The traffic has sped up and slowed
I’ve changed my travelling mode
This is Nebraska,
It’s not like Alaska.
We’ve got the I-80 road.
I travelled Interstate 80 the first time at the start of the summer of 1968, going east from Denver on my first road trip. I drove my friend’s new Chevelle directly away from my high school graduation. Bitter about the previous seven years at home and at school, I determined to never return.
At age 18 I had much to learn.
At that time I-80S existed only in segments, and wouldn’t be named I-76 until the Bicentennial. I pulled off the two-lane in Julesburg, and while the attendant pumped my gas and washed my windshield I listened to the wind in the telephone wires and thought I’d heard the loneliest sound in the world.
The speed limit signs at that time changed from 70 to 80 with the daylight.
I drove to meet up with my music buddies in Illinois, sure we’d change the world with our music.
The summer didn’t go according to plan. We came back to Denver in the middle of July when the pianist’s mother died. The pianist and I didn’t find day jobs and we didn’t find much in the way of music jobs, either.
I travelled west on I-80 that winter for Xmas break; I had yet to learn to travel light, yet to learn that school books brought on vacation never add to knowledge but diminish the vacation’s quality. Again the three musicians rode in the pianist’s Chevelle, and got stuck in a snow drift outside of Cozad.
For the next four years I-80 served as my hitchhiking corridor to and from college. When I went to medical school I traveled the same highway, catching rides or thumbing.
Bit by bit I-76 reached completion and the four-lane finished skirting Omaha.
We moved to Iowa in 1985. At that time the speed limit was 55 and we had three small children. The twelve-hour drive to visit my parents thus dilated to eighteen hours until we learned to drive at night.
In May of 1989 I received a call as the sun was going down. My stepfather had a stroke; my mother told me not to come. Bethany brewed me a Thermos of real coffee and I left immediately. He died four days later, and I drove back with the radio off, alone with my thoughts.
My mother got sick in 1991 and died in 1993. During that interval I made the trip many times by air and by car. I learned how dead-end and bitterness define each other, and sap the joy from life.
We made the pilgrimage every summer to visit my father till the kids grew up and my father died. I travel I-80 less often now than I used to.
I have taken to making the trip in two stages; I have stopped tonight at a motel in Big Springs, now that I have a level of affluence that I didn’t have the years that I travelled all night or camped briefly in Grand Island or slept a few hours in a rest area. Quieter, safer cars speed back and forth. Speed limits have gone down and then up. Gas mileage keeps improving. Nebraska highway maintenance remains a model of functionality.
I am on my way to an educational conference in Denver through the American Academy of Family Practice.
In the last forty years I’ve changed more than the road has.
This trip is the first time I haven’t been in a hurry going or coming. I’m enjoying it a lot more.