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Yesterday afternoon, as temperatures climbed toward the 90˚F mark, Myladylove and I filled a cooler with ice and bottled water, and took a long, leisurely drive through east-central Indiana. Our plans were minimal—follow only the backroads and byways; purchase a bucket of fried chicken for a picnic lunch to be partaken in some village park; stop at any picturesque bridges, flower-dappled fields, rustic barns, or used bookshops and antique stores that struck our fancy; maybe finish off with an ice cream cone on the way home.
Otherwise, our day would be ruled by whim and serendipity…and it was, indeed, a truly glorious day! Bright blue sky and some of the finest puffy white clouds I've seen in years.
For parts of our impromptu ramble we followed a section of U.S. 40 that was once part of the historic National Road. As the first improved road built by the federal government—construction started in 1811—this 620 mile long thoroughfare became the shining pathway for thousands of hope-filled settlers seeking the Promised Land of the West.
This fine old roadway retained its significance until just a few decades ago when the Interstate highway system came along—offering high-speed, limited-access convenience, while being thoroughly devoid of both character and soul.
Nowadays I-70 parallels U.S. 40, often visible less than a half-mile distant. The old National Road is all but deserted. Once-thriving gas stations and gift shops, cafés, motels, truck stops, and similar businesses catering to cross-country travelers have closed, their buildings vacant, in disrepair, crumbling; many already reduced to an open area in the weeds and a just-visible bit of foundation rubble.
A ghost road, with only spirit tenants. But a change which occurred my lifetime. I can easily remember the National Road before the Interstate sapped its lifeblood, and for nostalgia's sake, like to pay my respects.
After a while we turned north, leaving the old National Road to wend emptily westward across the vast green plain of Heartland agriculture. This is flat country—as in table-top flat. Sparsely settled. Farmhouses cling close to the road, and are often set a mile apart. And other than a few patches of woods, maybe a red barn, stone silo, or the spire of a distant village church, not much else to break the monotony of endless fields of corn and soybeans.
And yet, paradoxically, it's a land I do not find monotonous. Instead, it seems open and honest and soothing. A relaxed world where—on a Sunday afternoon—you can cover a couple hundred miles on a network of narrow rural roads and count the vehicles-passed-per-hour on the fingers of one hand. A place where you can slow down, unwind, lose your worries beneath a cornflower-blue sky filled with glowing white clouds…and then enjoy an ice cream cone as you find your way home.