Is This a Great Country or What?

Just before Easter, I brought a vehicle to my son down in Florida. The whole enterprise, including the return, took all of 30 hours. During that time I experienced many of the marvels of a country and its system that for all of their current challenges remain the most impressive on earth.

The drive was about 750 miles, and began in Mason, Ohio. Over 600 of those miles were on interstate highways. Several decades ago, a Wall Street Journal editorial angered public transportation zealots by asserting in essence that autos, trucks, and the highways and roads that support them represent the single greatest mass transit system ever devised. Though there's always room for improvement, I don't see how anyone can reasonably disagree. The drive itself took only 12 hours, point to point -- no nodes, no tolls, and virtually no hassles.

Given that it's springtime, there were, of course, a few construction delays, particularly in the hilly section between Cincinnati and Louisville. Otherwise, traffic moved nicely and safely at -- or slightly above -- the posted speed limit, which was usually 70. (Governor John Kasich in Ohio, where only the Ohio Turnpike has this limit, please note!)

It's been over a decade since I've driven the stretch of I-65 between Louisville and Nashville. I barely recognized much of it. Most of the "country" stretch between Louisville and Nashville was three lanes wide in each direction. Before that, the Metro Louisville portion of the trip revealed a robustly growing area. Sure enough, according to the 2010 census, Jefferson County's population increased by almost 7% during the past decade, while the majority of urban counties in Ohio, most notably Cuyahoga and Hamilton, suffered significant declines. Nashville's highway improvements since I was last there have been simply stunning, but they need to be; Davidson County has grown by 10%.

I stayed at a well-appointed hotel south of Nashville whose brand was synonymous with the word "dive" not that long ago. Since the directions seemed to conflict with the hotel's address, I had to call the place from the road on my cell phone to clear things up. An effort which would have been expensive or involved a separate stop for a pay phone just 15 years ago now cost me nothing. Does anyone think that the old AT&T monopoly would ever have evolved to this point without the competition from entrepreneurial upstarts in the long-distance and wireless businesses? Or that it would have thought up the type of "friends and family" plans that gave me about an hour of free talk time during the trip?