Whenever you’re in the mood for some reasonably priced experiences that are enlightening, fulfilling and totally enjoyable, tour this magnificent country by car. Although I’ve been privileged to spend time in forty-eight of our fifty states, driving through them is the paramount experience.
On the most recent motor journey, we began with New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois. Moving east, the personalities of each state vary widely.
An example I appreciate immensely is a road sign I just saw in Missouri. It invited “Explore Uranus – Candy and Sideshow.” The ad had an antique-flavored image consistent with the sideshow attraction. It is a tourist spot consisting of a fudge factory and general store. Next trip, I’ll finesse a stop there to check out their clever marketing methods.
Other signs were a casino’s huge hamburger photo with the word “Yum” and no other information. You can also see a car wash named Mr. Washy, signs at every mile from mile 35 to the World’s Largest Gift Shop and Candy Factory and Okie Annie’s Homemade Hamburgers. Another good one is, “Don’t be an ass – stop at The Mule.”
Attitudes also change from state to state. Clichés and generalizations notwithstanding, I got a chuckle from a Texas “Old Country Store” that was filled with lone star memorabilia and t-shirts proclaiming, “I messed with Texas.” Missouri has a vacuum museum that invites, “Get sucked in.”
The next part of our journey included a bit of Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Hoosiers are more sedate about their billboards than the Show-Me personalities of Missouri, Okies or Illini. Illinois is proud of its history, with allusions to Lincoln, Powhatan, Pocahontas and everything else historical. The only other rah-rah environment that compared was in Texas. Due either to space or my own experiences, Indiana always seems like some place to travel in order to arrive somewhere else.
One of the most interesting realities is the quantity of antique shops. Large or small, old or new, it appears that there are at least triple the antique venues east of the Mississippi than west. What’s the reason? Obviously, the eastern portion of the US was settled before the west. But maybe the explanation is more sublime, that easterners have a greater reverence for heritage than their western counterparts.
Along those lines, our country has an unusual affection for Route 66. If you’re on or near 66, you’re always aware of it. There are signs, businesses and endless memorabilia that glorify this old, venerated highway.
Ohio is much more subdued than the other states traveled. No matter where we stopped, we were inundated by products for and about The Ohio State University. Certainly, there are other high caliber institutions of learning in Ohio but apparently, their advertising or marketing people aren’t quite as aggressive.
You can go for miles without seeing any billboards in Ohio. Either there aren’t enough landmarks, the cost of advertising is too high or there’s too much distance between Columbus (The Ohio State University) and everywhere else.
The same will be true of Pennsylvania and western New York. You’ll see the usual road signs but until you get within a mile or so from a city, the only advertising available is for the ubiquitous antique shops.
New York City and western New York have little in common beyond the state designation. It’s amusing or informative that most of the towns and villages tell you when they originated – 1830, 1802, 1766, etc. While there may be similar signs on the outskirts of NYC where history includes Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers, it’s the area outside NYC that boasts long-term existence.
Driving home to New Mexico should prove to be exhausting, entertaining and educational. As long as you keep your eyes and mind open, this country’s wealth of sights and eccentricities is boundless. If we continue to celebrate our country’s beauty and diversity, we have the far beyond the necessary resources to continue blossoming and flourishing. Shalom.