Friday, May 22, 2015

Stop the Eye Torture

(Or, A Tale of Two Highways...)

It's become a national joke that the Michigan legislature is such a group of incompetent ignoranuses (no sic there) that it has let the state's roads tumble to dead last in per-person maintenance funding. And that it refuses to even entertain the possibility of joining the tollway (i.e. pay-to-play) systems of its neighbors in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. And that it allows grossly overweight semi truck traffic to pound into rubble, without fee, what little remaining intact roadway is left. And that, just for good measure, it sees no need to regulate or punish drivers who choose to commit attempted homicide by texting at the wheel.

You've likely seen one of the gorgeously produced "Pure Michigan" ads, soothingly narrated by Tim Allen, showing pristine woods, rivers, little scenic towns, even (finally!) downtown Detroit. But what's overlooked in those ads is the somber fact that getting to any of those locations requires dodging millions billions trillions of undercarriage-ripping crevices and craters.

Bad enough, that. Then add to it yet another highway matter that the state's government is legislating at a snail's pace: the number of billboards bombarding the psyches of drivers on any of the main highways near any of the main cities and metro areas. Basically, the driving brain goes through these gymnastic routines:

Speed limit 65 watch for slow trucks entering SWERVE! POTHOLE! McDonald's Wendy's Taco Bell Burger King have you talked with God today he is listening DANGER! DRIFTING TEXTER! Joe's Radiator a good place to take a leak SWERVE! POTHOLE! Holiday Inn Rodeway Comfort Motel 6 next exit $39 single CAN'T SWERVE! BRACE FOR AXLE IMPACT! talk with your kids about drugs....

Add a talk show on the radio and it's complete mental mayhem. A 20-minute drive can leave you exhausted and with a pounding headache, and ready to take one of those $39 rooms to avoid having to make a return trip.

We write bitch about this topic today because the WBmobile has been meandering around the southern U.S. recently and enjoying highways in Kentucky and Tennessee with billboards that look like this:

That's right—there aren't any. Now, granted, there've been a lot of semi trucks. A frightening number of them, in some places. Like, claustrophobia-inducing numbers. But during one 350-mile stretch of major interstate, there were exactly two billboards, and one of them was buried so deeply in trees that only its first word was visible.

The impact of this lack of language—the mental quiet that comes from having nothing to read while blasting along among the consumer goods stashed in thousands of semi trailers racing along with you—is nothing short of blissful. You can look at hills and valleys and rivers and all of the pretty-nature things that Pure Michigan ads want you to pay attention to, but in states that aren't Michigan. And the roadway looks pretty much like it does in the photo up there; i.e. smooth, unbroken, and not at all terrifying.

Michigan's official motto, translated from Latin, is "If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look Around You." Thanks to its do-nothing, know-nothing state government, that needs to change to "Forget About Peninsulas—If You Seek Something Pleasant, Look Elsewhere."

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