Scenery was more interesting before we had interstates

Published 2:21 am Saturday, November 24, 2018

A friend asked me if I’d like to accompany her on a trip to New Orleans. I said yes. Then, as I was telling someone about our future drive to New Orleans, I awoke.

In that dream, I pictured us on the way, driving on an Interstate highway. Actually, I don’t like Interstates, even though they zip us through big cities and get us wherever we want to go faster. I must admit sometimes Interstate highways open up gorgeous views of nature’s wonders. This time of year in south Alabama, God’s paintbrush spreads a panorama of color—red, gold, green, and brown –as we travel. It seems that I never travel the Interstate to Montgomery without seeing one or more watchful chicken hawks perched on the highest tree limbs. Once on that route I even saw an owl emerging from some trees.

I enjoy that glimpse of scenic wildlife, but I miss driving through small towns with service stations where some local characters are likely to gather. You know, maybe like those in Mayberry on the Andy Griffin show. I miss seeing people sitting on their front porches or under giant shade trees shelling peas and beans or enjoying big slices of watermelon on hot afternoons. I like it when lights come on in houses just past dusk along the way. I imagine families gathering around a table, laughing and talking, enjoying their evening meal. It is just about time for colorful Christmas tree lights to begin twinkling in windows along our route.

It is more familiar now, but for a long time after Interstate highways started appearing, I missed finding familiar landmarks. Now Interstates crisscross the landscape. All that are left are signs with names of places we once passed through.

Highway systems with six or more lanes of traffic terrify me. I feel as if I am a target on one of those frantic computer games where bullets come at me on all sides. If I make a wrong move, I’ll be wiped out. Once when my husband and I were on a busy Interstate en route to Maryland, we drifted over into a wrong lane. A policeman with a loud speaker scared us out of our wits ordering us to get out of that lane. My reasoning then was if you are unfamiliar with a highway, how can you breeze along steadily and safely search for exits at the same time? Now thank goodness a driver can use a GPS for guidance. My “Miss Computer Voice,” who is sometimes rude, mostly leads me in the right direction.

Since the interstates rise and fall according to the lay of the land, you can sometimes get unique views of what you are passing. While rounding a curve driving in Birmingham, I was amazed to see the high school I attended below the highway I was traveling.

Although I appreciate Interstates, to me they are like airports, too impersonal, too boring, especially when mostly all I see is trees.

Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter.