A Tale of Two Interstates Interstate 15 runs from Canada to Mexico through the American West, while Interstate 86 runs west to Portland and then Seattle. The two highways intersect at Pocatello, Idaho. We hear from truckers, traveling teenagers and a hitchhiker about the culture of the interstates.
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A Tale of Two Interstates

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A Tale of Two Interstates

A Tale of Two Interstates

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen.

AAA says some 40 million Americans will be out on the highways this holiday week. Most people will exit the interstate just to fill up their gas tanks or get their fast-food fix. Well, what if you didn't hop right back on the interstate? NPR's Noah Adams did just that while driving up I-15 from Salt Lake City. What he found was Pocatello, Idaho.

NOAH ADAMS: You can think of Pocatello as two communities. The 50,000 people who live in the town and the many thousands more who are out on the interstate and barely notice. We will start our story with a few of the passersby.

Unidentified Announcer: At Pocatello, it was mostly sunny.

ADAMS: A rest stop on Interstate 15, south of town. Five young girls from Montana, they are part of a hip-hop dance troop and they're called the…

ROCKY MOUNTAIN STARS (Dance Group): Rocky Mountain Stars.

ADAMS: 10 to 15 years old, they sold cookie dough in 20-pound tubs to raise money for a summer trip.

Unidentified Woman: We're going to (unintelligible) amusement park.

ADAMS: It's eight hours for the drive down to Utah and they sing to pass the time, "The Star Spangled Banner" and this song about a boy.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN STARS: (Singing) I bet he's beautiful. That girl they talk about. And he got everything that I have to live without. (Unintelligible). I keep singing, don't know why I do.

ADAMS: So let's hear it for the Rocky Mountain Stars.

Ms. JESS CHRISTINE(ph) (Member, Rocky Mountain Star): Jess Christine.

Ms. RIANA THOMPSON(ph) (Member, Rocky Mountain Star): Riana Thompson. I'm 11.

Ms. ALLISON CHRISTIANS(ph) (Member, Rocky Mountain Star): Allison Christians.

Ms. KAREN THOMPSON(ph) (Member, Rocky Mountain Star): Karen Thompson.

Ms. KELSEY THOMPSON(ph) (Member, Rocky Mountain Star): Kelsey Thompson. I live in Helena, Montana. I'm 14.

ADAMS: At the Flying J truck stop, where it's hot and loud and a tank of diesel could cost you $500, we talk with a trucker team inside as they're buying food.

Mr. SOLOMON SCRAGENS(ph) (Trucker): My name is Solomon Scragens with the Kingdom Cartage out of Irving, Texas. I'm flight (unintelligible). This is my partner Beverly Omara(ph). We are running from Long Island, Washington. And we've got two stops in Houston, Texas, and another two stops in Louisiana. Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

ADAMS: Beverly Omara says they take turns driving and sleeping. Their black truck keeps rolling.

Mr. BEVERLY OMARA(ph) (Trucker): You don't get very often where you can get away from the truck stops. I'd like to be able to go see some stuff, because big trucks can't go see the sights, you know. We can't get off at Yellowstone and go in into the park to see stuff. You just can't get a big truck down in there.

ADAMS: Close by the truck stop we find a man who's hoping for a ride. He's squatting in the gravel at the end of an off ramp. Sunburned, a neat bedroll, a sign that says: Disabled, diabetic, anything helps, God bless. Are you able to make eye contact with these people, will they look at you?

BRIAN EGLESTON(ph): Yes.

ADAMS: Will they roll down the window and talk to you?

Mr. EGLESTON: No.

ADAMS: No?

Mr. EGLESTON: They just kind of look at you and laugh.

ADAMS: Brian Egleston(ph) has been here for two days. He's come from Oregon on his way back home to Lansing, Michigan, trying to hitchhike mostly on the interstates.

Mr. EGLESTON: Well, in Idaho, a state cop told me yesterday that you can walk on the freeway but you can't have a sign with the city name on it and you can't hold your thumb out. In Oregon, you can do - you can hitchhike wherever you want. Constitution says no man shall be restricted from freedom of movement. That's what it says. I didn't make that up, you know. And this is how I'm moving, with my thumb.

ADAMS: The word travel doesn't really appear in the Constitution, but the right to move from state to state is established in U.S. law. And the interstates have made that infinitely easier than anyone might have imagined. On the interstates, you can approach Pocatello from three directions. And if you're in your truck with a horse trailer and maybe your RV that might be if you're coming to town for the high school rodeo.

Unidentified Man: Let us bring in our state flag, the state flag of Idaho, brought in tonight by Chelsea (unintelligible) Rodeo, Idaho.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ADAMS: At the Pocatello Fairground, the Idaho State High School Rodeo Finals, a six-day event. Brianne Batty(ph), 16 years old, from the town of Middleton, is competing in goat tying.

BRIANNE BATTY (Participant, Idaho State High School Rodeo Finals): I've got a little goat back here to practice with and everything.

ADAMS: That's a real goat?

Ms. BATTY: Yeah, it's a real goat.

ADAMS: What's his name? Does he get a name?

Ms. BATTY: Black goat. I don't know. It doesn't matter what everybody calls it.

Unidentified Man: Here comes something. Can you make the noise for Bran Batty out of Middleton.

ADAMS: In front the grandstand, a goat waits, tethered. From 100 feet away, Brianne Batty flashes forward on her horse, slides off, lands running, flips the goat over, whips the cord around all four ankles, ties it, throws her hands in the air. It took me 15 seconds to describe, but it took her less than eight seconds to do.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible). Good job. Good job, Brianne.

(Soundbite of horse neighing)

ADAMS: Afterwards, a bright smile from Brianne. Before the ride she'd been watching to see how the goat was moving.

Ms. BATTY: I was like, all right, so he's running that way and he's going to try to head butt me. So I just hit him in the head and just ran straight to him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADAMS: Time to meet some Pocatellons. Will Peterson(ph) has a used bookstore downtown, keeps a guitar close at hand, and he has a song that is really about traveling.

Mr. WILL PETERSON: (Singing) Out on a highway, my angel and my gun. I watched the mountains fall into the sun. (Unintelligible) in the canyon of the dead. I am an American boy, born and bred.

ADAMS: Will Peterson also wrote this line about the train yards in Pocatello in a poem. He said trains in the shutting yards sound like sea monsters learning how to whistle. They also sound like giant steel warriors clashing in the dark.

(Soundbite of train traffic)

ADAMS: Pocatello has long been a Union Pacific town, the tracks running right through the center. And there's a switching yard where they link up train cars and then send them on their way.

People come to sit and watch the train yard action. They have a beer and dinner out of a back deck of a Portneuf Valley Brewing Company. Penny Pink started this new brewery in an old, brick building that used to have one. She loves Pocatello. She's one of several people who told us about hiking up into the hills right from your backyard. However…

Ms. PENNY PINK (Owner, Portneuf Valley Brewing Company): There is a significant portion of the population here in Pocatello that would probably just as soon see people stay on I-15 and keep moving through town so that they keep Pocatello to themselves. I think Pocatello is one of the last well-kept secrets in the West.

ADAMS: On my last morning in Pocatello I took a drive - a twisting, rocky road up to the top of Chinese Peak. A couple of thousand feet above the valley, there's a great view of the town and the Snake River plane beyond. The Oregon Trail passed right through here. Now Interstate 86 leaves town and heads off west. Interstate 15 skirts Pocatello from Sweetgrass, Montana, at the Canadian border all the way south to San Diego.

At the truck stop, a Native American driver, a Navajo, said, you know the Indian trails centuries ago just followed the game trails. Pioneer wagons came through and the trains, the state highways, the Interstate. If you're on an Interstate right now, you could pass by the next town in seconds or you could take the exit.

Noah Adams, NPR News.

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