Highways these days are pretty sterile places. Sure, they’re far more efficient, safe, and standardized than the highways of the first several decades of the motoring era, but whatever character they might have had has been brushed aside in the name of progress.
Prior to the Interstate Highway System, roads and highways were in many ways parts of their communities and not just literal means to an end. For better or worse, they were littered with motels, Burma-Shave signs, unique roadside attractions, hitchhikers, vernacular billboards, and cars on sticks. The highways were the internet before there was the internet, connecting travelers to the landscapes they traveled through. The roads were a shared culture.
Ironically, the push to build connected cars that speak digitally to each other and to the highways they travel on — a key component in autonomizing automobiles — will likely further disconnect motorists from the highway experience. It’ll continue to make the roads safer and more sterile.
Some roads are throwbacks, yes. That’s part of the charm of Route 66 and why so many people want to preserve it. You might find a hitchhiker here and there. But for the most part, that culture is gone or will soon be gone.
But before it goes away completely, tell us what you no longer see on American highways. We’re not interested in the cars or the driving habits that have gone by the wayside, rather the things that made driving long distances fascinating and that turned cross-country drives into an adventure.