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Wednesday Walk: Billboards and Buses
Welcome to the Quarantine Creatives newsletter, a companion to my podcast of the same name, which explores creativity, art, and big ideas as we continue to live through this pandemic.
Every Wednesday, I share random thoughts and tidbits with links to let you do some exploring, which I hope generate interesting ideas. I call these Wednesday Walks, as it’s the type of conversation we might have walking down a path in the woods- the topics are free flowing, sometimes related, sometimes not.
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We are back after a long weekend of driving home from Florida! It’s a little wild that we merged onto I-95 near Daytona Beach and didn’t get off of it until somewhere in Connecticut (save for a few detours and shortcuts).
If you’ve ever been on the southern stretch of I-95, you’re probably familiar with the billboards for South of the Border, a tourist attraction located in Hamer, SC, just south of the North Carolina border.
The first billboards start appearing about 150 miles away in either direction and grow in frequency as you get closer. They feature cartoonish artwork, bad puns, and are mildly culturally offensive.
These billboards are completely logical when you are doing a long haul trip like I was this weekend, driving I-95 for hundreds of miles. For me, they were a marker of distance and time: watching 150 miles turn to 120 miles turn to 80 miles.
But it occurred to me that there are also people that use this same section of freeway as part of a daily commute or as a means for running local errands. If these billboards are part of your routine, does their meaning change? Instead of seeing an incessant countdown for nearly three hours, you may only be viewing one or two on your short trips around town.
Do single billboards even register at that point or is frequency and repetition what give these billboards meaning? If a local, intrigued by the billboards, were to make a special 100 mile trip, would a visit to South of the Border be satisfying? Or is this a business that exists solely to serve the traveler passing through?
I’m curious to hear from you: is there a tourist trap along your commute that gives you pause? Or is there something on a regular route that you’ve wondered about but never really explored? Please leave a comment below and let me know!
Luxury Bus Route?
I came across an interesting tweet from travel writer Victoria M. Walker yesterday that got me thinking:
The idea of a luxury bus trip is intriguing, especially with air travel so full of delays, cancellations, lost luggage, and more lately. (It all happened to me on a recent trip). This seems to be the market Napaway is targeting.
At the moment, their service is only between DC and Nashville and only for overnight trips once per week. Each passenger is given their own “suite” that can be used for reading, working, or sleeping.
Yet flying between DC and Nashville is relatively easy and very affordable. Here’s a random sampling of flights for a random Tuesday later this month. United, American, and Southwest all offer flights that are less than 2 hours long.
So who is taking a bus (and a luxury one at that) for a trip that can take 11 hours? And that’s 11 hours on a good day. Buses move slower than cars and are subject to traffic congestion, construction, and other delays that face any other driver on the interstate. Plus, with overnight trips, construction delays are more common.
Trains are a comfortable option to get from place to place that gives passengers the option of a private suite on certain routes and bypasses the interstate traffic entirely. Could a train be a logical substitute for the bus?
A quick look at Amtrak’s website shows that a direct trip between DC and Nashville doesn't even exist. The options on offer include taking a train to either Birmingham or Chicago(!) and then riding a bus the rest of the way.
The trip is more than 30 hours and costs more than twice what flying does.
As I wrote about on Sunday, I appreciated the flexibility of transit on my recent trip to Walt Disney World. There was no clear “winner” when it came to how to get around, only lots of perfectly good options.
I wish we could take that macro view of transit in this country. A luxury bus startup is an intriguing idea. A train that easily connects two major cities in a reasonable amount of time also seems worth the investment in infrastructure. This doesn’t mean driving or flying should not exist, only that all of these options should be in the same realm of convenience and price.
Here in the Northeast, buses have been a place for experimentation for many years. I used to score Lucky Star bus trips to New York for $10 back in the day, but there have also been attempts at higher end experience that target business travelers. I would love to see more investment in rail service, but more buses offering diverse options for service is not a bad thing.
What are your thoughts- would you ride a luxury bus that allowed you to lie flat, even if it meant a trip that’s five times longer? Let me know in the comments.
And if you’re interested in reading more from Vikkie, she also publishes here on Substack, so check out her work and give her a subscribe!
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Other Wednesday Walks
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If you’ve missed past issues of this newsletter, they are available to read here.