Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Day 3: American Roadway One

By Davy Knittle

The dinosaur roamer
of an interstate system

American carousel access
to its breakaway points
emptied by the impulse
of its own travel

Jeff Davis highway and
the road to Richmond
flooded with electric cars, maybe

or becoming that land
made flat by its unreflected lights

No span is a highway island,
a glow that’s always on

The great drive an analog that
took no original account for wear

In the roadway, going –
some pools of weight on the trees
their shadows as a pull
to the highway shoulder

Their output points, 8:30 light
over the throw of construction

The highway the outcut center, then
of the base state of forest
of the specific tack of the land

The road a sphere outracing its radius
rewriting its everywhere center
over a fenceline, a raceway
a telephone tower archived between sets
the fixed start, and over again,
of a ceaseless region

This poem speaks to a number of questions that have dictated how I’ve seen the first days of the ride, about the physicality of what landscape we’re seeing, as compared to what the original riders saw. In many ways, the original Freedom Rides were an ideal enactment of some fragments of the American Dream. A roadtrip in the pursuit of civil rights speaks to both an idealized American freedom of action and a freedom of movement, by means of the interstate highway. It makes sense, given how roads and roadway automotive travel have figured into the American 20th century narrative of American exceptionalism and the enactment of autonomous American identity that one of the first crucial acts of the Civil Rights Movement was focused on interstate travel legislation. That to be American was, before almost anything else, to be able to travel on the roads.

With this in mind, I’ve been struck both by how extreme American urban desolation looks – how filled with vacant buildings the cities of Petersburg, Virginia and High Point, North Carolina are, and by how much of the American landscape stretches out along two and four lane commercial roads that fit the same nationally-prevalent businesses into the landscape. What does it mean for us to be undergoing this driving trip? In 50 more years, who will be on the roads? What will become of the roads, and of the people who need the roads to move around their home radii, when that kind of driving becomes untenable? What kind of an America will we have as a result? How does the change that will necessarily happen in the great automotively-bound majority of the country suggest or signal what other kinds of American change could look like? Who will we be, as Americans, when we are no longer a nation of drivers?

Tags: , ,

3 responses to “Day 3: American Roadway One”

  1. Rebecca Littlejohn

    11th May, 11

    I was thinking about similar issues tonight, after having watched Stanley Nelson’s documentary (my third time) at our community preview. I was suddenly wondering if the Freedom Rides, and their eventual success, actually precipitated “white flight” from the interstate bus system. The way the infomercial he uses at the beginning of the film depicts it, happy, middle-class, White people were riding busses everywhere beforehand. Did the bus companies give up on selling that ideal, once they had to include people of color? It would be fascinating to research when the bus demographics actually changed; that is, when White people stopped using the busses and became even more isolated, everybody in their own vehicle. See you tomorrow in Anniston!

  2. Elba Mominee

    17th May, 11

    Thanks to the Rush Limbaugh wannabees this sort of talk is usually taken as fact.

  3. Fred Powanda

    17th May, 11

    Thanks a ton for your time to have decided to put these things together on this blog site. Mary and that i very much prized your ideas through the articles over certain things. I’m sure that you have a variety of demands in your program hence the fact that you took equally as much time just like you did to steer people like us via this article is definitely highly valued.