Tie a Concrete Ribbon
by Paul Ghiotto
Few cultural signposts are as symptomatic or problematic as the good ol' Interstate Highway System here in the good ol' U.S. of A. Sure, Germans have their ballyhooed autobahn where American marketers can film Porsches speeding along at spine-shattering speeds, but no other nation on the planet's crust can match our asphalt gumbo of capitalism, American impatience and sterile engineering.
Just take a moment to mull over the Interstate Highway System, so prudently designed by martial-minded President Eisenhower back in the days when red scare didn't mean algal blooms off the Oregon coast and ozone layer was only mentioned in reference to how hard hairspray made your beehive.
The subtle beauty of the Interstate lies in its very transformation. In the pinko, "duck under your plywood desk when the neutron bomb hits, kids" '50s, Ike just wanted ways to shift New Jersey national guardsmen around when Guatemala invaded New Mexico and Cuba annexed Miami.
That's understandable. American generals by nature want to ensure the safety of the Republic's ills by making sure every citizen of New Orleans has the right to shoot someone in the face. By God, this is a free land, and our defenders must be brainwashed to understand this, or else they wouldn't be allowed to watch re-runs of "The A-Team."
But since Ike first proposed his lil' Roman-esque idea of connecting the empire's nether regions, the nature of the Republic itself has changed. For instance, in 1964, when the first direct overland journey could be made from New York to Mississippi, residents of the Magnolia State were shocked to learn slavery had been outlawed!
(A compromise was ironed out whereby Mississipians could keep their chattel in return for allowing New York corporate heads to examine their labor structure for future use.)
But can you see the cultural cohesion here?
Woody Guthrie sang about how "This land is Your Land," an' the only way to properly appreciate the Amer-I-Can landscape is to wallow in its homogenous exit ramps and interchanges , to slither down the highway.
You can split Oregon's Willamette Valley asunder on Interstate 5, haul westbound through Louisiana swampland at 120-mph on I-10 while being chased by the "Pelican State's" finest, or thrust a 45-horsepower Japanese deathbox like a needle into the least coast's clogged artery, I-95. Just like a petroleum-powered "Choose your adventure" book.
If if need of a destination, contact the American Automobile Association. It's no coincidence that their headquarters can be found in enflamed Orlando, Florida, an incubator of fossil-fueled fantasy. Find your favorite route, and revel in the marriage of grade-f meat and fossil fuel at Exxon/Subway stores. Or take in a 24-hour Denny's with embittered waitresses longing to be anywhere but serving 17-year-olds with dish-sized pupils at 3:32 a.m. Or pull into a dusty truck stop parking lot, and watch prostitutes slipping in and out of side doors and the little puffs of dust their wobbly heels make when they stumble out of a cab bound for Los Angeles.
If you haul down the concrete ribbon by day, you'll view entire herds of geriatric American nomads throttling gas-guzzling Winnebagos towards points south - "onwards to the victorious sunbelt, the Arizona's and Florida's and their KOA's with sewage hook-ups!"
The finest time to roll, though, is when humid nights descend like black, wet blankets. And stomping down gas pedals is infinitely more rewarding when amphetamines course through your veins (or at least low-grade truck stop speed) as you cut through night like crushed velvet.
At 100 m.p.h, stare solemnly at miles of orange reflective cylinders blinking back lights like the eyes of cement serpents.
Read the signs touting manicured golf courses and sticky "pecan logs" and clean restrooms and steamy, sweaty roadside bar-b-que and absorb it as your own bible. You don't need nothing else.
Always remember: You're in America. An' you can keep driving as long as you like.