We left our quiet street for a few days in January and February to travel in a dozen states. We went to southern Florida during a January Missouri cold snap and drove out of a snowstorm in February to spend most of two weeks in Arizona and New Mexico. Gloating about being someplace where the daytime temperature is in the 70s and 80s and dolphins sometimes play in the surf or in places where every day is golf day in the winter Arizona desert is unseemly so we’re not going to do it. In fact there were some days when the temperature in Florida was only in the 60s and it was almost that nice here at home, at least in January. It’s not like we were full-blown snowbirds who have abandoned our neighbors to escape all of winter. They were nice times but we’re not going to force anybody to look out our pictures of the sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico and palm trees and people in bathing suits strolling on a white beach or a Greek Orthodox monastery where they grow oranges and lemons in Arizona. Unless our friends force us to show them.
We have learned that some people in Georgia talk like people from Georgia. But not all of them. Same with people from Mississippi and Alabama. People from Minnesota sound like Minnesotans in Arizona. Arizonans sound a lot like us.
We have learned that some state capitols are not open to visitors on weekends. Ours is. But the Missouri Capitol has something for people to see. The Florida Capitol is a 22-story office building. The Louisiana Capitol is a 34-story office building. The North Dakota Capitol is a 19-story building. The Nebraska Capitol is a 15-story office building. (Louisiana, North Dakota, and Nebraska were not on this trip but we’ve been there on other voyages.) . We are never too excited about seeing an office building-capitol anyway. Florida’s Capitol was closed for the weekend when we went through Tallahassee. Arizona’s capitol is a museum with an executive office attached to the rear and separate buildings for the House and the Senate. The New Mexico Capitol is round, lovely, captures the culture and is known as “The Roundhouse” because of its shape
We learned that people who drive I-75 in Florida must consider the highway’s name some kind of minimum speed. But it’s a terrific road. We were told in Oklahoma during a winter storm that if we want clear roads we should go to Missouri “because they shovel the roads there.”
We drove on some beautiful interstate highways. In fact, we thought that just about every state we were in has prettier—and generally, smoother and often at least two lanes wider– interstate highways than Missouri has. Driving on them was comfortable, especially in those areas of three or four lanes each way where trucks were restricted to the far-right lane except when passing and there were ample lanes for travelers going at different speeds.
There pretty clearly are several reasons for states having more beautiful interstates than Missouri has. The most obvious reason is fuel taxes. Missouri piddles along at 17 cents for gasoline, more for diesel. The states we visited on our warm-weather break, collect two to nineteen cents a gallon more. Of course they have better, prettier roads. Missouri, on the other hand, has political leadership that has spent years cultivating the idea that things will be oh, so much better, if taxes are considered some kind of disfiguring disease and the best solution is legislative inoculation against it.
But the big reason other states have more beautiful highways is billboards.
We have decided in our long drives down those attractive roads in other states that the absolutely ugliest interstate highway in America has to be Interstate 70 between our two largest cities. It is a disgrace. In a time when law enforcement authorities bemoan the number of traffic crashes and fatalities caused by distracted drivers, we have an interstate that is crammed with distractions. Billboards. It was bad enough until Missourians voted on limits to billboards a few years ago and the billboard—pardon me, the outdoor advertising industry—rushed to throw up dozens more of the things before the limits were enacted. Sadly, the proposal failed and we are left with Interstate 70 roadsides with the worst case of advertising acne that can be imagined.
Many of our other major roads are relatively free of these visual insults but the busiest road in the state, linking our biggest cities, should be renamed. Isore70.
Sadly, the situation with a highway that at times seems nose-to-tail trucks–with cars as the meat in the truck sandwich–between Kansas City and St. Louis appears unlikely to be better anytime soon. Missourians don’t want higher gas taxes. Missourians have rejected a special sales tax for transportation. The political tide is running against making I-70 a toll road. Heaven only knows how the situation will turn around. The legislature remains idling on the shoulder.