Blue Highways is one of my favorite books. I still remember reading it for the first time, and though back then I had yet to venture far outside of the US, I was filled with the desire to set out with no plans, no fixed destination, just an imperative to wander, to explore. I remember reading the words of William Least Heat-Moon and feeling like I was there in those towns, discovering America alongside him.
CNN photographer Ed Alior recently retraced Heat-Moon’s journey, photographing exact places described in the book. The results, of course, are beautiful. Many of the places remain as they were, but, as Heat-Moon laments in the accompanying interview, many are gone – rural areas and small towns have been swallowed up by urban sprawl and mom-and-pop shops were forced out of business by chain stores.
Heat-Moon complains about the chain stores especially in regards to food (“Yes, it’s likely ordinary and undistinguished, but it’ll be consistent. But why travel if consistency is all you want?” he asks) and in lodging. He says that today’s travelers have to head to the highway off-ramp to find lodging in many towns, which segregates them “from the heart of a community.”
Heat-Moon says these two changes have had a detrimental effect on travel. He also says that speed is a problem. We’re a nation of speeders and “speed corrupts.” To really experience a place, whether it be a far-flung foreign land or an undiscovered part of our own country, we need to slow down. With limited vacation time, we can all be guilty of moving too fast, but, says Heat-Moon, “If you want to learn the territory between your place of departure and where you end up, you have to have time and use it wisely.”
Photo credit: christian moser via Flick