On the Road Again

My family and I have just returned from our two-week summer vacation camping trip down to Florida. We survived the heat of Florida in mid-August, we survived the complaints of the kids trapped inside our minivan for the three-day drive south and then back north, we survived Hurricane Charley, but most importantly, we survived Disney.

Yes, we answered the inscrutable yearnings of our children and took them to Walt Disney World near Orlando. We had promised them some years ago that we would take them, but circumstances such as losing my job three years ago have up until now conspired against us from honoring this promise. But we made sacrifices and saved so that we could do Disney the least expensive way by camping in our trailer and fixing most of our own meals. Plus, our oldest boy is almost 16 years old, and we figured that if we did not bite the bullet this year, the probability of our getting him to go anywhere with us further than the mail box on the corner of our street was about nil.

But it is not my intention to talk about the entertainment magic that is Disney. No, I want to talk about the entertainment of travelling on America’s system of Interstate Highways to get to Disney. I am personally going to agitate to have the meaning of the “I” in highways like I-95 changed from “Interstate” to “Infuriate.” The number after the “I” estimates the approximate level — on a scale from 0 to 100% — of frustration one can expect to entertain on that particular highway. Since we travelled primarily on the I-81 and the I-95, you can just imagine our level of entertainment!

For the record, first let me state that the highways in America are very clean. The amount of car litter of the type that gets tossed out of the window of a moving family mini-van that we saw could have easily fit into a standard no. 8 brown paper lunch bag. This must be the result of years of feeling guilty over the single tear shed by that Indian in that commercial of days gone by and you are to be collectively congratulated on keeping the roads clean of trash.

However, I do have a few other observations of note. While the roads were clear of trash, many long stretches of highway, easily totalling at least 900 miles of the 1500 miles it took to drive down to Disney, were littered with large orange and black striped traffic cones. The plastic traffic cone miners of Moiria must be digging pretty deep to have produced the vast numbers of cones that have been strategically placed on the highways by professional teams of traffic-cone placers. Navigating through endless ranks of these cones helped prepare us for the type of thrill rides we expected to be entertained on at Disney. The only other thing that competed for space with the traffic cones by the side of the highways were the rubber remnants from exploded transport truck tires. The ancient rubber tire mines of Caledonia must be producing a lot of inferior quality tires and I recommend that they be shut down immediately and that a formal government inquiry be launched. In particularly congested places along the highway, the traffic cones and tire parts were tangled up into four and five foot high mounds of high art.

Then there were the slowdowns. There were the expected slowdowns through the traffic-cone zones, but there were some others that deserve honorable mention. The first occurred on the first day of our road trip in Pennsylvania. Traffic was backed up for miles. When we finally reached the source of the slowdown, we observed about eight parked highway traffic vehicles and about 12 workmen studiously engaged in the time-honored traffic worker tradition of teaching shovels how to stand up straight with the assistance of a full grown man leaning on it.

The second slowdown occurred on the second day in South Carolina. We were backed up for at least 200 miles due to the fact that the road was being paved. But this was not the sole reason for the slowdown. Apparently, in an attempt to circumvent the traditional process of paving roads whereby giant machines transform coal and water and heat into asphalt, an overly zealous transport trucker dumped his several tons of coal directly onto the road. Perhaps he was expecting the pressure from the tires of several thousand waiting vehicles to crush the coal into a nice coat of asphalt.

The third instance transpired on our third day on the road in Florida. We were backed up for a bazillion miles and the nice man on the radio said that the highway ahead of us was partially washed out by a rainstorm. When we finally reached the washed-out road, we discovered that we had been stuck in traffic for hours because a single lane on the other side of the highway had a pool of water on it that wasn’t even deep enough to entirely cover a single layer of coal chunks splashed across the road.

So we had a lot of opportunities to take advantage of the many rest areas that litter the landscape beside the highways. After being stuck in traffic for many hours, my little family and I seriously needed to visit a rest area if you catch my meaning. We also ate picnic lunches. What struck me about the picnic areas of the rest areas is that the picnic tables and benches are made of concrete, and in many cases, are under the cover of concrete structures in the event of rain. I observed that the tables and structures were often arranged in nice geometric patterns and I was curiously reminded of Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plains in England. The Salisbury Plains are also home to vast herds of grazing Salisbury cows that provide us with Salisbury steaks. It struck me that perhaps Stonehenge was not built to tell the time or for some mystical Druid rituals. Maybe Occam’s Razor, which states that the simplest explanation is probably the correct one, applies here and that Stonehenge is nothing more than an ancient rest area built for ancient travellers to enjoy an ancient picnic lunch. Provided they could even get there through the designs of the ancient road engineers and the first professional teams of traffic-cone placers.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and is the principal behind the services of Statistics Courses. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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