Small town USA

My evening in Springfield, IL hadn’t been quite what I had intended, but after the previous two good evenings drinking with friends in Chelsea, MI and Chicago, a quiet night was probably what was needed, even though I seemed to have shaken the jet-lag much quicker this time. I’d managed to sleep the whole night through until 8am, so my body seemed to be very much on US time.

After loading the Trooper and I once again tried to pick up Route 66. For much of it’s passage through southern Illinois and into Missouri, Route 66 acts as just a frontage road to the I-55 or I-44 interstates. I alternated riding the frontage road with blasts down the interstate where it looked at if the old road truly did just run parallel to the main highway.

There is not a great deal striking about the scenery along this part of the route and I got to reflecting about small town USA, and how it is different from back home. When I had crossed the border from Canada to the US at Port Huron, I had been a little surprised at how immediately familiar everything had felt. On my last trip in 2011 I had ridden coast to coast and covered 34 states, and all across this huge country they is a distinctly North American look to the most, if not all, of the towns and small cities I came across.

For a Brit on a road trip in the US, one of the first things you begin to notice is the recurring sameness of all the built up areas around highway intersections. In the UK, we tend to have dedicated service areas along motorways, with a single petrol station and a kind of mini-mall housing a few food and retail outlets. More often than not these service areas are not at junctions or intersections, and access is only back to the motorway.

The US does have these dedicated service areas, or service plazas, but they are much less common, and I have only seen them on turnpikes, or toll roads, where you would otherwise have to pay to leave the interstate. What is more common, especially on the non-toll interstates and major highways, is for there to be a cluster of fast food, gas stations, and hotels at each major intersection. As you ride off the highway all over America, you are confronted with signs for these conveniences screaming for your business and towering above the buildings they are promoting. Main street USA is frequently single storey.

From Illinois, July 2013

One of the most ubiquitous signs is missing from the photo above. And that’s because I was standing underneath it when I took the  photo above.

From Illinois, July 2013

I am again embarrassed to admit to how frequently I visit McDonalds and Starbucks whilst I’m in the States, since there isn’t a whole lot of difference from the ones we have at home. But the fact remains that I am virtually guaranteed a free wifi connection at any of their stores, whereas everywhere else seems a little hit and miss about providing wifi access. Wifi is a huge benefit to me on the road. I mentioned eariler that I don’t use Sat Nav on the bike, but I do use Google maps on my little 11″ MacBook Air. This avoids me having to hunt out and carry a map for every state I enter.

From Missouri, July 2013

As I approached St Louis, I decided to revert to the interstate to get through it. I’d visited St Louis in the last weeks of my trip in 2011. Riding into the city, I again wished for my on-bike photographer, as I had done riding into Chicago, because there is a great view of St Louis’ Gateway Arch as you approach. Since I had to wait until mid-August before I meet up with my photographer in Denver, I’ve borrowed a photo from wikimedia.
My original plan had been to stop in Rolla, MO for the night. But as I passed Rolla, the sun was still shining, so I decided to press on and made it to Lebanon, MO. I stopped to fill the Trooper’s tank when I got into town, before looking for a hotel, and I’m really glad I did, because I decided to use a little local knowledge and asked the gas station attendant, if there were any hotels near a bar and a restaurant. She pointed me across the street and told me the only bar in town was attached to the Days Inn. From the road I would never noticed the bar. After the long, hot day’s ride, I really appreciated a few cold beers in the bar. It’s one of the things I don’t get about America, in a similar size town in the UK, there would have been at least a half dozen pubs.


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