Last Gas, Fifty Miles and Five Years Ago

Written Last November

For the past week I was on the road, a lot. My father-in-law passed away (more about that on another post) and we drove from Colorado Springs to Southern Indiana in an 18-hour marathon driving session. The last time I did this trip was about five years ago and it really struck me just how much had changed on the trip itself. I don’t mean the usual ‘new housing edition back home’ sort of thing, but simply how things have dried up for travelers themselves.

While we all know that the economy has been in a relative downturn for several years, the drive out and back really drove this point home a bit. Anyone travelling a great distance East and West in the United States will likely find themselves on the long, long stretch of I-70 through Kansas. In fact, in years past, “driving through” has been a bit of a boon to the little towns and interchanges on that lonely highway. Every 40 miles or so, there would be the usual exit to gas stations, small hotels, and convenience stores. Small towns actually sprung up just to provide services for road-weary travelers.

The downturn, though, has hit travel. While most of us instantly think of plane tickets and vacations, the truth is that all travel has been hurt hard. Without exaggerating, nearly a third of the little gas stations and convenience marts that were on that stretch just five years ago were closed, with more very likely to join them in the short term. The “Oasis”, on the western part of Kansas, looked like a deserted ghost town with the majority of stops closed up. Some intersections which had services just a few years ago were completely shut down, making careful planning and watching your gas an absolute necessity.

It’s a bit sad to see the skeletal remains of Stuckey’s lining the Kansas countryside, or the empty gas stations, or hollowed-out convenience stores. Yes, the large, almost mall-like truck stops are doing fairly well an taking up the slack in the market, but it’s clear that they’re not meant for the casual traveler. Indeed, the age of the road-trip for the non-professional may really be over. Rising gas prices and a bad economy has made high-mileage car trips expensive and impractical. If what’s going on in Kansas is just a more obvious example of what’s going on all over the country, then we’re really losing something, and really are reducing nearly all of our huge nation to just ‘flyover country’. And that’s a very sad thing to see.

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