|Crossing under I-70 onto US 36|
On the afternoon of September 8th, 2011, Acr0nym and I set out to find America or, more specifically, middle America over the course of 5 and a half days and 2,200+ miles.
|Where we went from start to finish - GPS logs are awesome!|
Ask anyone who does not live in Kansas or Nebraska but who has driven through those states along I-70 or I-80 respectively and you'll likely hear the same song..."Worst, most boring drive. Of. All. Time."
That's not what we found.
Getting off the interstate, or being willing to detour off the interstate when opportunity arose, gave us a view and perspective of middle America that we could appreciate. We kept our eyes open to wonder and took much glee in odd things and, in so doing, saw what is often overlooked.
One of our most frequent recurring themes of conversation was the decay and desolation of Small Town, America. From that first evening, driving through northeastern Colorado - most specifically Cope and Last Chance and, later, as the days passed, Lebanon, Red Cloud, Madrid...there were so many buildings - residential and commercial - boarded up, abandoned.
We could only speculate as to the whys and wherefores about the abandonment of said places - places that had likely thrived (or, at least, gotten by) for generations. We reasoned, as we traveled roughly halfway between two major east-west thoroughfares (I-70 and I-80) that likely those local, independently-owned businesses had fallen by the wayside when Corporate America (hello again, Wal-Mart) had infiltrated within reasonable travel distances.
Additionally we hypothesized that no community in the country had been immune from the devastation of the financial collapse and subsequent recession. Farmers often depend on loans to be able to buy updated equipment, seed, and feed in order to continue operations. When the economy tanked and banks began to fail, there were no loans to be had. Everyone was running scared and financial institutions were no longer offering credit.
It's easier to overlook poverty and the consequences of the recession in the city...mostly - although it's getting harder as more and more businesses are unable to keep their doors open (I've recently seen entire shopping centers deserted). It's not nearly so easy to ignore when a community is only 200 people strong and the 2 or 3 local businesses are shut down.
What was profound, to me, as we drove through those tiny hamlets and farming communities, was that there was certainly an industry that seemed to continue to thrive. Religion. Christian. Protestant. It seemed to me that every town - Lebanon, KS, for instance (218 residents at last count) had a church on practically every street corner. I believe I counted at least 5 in Lebanon.
All praying for...what? Salvation?
Jesus Saves, y'all...by shopping at Wal-Mart, don'tcha know.
Anyway, I don't know if the economic turmoil is the cause of introducing mistrust in these communities but there seemed to be obvious evidence of it in the little things...the "pre-pay gas after 6 p.m." signs, the stolen mini Statue of Liberty plaques, the overheard gossip in the Curiosity Shop pertaining to drug use. Rural America is not immune from big city problems. Maybe it never was and I'd just never noticed before. Regardless, that's what we found.
But we found community pride too! We played "tourists" to the hilt - often announcing to people that we were tourists - and asking people about their towns, what to see, what to do, where to eat. We were taking an interest in them and their stuff. Consequently, we were treated warmly by everyone.
Sometimes, we'd get the sense that we'd made someone's day just by expressing interest. A spark of appreciation for acknowledging that they were here, that they had something to say, and that, for a few minutes, someone else was eager to listen.
What we got in return for listening was an opportunity to learn about where we were and the people who inhabit it. It was fascinating. It was fun. It was memorable.
Also? We discovered that we actually really do like each other, like spending time with each other, for extended periods of time. We discovered that we travel very well together - at the same pace, appreciating the same things. We discovered we'd do it again in a hot second...have decided we will do it again soon and already have several places in mind that have been added to the bucket list (Carhenge, we WILL come visit you!) - a bucket list that still has House on the Rock left unchecked in the DONE column.
One last thing...we discovered we make a pretty damn good team when it comes to documenting our adventures - he took nearly all the pictures, I wrote nearly all the narrative, I took the notes, he refreshed my memory, pulled out data and mapped it from the GPS, and provided several of the links.
As for Hans?
He's always ready for more adventure.
|Hans gets a front row seat right on the dash.|
|One last look at the sunset over Colorado.|