate 65 into southern Indiana and visit the restored West Baden Springs Hotel.
I also had planned on my trip homeward to try to see some manatees in the Tampa – St. Pete area. Unfortunately, they had moved out to the gulf coastal areas since the waters had become warmer. I had been privileged to see manatees years earlier when I lived in Florida for a short period of time. If you ever are able to see them, I hope you will understand my awe and wonder. I will just have to wait until it gets colder and then try to see them in the power plant inlets where the warm water is discharged and they huddle during the winter months.
As I headed toward Tallahassee and into southern Georgia, I ran into some major early evening storms. Traveling alone has its pluses, but it also is scary to confront volatile weather conditions. I contemplated pulling off the highway as the rain pummeled my windshield, and I was held to a creep of about 15 miles per hour. Semis were still passing me, which made me even more nervous.
I kept anxiously watching the sky to my west for a clearing – I know the south is known for its quick storms and tempestuous weather conditions, especially in the summer months. The sky finally cleared, and I headed northwest toward Alabama. I wasn’t sure how far I would get, but I was determined to at least make it into Alabama.
As dusk started falling, I debated on whether to drive as far as I could until dark or to stop while it was light. As I said, I am getting older and traveling wears me out, so the stopping earlier won out. I pulled in at a Quality Inn in Ozark, Alabama, and checked in. The heat was unbearable as I unloaded my things from my truck, but the room was air-conditioned, and I soon cooled off.
The next morning I took off heading northwest toward Montgomery and Birmingham. As I drove northward, I wondered where and how to find the Birmingham jail that housed Martin Luther King, Jr. and gave rise to his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. I have books in my library about slavery and the struggle for civil rights – one book is titled “Selma, Lord, Selma”, and I saw the signs to Selma on my way northward. Even driving the interstate which was in its infancy during the struggle for civil rights gave me chills.
I thought about how those who believed in equality were killed for that very notion – how they struggled against the centuries of injustice of deciding the worth of a person based on skin color. The highways must have been a sight to see – thousands of marchers, shoulder to shoulder, standing and marching for the true meaning of the phrase put forth in our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”
As I traveled into Tennessee and then Kentucky, I knew I was running behind and would not get to West Baden Springs to see the historical hotel which had the country’s largest free-spanning dome until 1963.
The interstates do not allow the luxury of finding these historic treasures – they are meant to shoot the traveler quickly by on the road to the next stop. I take them, and in doing so, I miss the backroads and the history of our country unless I make a concerted effort to locate a site of historical note.
So, as I approached Allen County and Fort Wayne, I found myself grateful that the interstate did not come through Fort Wayne. Interstates do not bring people to a city; they take people past a city. Interstates are meant to provide ease of travel and a fleeting glimpse of the cities they traverse and bypass.
No thank you. I will take the quiet and the peace of downtown Fort Wayne any day to the flurry of the interstates. It may take us longer to bring back the inner core, but when we do, it will be because we want it, and we will not be bypassed.