As many of you probably do not know, I have recently transplanted my life from the purgatorial suburbs of America’s third largest city (Chicago) to the sun-drenched paradise just south of its second (Los Angeles). Although the Windy City is home to many of my favorite things – The Plain White Ts, Polish people, Ditka, and gentrifying neighborhoods to name a few – it lacks the two things I love most: sunshine and happiness. Because of this, I decided to bid a fond farewell to April blizzards and playoff meltdowns and say a hearty hello to 360 days a year of “75 and sunny” in northern San Diego county.
From Tuesday through Thursday last week, while the rest of you were doing whatever it is you do from Tuesday through Thursday, I was piloting a U-Hual truck across the country. The fact that the truck was four times the size of my normal car did not make things any easier. The fact that it lacked both cruise control and a CD player did not help either. Not that it was an unpleasant trip, quite the opposite. When I wasn’t battling gale force winds and repeatedly trying to shake an aggressive tailgater (who turned out to be my car, which was on a trailer attached to the truck), I was stopping at every Sonic Drive-In I saw, debating the merits of a college football playoff system with myself, and enjoying some world class scenery. And that brings me to my point.
As a person too poor to fly and too Caucasian for Greyhound busses, I have spent the better portion of my life driving or being driven across the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. As the miles pile up, I have begun to notice patterns emerging in the roadside signs and scenes lining America’s highways. These patterns are state-specific and they provide a helpful snapshot into the industry, culture, and leisure activities of every state in the union. Highways are like Spark Notes. They tell you everything you need to know about a state – values, tourist attractions, natural resources, relative allure of the female population, etc – without requiring you to spend any more time there than is absolutely necessary.
Below, I have provided the Highway State Personality Index results for the states I traveled through last week as well as some states I am already acquainted with. Comparing the roadside results with actual experience in these states has proven them to be remarkably accurate.
Illinois: Corn – grain silos – grain silo museums – Abraham Lincoln-related historic sites
Indiana: Barns – abandoned vehicles – abandoned hopes and dreams
Missouri: RV dealerships – Branson-related billboards – adult video megastores – reminders that pornography destroys lives (Missouri is an ethically conflicted state)
Colorado: Liquor stores – gun stores – liquor stores -Mexican restaurants (As you can see, life in small town Colorado is not much different from life in Harlem.)
Oklahoma: Dead armadillos – Indian casinos -poverty-stricken Indian reservations – kitsch Route 66 museums/historic sites – dead armadillos (seriously, they’re everywhere)
Texas: pathetically arrogant and oversized welcome signs – pathetically arrogant and oversized truck stops – pathetically arrogant and oversized Whataburgers – pathetically arrogant and oversized Texans
New Mexico: Nothing – nothing – Albuquerque – nothing – Navajos selling fireworks – nothing
South Dakota: Wall Drug billboard – Wall Drug billboard – Wall Drug billboard – Wall Drug – billboard advising that you have passed Wall Drug and should turn around
I beseech you, dear readers, to add your own Highway State Personality Indexes for states not mentioned above that you are familiar with. Specifically the East Coast; my experience there has thankfully been minimal.