When I was a boy growing up in California, I remember the days before the freeways came. I especially remember old Highway 99. It was a major spine of travel up and down the San Joaquin Valley. I remember the fruit stands, high-fenced reptile farms with their large hand-painted signs advertising the creepy-crawly creatures within, juice stands built like huge oranges and roadside cafes where the waitress called everyone “Honey”. These were the offerings for our travel fare. Mom never allowed dad to pull into a reptile farm. I still wonder what was behind those tall fences.
At some point in our journey we would stop and pick up a bag of tree-ripened cherries from a fruit stand and spit the pits through the open windows of our un-air conditioned pick-up truck. Lunch on the road was usually a really good greasy burger and fries prepared by a cook wearing a small, white hat and apron who tossed our completed order atop a stainless steel counter yelling to the waitress, “Order up!”
Old Highway 99 is now a place in history, a local route, for the remainder of its north-south passage. If you want to make real time you hit I-5 and try to keep from getting run over. The places we now stop on our freeways are outposts of fast food corporate sameness filled with fatigued drivers topping off their tanks while staring blankly into the distance. These outposts are designed to meet the rapid needs of our rapid lives. They are in-and-out quick places without the fruit stands, reptile farms and the mom and pop café’s of my youth.
Today, I sense a return is coming – a return to simple tastes and child-like wonder. I have found the quick route is not always the best route. Yes, it can get you there quicker in time and space, but not in soul and spirit. A present-day journey along our efficient paths of rapid transit and their accompanying rapid provision reflect an unnatural and hectic pace of a life that tastes like the fast food you ate at one of our modern day Pony Express stops. In these places we only stop long enough to get a fresh horse in record time, fill our stomach and mount up again to continue our forward progress. The modern freeway only has vision forward. Old Highway 99 provided its wares without off ramps. The treasures waiting for us along Highway 99 extended their invitation laterally from the dusty shoulder of the roadside.
God has some things He wants to say to you – the “still, small voice” kind of things. These sounds cannot be easily heard on the busy roadways of life. You need to get off the path of demands laid upon you by assuming a life-draining schedule, a plan of achievement and an unbridled ambition in order to eat the fruit, see the snakes and taste the hamburgers. These slower-paced trips are a form of travel filled with anticipation, not dread. They are also the journeys people write about hoping to lure you back to an old road in order to find your way forward into something new. This kind of travel will have you arriving at the end of your life-journey refreshed and restored.