Where did Roadside America go?
Not that long ago, when you got in the car for a road trip, you knew that, even if you weren't happy about the trip, there would be interesting sights along the way.
Here in the west, we had a wide array of roadside architecture to appreciate. Everything from the mid-century modern that was Stuckey's to unique eye catchers like the twin arrows in the ground next to the Twin Arrows Trading Post:
From diners to gas stations, Roadside America had style. Neon signage, unique buildings, something to delight the eyes as the miles rolled by. Each place looked different and inviting- Harvey Houses, Texaco, small motels, diners and souvenir shops dotted the countryside.
Over the last ten years, more and more of Roadside America is being replaced with Corporate America. Now, it seems, every place looks like the last one you just passed a few miles ago. The same gas stations, the same McDonalds, Carl's Jr, Jack in the Box.
You also get to feast your eyes on Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's, Office Depot, Home Depot, Loewe's and in any number of other company chains.
Gone is the unique architecture and character. It's been replaced by beige, faux-Tuscan box stores that sell the same stuff from city to city.
Now, each town and city increasingly looks just the last one and they all look like where you live. There is nothing unique about any of this and why get out and explore if it is all so familiar that you see it in your everyday life?
It's not inviting, it's not for the curious. Today's Corporate America Roadside seems to exist not to challenge us but to comfort us. Oh look, Barstow is looking more and more like Palmdale, Lancaster, and every other mid-size community adjacent to a freeway.
The diners that offered specialties or home-cooked meals are quickly disappearing from our roadsides replaced by either corporate fast food-aramas or chain restaurants like Applebees, TGIF or Marie Callenders where home cooked, specialty meals aren't on the menu despite what the advertising tries to tell you.
The small motels have been replaced by Comfort Inn, Marriott, La Quinta or a half dozen other chains.
And all the signage now looks alike. With sign ordinances in many communities to keep out the so-called "sign blight", the popular tombstone signage is next to impossible to see until you have passed it.
When I travel, I don't want each place to look like where I live. One reason I am traveling is to see something different, experience new and fun things. I am not comforted by the idea that all of America has to look alike so that we can all sleep better at night.
I miss Roadside America and the comfort that came with exploring new places that looked nothing like where I lived, even if I was only an hour or two away from my home.