I-64: Ode to a Highway

Tell me the greatest danger facing travelers along Virginia's stretch of Interstate 64, that venerable highway stretching from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to St. Louis. Bad weather? Animals? Other drivers? All very real, but looming much larger and darker on that tunnel-vision horizon: boredom. Flung out the car window, the oft-repeated cry "There's nothing to look at!" echoes from the wall of trees as you streak past them.

Many of us living anywhere near I-64 in Virginia have our little patch that we know as well as our own street. Travelers near Charlottesville and points west are luckier than most– there the landscape takes possession of the highway, and the mountains wind the road around their fingers and run it through their hair.

But let's take, for example, the drive between Charlottesville and Richmond. One hour. View of landscape blocked by trees. No houses (fortunately). Not even a tacky billboard to catch your eye and snap your mind awake for a moment. I've been driving this particular stretch for 12 years; 90 percent of the 100,000+ miles on my car have been racked up by racing up and down those 65 miles like I'm just running out to the store. All hours, all weathers, all boring.

All boring? Is the light shifting through the trees alongside the road boring? Are the great hawks flapping past or perched in the cedars boring? Is the company of Orion on a clear winter night boring? I've driven this road through hailstorms, snow, and rainbows. One strange night a meteor tore through the clouds just ahead of me, arcing towards the earth and trailing blue sparks.

I have sailed through apocalyptic thunderstorms in the wake of huge trucks, gripping the wheel like a life-raft. I have been rescued from flat tires by truckers and by sympathetic women who would not let me get my work clothes dirty. Boring? How could I be so ungrateful? That stretch of highway gave me a Christmas tree that had fallen off a Christmas-tree truck.

I-64 can mercilessly eat up your time, swallow your gas money, or hypnotize you into a speed trap. But if you can stay awake for it, you may find great gifts rolling along with you: fear, compassion, poetry, time to think. Watch the other cars full of people old and young, angry, quiet, laughing, sad– cars full of presents, clothes, or dogs. Watch and you may see the moon rise blood orange over the trees, and disappear again into clouds. Keep your eyes open on this road where there's nothing to look at, and you may find more than you bargained for.

Well, except for a higher speed limit.