Garry and I are old enough to remember the good old days and I’m the perfect age to have been one of the kids in the back seat pinching and punching a sibling while whining: “Are we there yet?” How come our parents didn’t kill us before we grew up?
It’s a question that has taken on considerable depths of meaning with the passing decades
Those of you who wax poetic about the wonderfulness of slowly trundling down America’s scenic back roads should take a car trip across New England.
New England roads — the good roads, the paved roads, the roads with passing lanes — run north and south. For reasons no one can explain (lack of money? no interest? not enough tourists?), only one or two lane local roads travel east and west. If (for example) you are traveling the 231 miles from Jackman, Maine to Danville, Vermont, you will experience some of the nation’s most beautiful scenery. Very slowly. On roads that have not changed and in many cases, also haven’t been repaved, since you were knee-high to a grasshopper.
No limited-access highway will sully your pure travel experience. You won’t be tempted to eat fast food from familiar chains. No driver will tailgate to make you speed up. The car ahead of you — what we refer to as our “pace car” — will likely be an aging pickup rattling down the mountain. One of the driver’s feet will be glued to the brake pedal while he or she engages in a lively conversation as the truck weaves left and right from shoulder to shoulder. You’ll be hard put to figure whether or not the vehicle has a steering problem, or the driver is doing it on purpose to make you crazy. Whatever the reason, you are not going to pass that pickup.
Although you won’t find fast food chains, you won’t starve. There’s plenty of good food and gasoline you can pump as you pass through the quaint New England towns. Classic towns with white clapboard churches and at least one or two pizza parlors. Baked goods for sale. Chilled pop in bottles and cans. Clean bathrooms.
It’s a breathtaking journey through the mountains. Magnificent and surreal. Directly in front of you for the entire trip will be a poky driver who will never exceed (or even meet) the speed limit.He or she would never consider letting his vehicle get within 10 miles of whatever that silly sign says is a safe, legal speed for traveling those twisting roads.
There will also be plenty of construction. Everywhere and oddly, if you go back the following year, the construction will still be in progress. After four or five of the dozen hours of that drive, the urge to get your car up to ramming speed and push the slow drivers out of the way becomes an obsession.
Slow drivers lurk on side roads. Do they use spotter craft so they know when we are coming? We try to pass, but they appear out of nowhere. They pull out and immediately slow to a crawl. If, by some miracle we briefly break free, another slow driver is poised for action at the next intersection.
When Dwight D. Eisenhower decreed and built the interstate highway system. I bet I know why. He was from farm country himself and had been recently traveling America’s glorious back roads. He knew he could never defeat the slow drivers … so he just built bigger, faster roads.
Just … not in New England.