Traveling the freeways provides a lot of advantages. It doesn’t matter where you are, there are services, fuel and food are almost always available. The speed limits are high so you can get where you are going in a hurry. But what freeways don’t provide is local color. Pretty much you can take any exit and it wouldn’t matter what the city sign said – it’s all going to look the same. When you pull off, there are a variety of gas stations, fast food shops, a Super Walmart and no personality. The city sign should say, “Welcome to “Insert Name Here’”.
Getting off the interstate changes everything. It looks like there is nothing as far as the eye can see, and that’s correct. There is also everything, as far as the eye can see, you just have to know to look.. Today, we got off the I-70 at mm53 in Kansas and opted to take the 25 north to the 6 and then the 113 to Sidney. We knew we needed to hit the I-80 eventually.. The Kansas plains are pretty stoic through that area, there is wildlife and livestock, lots of crops and dry river beds at this time of year, but every once in awhile you get to slow down to travel through a town. We hit lots of little places today, some just a single shop, maybe a café. Some have dried up and are starting to rot. Others have a lot of pride, Imperial, Nebraska is one of those. Every storefront was full, every yard was mowed. I have no idea what they do in Imperial, but they obviously take a lot of pride in it. Each shop has a personal characteristic, every café a personality. Even the courthouse, library and churches stood out. It was nice to see a place that the current economy hasn’t decimated.
Over the course of this year, we have traveled many back roads, so many towns left to rot on their own, It reminds me of what has happened to Route 66, except that this is the Heartland, it’s not the new highways that have robbed them of their customers, it is the economy. Commercial property on Main Street, USA is for sale for a song, the jobs are non-existent and people are just trying to survive. It’s the same everywhere, but so obvious in a small town where the services aren’t available like you find in a city. I never cared much what happened to Wall Street through this mess, but what happens to Main Street affects us all. Hang in there everyone, we will come through this stronger.