A 200-mile trip might take the average person six or seven hours. I’ve been known to do it in three days. That’s because I always take the alternate route, otherwise known as Main Street, USA.
With the collection of Home Depots, Wal-Marts and Targets lining the highways, you could be anywhere. But you always know where you are when you’re on Main Street, whatever the actual name of the street may be. I’ve also found that the nice thing about traveling on Main Street is that one seems to leads to another.
Unfortunately, some aren’t what they used to be. But some are. In many towns, “the diner” is still on the corner where it has been for 30 years. There’s Sal’s Barber Shop, and now Sal Jr. has the first chair. The hardware store is a good place to talk about plaster screws for a few hours. There’s the local version of Starbucks, where you don’t have to pay $6 for a latte. And if you forget your wallet anywhere on Main Street, someone will send out an APB looking for you.
For more of the local color, you can look at those ubiquitous corkboards, with notes tacked to them announcing important things. Like the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast at the firehouse. Or a church rummage sale. Or one man’s crusade to save the American Elm. That hardy breed of statuesque trees lined many Main Streets with a graceful, arching beauty – until urban development and a sudden epidemic took care of them.
If you dally too long on Main Street, you end up talking to strangers – who now feel like friends – and lose all track of time. Don’t worry. Just consider the $15 parking ticket as a contribution to an American way of life well worth preserving.
Some Main Streets are quite resilient. They’ve survived Sinclair Lewis’s “Main Street,” Grace Metalious’s “Peyton Place,” and Frank Capra’s “Bedford Falls.” People gossip everywhere. The only difference in a small town is that everyone knows whom you’re gossiping about – and that kind of makes it more intimate.
What really makes Main Street special is its intimacy. Even if you never lived near one, you feel it right away. And there’s a certain comfort in knowing that this is a place that hasn’t changed much.
For my next excursion, I have my eyes on the Lincoln Highway. About 3,400 miles, coast to coast. It has been called “The Main Street Across America.”
I’ve taken parts of it, but have never made the entire trip. Is there anyone out there who has?