The Hendersonville Standard Blog
The Hendersonville Standard Blog
When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.
-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, In Search of America
Even after being forced to read John Steinbeck’s The Pearl and Of Mice and Men in high school, I wouldn’t have listed him as one of my favorite authors. I knew he was a great writer and known for other acclaimed works like Grapes of Wrath, but I honestly didn’t know much about him.
But after listening to the audio recording of Travels with Charley, In Search of America, which I ran across at the public library, he is now definitely on my list.
Years after he published his most famous works, Steinbeck, at the age of 58, decided in 1960 to re-connect with America by taking a three-month, cross-country trip in a pick-up truck with a custom camper with only his poodle, Charley, as his companion.
I found it highly entertaining to hear his observations about 1960 America and learned a lot about our country and a lot about Steinbeck himself. The book is full of great quotes like “I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction,” and “We do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
But this isn’t a book review, or an essay about Steinbeck or even a plug about the benefits offered by our public libraries (which, I guess, I just did). It’s about that quote at the top that stuck with me and how, 50 years after it was written, Steinbeck’s prophecy has come true.
It was written just a few years after President Dwight Eisenhower signed the the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which started the “greatest public works project in history,” making the Interstate System part of our culture. It was a time when a roadway like Route 66 was the main way to travel providing an up-close look at life wherever the road took you.
Steinbeck realized the growing country needed the ‘thruways across the whole country,’ but he recognized what was being lost in the process.
I’ve been blessed to be able to travel this amazing land of ours quite a bit; 37 states visited so far with hopes of one day getting to all 50 states. My least favorite travel is business travel where time is of the essence. You hop on the super-slab and blow by town after town that you never see, just as Steinbeck predicted. When you stop for fuel, you can’t recognize this exit town from the last because you see all the same national brand eateries, fuel stations, hotels, and retail shops. You can’t tell if you’re in Lexington, Cincinnati or Toledo.
As much as possible, I prefer back road travel, which, when I’m on vacation, becomes back road tourism. State highways, mom and pop restaurants and cabins at State Parks all rank high on my list.
A few years back, my wife and I set off to visit as much of East Tennessee as possible in a week. We took Hwy 52 out of Sumner County and rambled past farm land and small towns on our way to our first overnight stop in Rugby, Tenn. We pulled off the main road to check out the old hotels I’d heard about in Red Boiling Springs, took some pictures at Standing Stone State Park (where we ran into some Sumner County neighbors) and had lunch at a roadside diner.
After arriving at Historic Rugby, a restored Victorian village built in 1880, we joined the local folks at a pre-Halloween Chili Supper and Ghost Storytelling event, complete with a candlelight tour of a couple of the ‘haunted’ buildings. The rest of the trip was much of the same; meeting new people, finding the special places where the local people gathered and seeing the beauty of our home state. We had a great time and followed up with a similar trip to West Tennessee a couple of years later.
I hope more people choose back road travel, especially when visiting Sumner County. We have almost no interstate presence so if visitors don’t take the back-roads, how will they ever enjoy a southern breakfast at Ruby’s Kitchen in Hendersonville or southern BBQ at Up in Smoke in Gallatin. An interstate traveler would miss Old Hickory Lake and the Gallatin Square completely, as well as farmer’s markets, antique stores, flea markets and roadside vendors of all types.
Just think, an Interstate-only traveler will never know the joy of eating one of Les Bumbalough’s fried apple pies at Red Chief Orchard in Castalian Springs. And so much more.
See you next week.