A Conversation for The United States of America
ThirdSection Started conversation Feb 1, 2006
Well, in the context of this article, the best way to "see America" is along its highways. What this means for all you foreign tourists coming here is that you need a car and enough money for gas (or petrol, as it's called in some parts of the world). A functional, roadworthy car can still be bought or hired for cheap here, and despite the fact that the price of gas (no one calls it petrol here) has skyrocketed, it's still cheaper than in Europe (note: one gallon equals about four litres... we buy gas by the gallon here and speed-limits on the highways are in miles-per-hour).
Now that you've come over here from overseas and aquired your car, it's time to see America. Find a highway and start driving. Get a current Rand McNally Road Atlas (available at any supermarket, bookstore, Wal-Mart or roadside tourist-trap) because not only does it have the best road maps for the whole country in one book, but it contains numerous coupons for roadside accommodations. Get the one with the plastic slipcover because when you're living out of your car, you'll want your number-one reference to be somewhat intact (trust me on this).
Now that you're with me on this, here's a rundown on the types of highways you might be travelling:
INTERSTATE (or the "I"): The Interstate system was modelled after the Autobahn as a means of going from point A to point B really fast (originally for Cold-War defense purposes). An Interstate highway usually features speed limits of up to 70 MPH and bypasses small Towns. When the "I" enters a big city, it becomes part of the freeway system.
US or FEDERAL highways: These are slightly less technically advanced than the Interstates. Most of these have the same smooth travel as an Interstate, and they usually become part of a big city's freeway system (notable exception: Lombard Street in San Francisco, the windiest and steepest residental street in the US is part of US 101), but they usually form the main (high) street of the small towns they pass through. A word of advice, these towns along the US highways are notorious as "speed-traps." The police in the town will vigorously stop motorists driving too fast in order to raise revenue through speeding tickets (fines), so be careful.
STATE HIGHWAYS are those roads maintained by the individual states. These may range anywhere between a superhighway worthy of Interstate status to a lethal dirt track with 1000 foot drop-offs in the mountains.This is when you dig out your Rand McNally, which will tell you exactly what these state roads are like.
Anyway, if you really want to see America, forget about the big monuments in the big Eastern cities. Drive the highways and hobnob with the locals in the small towns you pull off in. US 50 across Nevada is billed the lonliest Highway in America, and along that stretch, you actually get into long discussions with fellow motorists while gasing up (filling up with petrol). The towns along US 50 in Nevada are at least 80 miles apart.
Interstates in the West are filled with roadide attractions too. My personal favorite is I-40 (the former Route 66) across Arizona. Toward the East, you hit Holbrook, where you can stay the night in a wigwam (made of concrete, fully lighted and heated with cable TV of course), then you hit Winslow, where if you pull off, you can actually find a place called Standing on a Corner in Winslow, Arizona (like in the Eagles' song) and buy a t-shirt there. My favorite thing about this stretch though is toward the California border (near Lake Havasu City, where London Bridge is now located-- HA HA), near Kingston, where there's the body of an old VW bug mounted on eight huge spider legs in front of a few old run-down trailers. This ranks right up there with the GIANT CHRISTMAS TREE ORNAMENT sculpture along I-80 in the salt-flats of western Utah.
Oh yeah, if you decide to drive I-80 (the route of the famous transcontinental railroad and the historic Lincoln Highway, all running from New York City to San Francisco), be really careful in Utah!!! If their UNMARKED HIGHWAY PATROL CARS catch you speeding there, they'll not only pull you over to give you a speeding fine, but they'll also search your car for drugs.
Yes, the open road is THE way to see America, but as we say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so keep this in mind as you hit the road. And, despite our current reputation as a warmongering, imperialist nation, we common folk are still quite friendly and helpful. Should your car break down out in the middle of nowhere (along one of our majestic highways), the best thing to do is to open your hood (what Brits call the bonnet) and stand next to the car with your thumb stretched out toward the passing motorists. I guarentee you'll be swept to the nearest service station where you can make phonecalls and get repairs. If you offer to compensate whoever picks you up at the roadside for these purposes, the standard response will be "No, I know you'll do what I'm doing one of these days..."
Anyway, I hope this helps anyone from "over there" who would like to see my country. By the way, the article to which I'm responding was great!
Mat Posted Mar 3, 2009
I've driven a fair way around Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada and I have to say that it's pretty easy. Roads are straight and empty and cars are big, comfortable and have cruise control. I drove from San Fransisco to Yosemite National Park and the drive was great. I ended up on a straight road heading off into the distance in the desert with exactly the same behind me. Looked like the cover of an Eagles album. Quite an experience.
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