The turnpikes

by Sep 3, 20130 comments

From time to time as we traveled from House Springs Missouri through to Oklahoma, we catch a glimpse of the old Route 66.  For whatever reason, I have a fascination with Route 66… I’m not sure why.  Its hey day was well before my time, in fact it is of my parents generation, and the old, now dilapidated, malt shoppes, dusty motels, gas stations with a grouchy mechanic are from a bygone era, one of innocence at having taken the whole continent and turned it into… kitsch I guess.

Perhaps my fascination stems from the 1949 classic book by George Stewart: Earth Abides, a dystopic tale of the demise of all but a few humans and what Earth does without us.  The book was formative for me, and I read it four or five times while in high school.  I have always wondered what the land was like when it was still wild, before we started pouring concrete… and what it would be like again if we just stopped doing what we do.

In the book, the main character, Ishmael, decides to travel across the US to find signs of human
beings who survive a catastrophic epidemic .  He takes Route 66.   Something as simple as a tree falling across the road renders the route impassable.  In the scheme of things, eventually all the concrete get reclaimed by forest and prairie and the story is as much about what Earth does without “man” (remember the book was written in 1949) as it is about the small cadre of humans that survive and try to recreate civilization.

Today, Route 66 has been replaced by a four lane interstate and, of course, the turnpikes.  All of the abandoned sections of old Route 66 are being reclaimed by nature, the first phase of this reclamation is taken on by the most aggressive weeds poking through cracks in the pavement.  With each winter freeze and spring rain, cracks grow wider and deeper.  Soon, trees may sprout.

the passenger side

Today, it seems the character of the former Route 66 is a shadow of what it once was.  Interstate 44 from St.Louis to Oklahoma City is a wide swath of road that connects unremarkable fast food chains to each other.  You pay toll to ride these stretches on a series of turnpikes.  As far as I can tell, “turnpike” means you pay a toll to drive on the road and keep it drive-able, lest the elements take it too.

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