American Highways and Roadside Attractions A look at five decades of roadside America. Guests discuss the impact that the interstate system has had on the American economy, landscape, lifestyle and culture.

American Highways and Roadside Attractions

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Fifty years old today, the interstate highway system stretches almost 47,000 miles. It's absorbed vast quantities of concrete and steel and nearly $129 billion thus far.

It's our pyramids, our Great Wall, one of the truly monumental public works projects ever built anywhere. And most of the time, we hardly even think about it. Interstate highways are so deeply ingrained in our lives that it's hard to imagine what travel was like before. At the same time, it's hard to overstate how much they have changed the country, the economy, landscape, lifestyle and culture, and nobody loves them.

Defenders damn them with a faint praise of efficiency. Detractors deplore them as aesthetic, political, and environmental dinosaurs. Over half a century, though, the interstate highway system has shaped where and how we built our cities and towns, where and how we live.

Later on in the program, to Memphis and Graceland. President Bush and Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visit the realm of the king tomorrow. And then to Las Vegas and the Fab Four. Cirque du Soleil is about to unveil its tribute to the Beatles.

But first, the interstate turns 50. How has the system of highways changed your life? Call us with your story, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail is Our first guest is Tom Lewis, an English professor at Skidmore College, author of Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life. And he's with us here in studio 3A. Nice to have you on the program today.

Professor TOM LEWIS (Author, Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life; Professor of English, Skidmore College): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: So why did we build this system in the first place?

Prof. LEWIS: We built it because we were wanting to extend our mobility. Americans love their mobility. We all came here - those of us who didn't come in chains - because we wanted to resolve our destiny in all the space of this great land. And we looked at the automobile - especially after 1950 - as a way of increasing our mobility.


Prof. LEWIS: The interstate highway system was a logical way to go.

CONAN: Now, you speak of mobility in almost the language of American liberty, yet there were other forms of transportation that could have been competitive -trains.

Prof. LEWIS: But the interstate highway system and the automobile, I should say, allows you to go where you want to go, when you want to go. You don't have to follow anybody's schedule, and that's something that's very, very important to Americans. It's something that I really found out as I examined the other forms of transportation.

I prefer, by the way, rail transportation. I came to Washington a few days ago by rail. That said, I understand the flexibility. My life is constricted in Washington because I don't have a car. I can't go out into Maryland beyond the limits of the subway system, and so I am constricted. Because of that, I perhaps should have my car. That's what all Americans want to do, is to have that mobility.

CONAN: Mm hmm. And the other thing, of course, was not just the automobile, but the semi-articulated trailer truck.

Prof. LEWIS: Oh, absolutely, and nobody predicted - and I mean the United States Congress did not predict when they passed the legislation in 1956 - the effect that the interstate highway development would have on the trucking industry. They expected the rail system still to take a great burden, which of course it does...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Prof. LEWIS: ...but they never expected the explosion of trucking.

CONAN: And we should point out that there were important highways before the interstate system was inaugurated 50 years ago.

Prof. LEWIS: Oh, yes. Well, the first really important highway of divided highways was the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which was opened in 1940. And people coming back from the World's Fair, which closed in 1940 - the New York World's Fair - if you were going to Pittsburgh, you got a chance to ride on that. So you had been and seen the future at the General Motors pavilion where they had an extraordinary exhibit of divided highways, and then you returned from the fair in your automobile, and by God, you got on a divided highway. And believe me, it was exciting.

CONAN: Yet, all of the romance about the American road is about - not the interstate - but the U.S. highways, the old routes, Route 66.

Prof. LEWIS: The blue highways. The nostalgia is, of course, for the blue highways, and, of course, Route 66. But you have to remember, Route 66 was a highway of blood - it was an extraordinarily dangerous road - and that the interstate highway system has created a much safer way of movement in this country.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line, 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is And why don't we turn to Michael. Michael's calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

MICHAEL (Caller): Yes, hi.

Prof. LEWIS: Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL: It's definitely a privilege to speak with you guys today. When I was growing up in school, I remember the major - the primary purpose of the interstates was to move the military in a more efficient way so they didn't have to go through the cities. Am I incorrect in that thought?

Prof. LEWIS: Well, you're certainly getting close to correct in that thought. Certainly, President Eisenhower signed the legislation and thought that that was very much a part of it. That said, the highways were not what they were touted at the time to be, and that was a way of evacuating major cities of the United States.

See, the interstate connected every city in the nation of 50,000 people or more, but what happened was the - nobody gave too much thought on the feeder roads from the cities to the interstates. So, as we've seen most recently with Katrina, it's extraordinarily hard to get people out of a city in the form of mass migration.

But, yes, you're right, and to give you an example, the bridges on the divided highways are indeed divided so that you'll have one bridge quite a few hundred feet or yards from another bridge. And the reason for that is that we - one bridge can be bombed out, and the military could still get around on the other bridge.

CONAN: Okay, Michael, thanks very much for the call.

MICHAEL: All right, thank you. Appreciate it.

CONAN: Joining us now is Edgar Praus. He's a photographer and founder of The American Highway Project, a photography project that documents vanishing American highway culture. He's with us by phone from his photography lab in Rochester, New York. Nice to have you with us on the program today, sir.

Mr. EDGAR PRAUS (Photographer and Founder, The American Highway Project): Well, thank you. It's wonderful to be with you.

CONAN: And what do you mean by vanishing American highway culture?

Mr. PRAUS: Well, when the interstate system came in - generally speaking - it bypassed a lot of the smaller cities that were connected with the old blue highways.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. PRAUS: And as the interstate passed those little small towns, things had a tendency to dry up.

CONAN: Because the highway itself was part of their lifeblood.

Mr. PRAUS: Exactly.

CONAN: And all the cars were diverted to the interstate.

Mr. PRAUS: Exactly. So consequently, what you had is you had all the service stations and the McDonald's and those places opening at the interchanges and all the small mom and pop businesses, which are located in the small towns, just kind of disappeared.

CONAN: And that's what you're documenting?

Mr. PRAUS: Exactly. My goal is to go into these small towns and to look for these old road icons that are disappearing and get them on film before they're gone.

CONAN: What kind of places have you been to?

Mr. PRAUS: Well, I primarily look at certain areas of the country that I'm interested in. I've done quite a bit of work in Mississippi and Alabama and Tennessee, and I've recently taken up the Dakotas and Nebraska.

CONAN: I wonder. It's a big country. Do you go ever to the same place twice?

Mr. PRAUS: Lots of times. I'm one of those people that kind of likes to go back to see how things have changed. And I like to meet people and I like to rekindle old friendships. And I feel very comfortable doing that.

CONAN: And I - do you find that they have changed? That indeed - are places continuing to dry up?

Mr. PRAUS: Well, one of the tenets that I live by when I photograph is that if you see something that you want to take a picture of, do it right away because chances are that when you come back, it's going to be gone.

CONAN: And how do you find these places, just drive along the blue highways?

Mr. PRAUS: Just get a map and a tank full of gas and pick a direction.

CONAN: That tank full of gas is getting a little bit more complicated every day. I wonder, is there a particularly memorable place that sticks out in your mind?

Mr. PRAUS: Oh, I always have a tendency to find little hotspots, I like to call them. And I don't know really how to define them. But there's certain areas where you can find a lot of things and it's sort of magnetic. One of those places is Vicksburg, Mississippi.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. PRAUS: I spend an awful lot of time there. And it just seems to be - just seems to be a good feeling there and there seems to be an awful lot going on. I really don't know how to describe it. It's like a magnetic center.

CONAN: Magnetic center of what?

Mr. PRAUS: The thing that I can't describe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'm sure you've captured it in your photographs, however. Edgar Praus is a photographer and founder of The American Highway Project, with us today by phone from his photography lab in Rochester, New York. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. PRAUS: It's been my pleasure, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can see if we can get a caller on. This is John, John in Charlotte, North Carolina.

JOHN (Caller): Oh, good afternoon. I just - I have very mixed feelings about the interstate myself. I hate driving on them. I like scenery. I'm like your last caller, I love photography. But the interstate also actually saved my very small hometown in Georgia from probably drying up and dying.

CONAN: How come?

JOHN: Well, it's exactly midway between Atlanta and Augusta on I-20. And Georgia Power built a great big hydropower station on the Oconee River that generated a large (unintelligible), which has become a huge, very expensive, high-end resort area. And the town has been totally saved and turned around by this.

CONAN: So the accident of geography, Tom Lewis?

Prof. LEWIS: Well it's actually interesting that you tell me that story and tell us that story, because the interstate's created 16,000 exits across the country. And what that became were 16,000 places such as the one you've just described, which created an economic opportunity. And it's that economic opportunity which is probably the greatest legacy of the interstate. It has helped to keep this country's economy where it is right now.

CONAN: Yet as we were hearing earlier, tens of thousands of other places, not so fortunate.

Prof. LEWIS: Absolutely, absolutely. And I commend the photographer because he's doing - he's documenting something that really needs to be documented. And at the same time, you can see that with railroads. You could see it even with blue highways, which when they put it - when they made the highway a little bit better, they may have gone and bypassed the place, even in that way.

CONAN: John, thanks very much for calling.

JOHN: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about the interstate highway system. It turned 50 years old today. We're taking your calls. How has the Internet changed your life? 800-989-8255, e-mail us: We'll be back after the break. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the interstate highway system. We're talking about these giant ribbons of concrete and how they've changed the way we travel. At our Web site there are photos and music that trace the history of the highway system and American roadside culture. You can visit them at

Our guest is Tom Lewis, author of Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways and Transforming American Life. Of course we want to hear from you as well. How did the interstate highway system change the way you live and travel, and where? Give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, e-mail is And let's talk with another Tom, this one calling from Woodbridge in New Jersey.

TOM (Caller): Hello, Neal, how you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

TOM: Neal, I kind of disagree when I heard you say in the beginning that a lot of people dislike the interstate system because of the way it looks. As a former truck driver who drove a truck over the road for over 20 years, and I - a consensus among us truck drivers is how much we adore and love the interstate system. And the beauty of - and the challenge is driving across some of these, like Snoqualmie Pass out West and, you know, Donner's Pass out West, the challenge and the beauty that we found being out there as truck drivers on the road is like an emotional connection to the interstate system, for me.

CONAN: Tom Lewis, evidently, I've overlooked an important fraction of American society.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. LEWIS: Well, you have, I'm afraid. There are extraordinary vistas that are opened up by the interstate system. And my namesake makes another point which I just want to extend, and that is that the - there are places in the United States - particularly in the Southwest and in Colorado - where the view of the actual roadway is absolutely spectacular. To look at…

TOM: Yeah, it's breathtaking.

Prof. LEWIS: …it from a distance…

CONAN: Go ahead, Tom.

TOM: Yes, quite breathtaking.

CONAN: Is there one place that you love in particular to drive, Tom?

TOM: Well, I used to go across Interstate 70 a lot. And I used to get out there, like the gentleman was just saying, out there in Vail and Colorado and going through the mountains of Eisenhower tunnels and stuff, it was quite a challenge for truck drivers because of the steepness of the grades. And just the beauty of how it looked when you went through some of the canyons and stuff is just unbelievable. And I think that's one of the things that keep a lot of truck drivers into truck driving, is just the beauty of the interstate system and the beauty of what it surrounds, you know?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. LEWIS: I'd just like to add, Tom, that had you been driving that truck in 1954, you wouldn't have been able to drive across Colorado. Colorado was basically two states before the interstate system and before pressurized cabins for aircraft.

TOM: Right(ph).

Prof. LEWIS: It was not one state because of the continental divide.

TOM: Yeah, some of the old-timers told me how difficult it was to get around before the interstate system.

CONAN: All right, Tom, thanks very much and I apologize for omitting the truck driver.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOM: Thank you, Neal. Have a good day, man, appreciate it.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's talk with Dave(ph), and Dave's calling from Concord in New - North Carolina.

DAVE (Caller): That's correct…

CONAN: I wanted to say New Hampshire, but North Carolina.

DAVE: That's correct. I'm from North Carolina.

CONAN: Go ahead.

DAVE: Thank you very much for taking my call. I admire your guest there for his research. But I was under the impression that the interstate system came about as a result of Eisenhower's view of the Autobahn. The Cold War had started and they needed a method to move tanks, so that the interstate system was devised to aid us in moving tanks and aircraft during the Cold War.

CONAN: Mm hmm. You were saying earlier, Tom…

DAVE: And after commenting on that, I've got a funny story.

CONAN: All right, well, we'll get to that…

Prof. LEWIS: Well…

CONAN: …you were saying earlier it was for evacuation in fear of nuclear threat, as opposed to moving tanks.

Prof. LEWIS: Well, they would move tanks too. But let me go back a bit, because your caller makes a wonderful point. And that is, in 1919, Eisenhower was an officer who set out on a cross-country trip over what is basically the Lincoln Highway…

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Prof. LEWIS: …the old Lincoln Highway. It took them 62 days to get from Washington to San Francisco. And he called that a trip through darkest America in truck and tank. Trucks rolled into the ravine in the Sierra. It was awful. And Eisenhower came out of that saying, and reported to his superiors, the United States needs an efficient highway system. And this was indeed reinforced in 1945 when he rode over the Autobahn.

CONAN: Mm hmm. And your funny story, Dave?

DAVE: Oh, I used to live in Florida, in Jacksonville, and we would take trips every summer and every Christmas to go visit my grandparents in North Carolina. At that time we didn't have much of the interstate system to utilize, so it was me and my brother and my mother and father and sister. My brother and I got along like oil and water, so my sister always got the hump, the center of the seat?

CONAN: Yep, I remember the hump.

DAVE: And mom and dad smoked as well. And we couldn't stand the smoking, so (unintelligible) 11-hour trip, the sister was sitting on the hump, the two brothers were fighting like cats and dogs, mom was screaming, dad was screaming, and the interstate system helped to take away the fond memories that I have of that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Dave, if I have to turn around one more time…

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVE: It cut our drive time by probably four hours.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Dave, appreciate it.

DAVE: Thank you.

CONAN: The development of the interstate system has certainly made travel easier. The ubiquitous chain stores, fast-food restaurants along those routes have also prompted something of a backlash. U.S. travel guides have been keen on getting off the interstate, encouraging tourists to explore some of those places just off the well-beaten path.

Jamie Jensen has written one of those, called Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two Lane Highways, and he joins us now by phone from his home in Katwals(ph) in England. Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. JAMIE JENSEN (Author, Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two Lane Highways): Ah yes, this is just a vacation over here, for the World Cup.

CONAN: I was wondering what you were - roads over there are pretty bland too, some of them.

Mr. JENSEN: Well, some, but there's lots of fun country lanes. I'm all in favor, what I've been hearing about people - you know, interstates are good if you need to get somewhere. But the old roads, the Route 66, if you actually want to enjoy the drive, that's the way to go.

CONAN: In no small part because of the people interested in getting somewhere quickly are elsewhere.

Mr. JENSEN: Exactly.

CONAN: Yeah. What are your favorite routes?

Mr. JENSEN: Well, I'm a California boy and one of my favorite roads is Old U.S. 50, a part of the old Lincoln Highway, but now called The Loneliest Road, and it snakes across the middle of nowhere in Nevada. Just absolutely gorgeous through, you know, up and over mountains, past old mining towns. And you really feel like you're the last man on earth sometimes out there.

CONAN: And of course, one of the attractions of those roads is knowing where else they've been. Route 50 goes all the way to the Maryland Eastern Shore.

Mr. JENSEN: Indeed. Ocean City, the fabulous summertime resort out there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: When you drive to places, what are you looking for, in terms of places and tourists? Is it the local caverns or museum or something like that?

Mr. JENSEN: All of the above. Basically, any way to kind of get into the local community, if there's a good diner or something in, like in New England or funky, little local historical center. I love old courthouse squares in Texas. So basically, some place - basically my whole point is trying to find a place to get them to stop and get out of the car. And then you can actually absorb something.

Because when you're behind the windshield of the car traveling through, everything looks the same, kind of. But if you get out, walk around, you know, sniff out some funny little mom and pop diner or something, you really get a sense that, wow, this is actually a real place here.

CONAN: Mm hmm. And are those places - are there plenty of them still around? We're hearing how they're dying.

Mr. JENSEN: Yeah, no, I think that's the great revelation for me. I've been doing this for 15, 20 years now, traveling around. I cover 40,000 miles of these old federal highways, you know, route - around the country. And these are real places. These are towns that are alive and well. Yes, a lot of places do suffer, you know, when they don't the interstate traffic.

But the nice thing about visiting these places and driving these roads is that the people you meet actually there. They're not just passing through, but they live they, they work there, they, you know, like it there.

CONAN: And after so many decades, presumably they've adapted to the change in traffic flow.

Mr. JENSEN: Yeah. I mean, there definitely are, you know, the empty, old motels and, you know, you go to places and you can see that they used to be booming a lot more than they are today. But they've still got - you know, a lot of these places still have a spirit. And it's really nice to kind of stop and, you know, I've been a city boy all my life and, you know, stop into some little town in the middle of Kansas and actually talk to people, instead of just having to say, hi, how are you, you know? And then seeing the same menu you get everywhere else in the country.

CONAN: So when you're not in the Katwals and the World Cup is not playing, which roads do you drive, where do you live?

Mr. JENSEN: Out in California…

CONAN: In California…

Mr. JENSEN: It's a super slab heaven, unfortunately, out there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JENSEN: I grew up in L.A. and watched the freeways kind of take over all these interesting old places and mini-malls replacing my favorite diners and stuff. So I've kind of seen a lot of these things fade.

And a lot of it is just the scale of things. You know, there's so many more people in the country now that there isn't the room for, you know, these wonderful little tourist attractions and amusement parks. They've all become, you know, malls and tower blocks and whatever else.

And so to get away from the cities where so much of us live now and get out into the countryside, which is where these roads tend to take you is just a really nice kind of breath of fresh air a lot of the time.

CONAN: Well, I grew up in New Jersey and I'm pleased to say that none of that stuff happened there, so. Anyway, have a nice vacation. Are you rooting for England?

Mr. JENSEN: Oh, yes.

CONAN: All right. Well, go England, then.

Mr. JENSEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Jamie Jensen is the author of Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two Lane Highways, and he joined us today from, well, it says here the Cornwall, maybe he's in the Cotswold, he's somewhere in England watching the adventures of their soccer team in the big tournament.

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And we'll go to Joe. Joe's calling us from San Francisco.

JOE (CALLER): Yes. Good afternoon. I'm not sure if I - can you hear me?


JOE: Great. I'm just cleaning the bugs off of my motorcycle from a route 66 trip with an old friend. It was glorious to be off the interstates. My question is, however, I heard in college once that Eisenhower, when he was considering building the interstate, had been told by one of the automotive executives - he was considering highways versus railroad - that the communists used railroads, Mr. President. We can't duplicate their efforts, can we? And subsequently he went with an interstate highway. And I was curious if your guests had ever been able to back that comment up by anybody.

CONAN: Tom Lewis?

Prof. LEWIS: I've certainly heard that comment. Nevertheless, I haven't been able to substantiate it. I've heard it many times. The fact of the matter is that he is right. The communists did back railroads and because I think of the fear of the freedom that the automobile gives people.

I mean, the automobile's a wonderful thing. It lets you do whatever you want and go wherever you want. And, as our parents know, that's sometimes something that makes us uncomfortable. And it certainly made the communists uncomfortable.

JOE: Well, if I can put a plug in for staying off the interstates, I road from San Francisco on back roads to Chicago to meet an old FDNY buddy. And the two of us then rode the entire route of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica and then up the Pacific Coast Highway. And with rare exception, we rode interstates. We had a glorious time. It's wonderful to see what America looks like when you're not on an interstate.

CONAN: Also, if you go a little slower, which you have to do on those blue highways, you get to see more.

JOE: You get to see more. You get to talk to people. I stayed locally. I ate locally. Everybody wants to talk to people on motorcycles. It was great. It really was. Before we started the trip, I sort of had the idea that everything in America looked the same, that everything was a Motel 6 and a Wal-Mart. And it's not so. It may be Wal-Mart. But we ate great, we slept great. We had a great time. Go off the interstates.

CONAN: All right. Joe thanks very much and have a good time. What are you using, Formula 409?

JOE: I'm sorry?

CONAN: To clean the bugs off your windshield?

JOE: Oh, they're gone.

CONAN: All right. Never mind then.

JOE: Thank you. And thanks for the program, Mr. Conan.

CONAN: All right. Thank you very much.

JOE: Bye-bye.

CONAN: We're talking today about America's interstate highway system, which turns 50 years old today. Our guest is Tom Lewis, an English professor at Skidmore College and author of Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life.

If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255. Email us, And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Kevin joins us. Kevin now calling from Amherst, Massachusetts.



KEVIN: Two quick plugs: William Least Heat-Moon's book Blue Highways...


KEVIN: …was just incredible.

CONAN: And the other one?

KEVIN: The - one of the businesses that the interstate highway system spawned was color view postcards. My grandfather, Thomas Dexter, was the largest producer of postcards in the United States, and he sent photographers all over the highways to stop in all of the town along the way and sell postcards for advertising.


KEVIN: And I actually have on my desk a postcard of his that I'm sending to my father. It's a picture of a car on one of the interstate highways, saying: we're traveling the interstate. On the back of it I have, of course, written: Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

CONAN: Wish you were here. Yes. We don't think of - but I guess, Tom Lewis, you were talking about the excitement when people were first driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike and these roads were a vision of the future, I guess.

Prof. LEWIS: Absolutely. And I must say I've never known where those postcards came from. I've seen a gazillion of them, and I'm pleased to be...

KEVIN: Dexter Webb, West Nyack, New York.

Prof. LEWIS: And I'm pleased to hear about this. At the same time, I have to tell you that there were sometimes the practices were not so wise. In the - on the Pennsylvania Turnpike people would actually stop and picnic in the median in 1940 and '41 and '42. And you don't want to do that.

KEVIN: Not these days.

CONAN: Kevin...

KEVIN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Here's an email from Donovan(ph) in Fort Mills, South Carolina.

(Reading) "Back in 1973, to get from New Orleans to Lancaster, South Carolina, it took two days on those narrow little roads. Lots of fatalities and accidents could hold you up for hours, especially when a logging truck spilled its load. Now I can jet back and forth within ten to twelve hours. It took 20 years to get that way and billions of tax dollars, but, man, how it helped growth. Charlotte, North Carolina was a little town in the 1980s. Now, it is a banking center."

So we do overlook sometimes the economic impact of free travel on wide-open roadways.

Prof. LEWIS: Oh, it changed the - the interstates changed the way the United States does its business. And it changed the economy of the United States. And quite frankly - and it's my contention that it kept it as strong and robust as it has been for the last half century.

CONAN: Not always such a positive impact in a lot of cities where the designs were not well thought out.

Prof. LEWIS: Certainly not, especially in the older cities, New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston. Those cities especially suffered because of the interstates, because they were driving roads that were intended for traffic going 50 to 70 miles an hour onto roads and access roads that were really designed for horses and carriages.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last call in. Sarah(ph). Sarah calling from Interstate 15 in Vermont. Sarah can you hear us?


CONAN: You're on the air, Sarah.

SARAH: Hi there. Yeah, we're actually calling from I-15 heading south. And we're in Utah and my husband and I, as of five days, just have been commenting, you know, five days ago before we...

CONAN: Well...

SARAH: Yeah, sorry about that. Before we hit the road we commented on this great appreciation for the interstate system and it's just fascinating that we can be in Los Angeles one day and be in Salt Lake City the next day. And we've got friends, you know, doing geology fieldwork all around and just connecting us through this great interstate system.

CONAN: I guess that's the magic, Tom.

Prof. LEWIS: It is. And she's on one of the most beautiful parts of the interstate. Interstate 15 as it crosses the northwest tip of Arizona through the Snake River. It's absolutely spectacular.

CONAN: Drive carefully, Sarah.

SARAH: Thanks a lot guys.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. And Tom Lewis, thanks very much for being with us.

Prof. LEWIS: Thanks a lot. I've enjoyed it.

CONAN: Tom Lewis, an English professor at Skidmore College. His book is Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life. We'll have more after the break. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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