Atlanta Highway Roadtrip
One of the things I think most Europeans who have never been have a hard time to grasp are the distances involved in getting places in the US. Highways are everywhere and you need a car to get just about anywhere. An hour commute to work is standard and due to traffic this could mean 40 miles or only 10. Just going to the nearest grocery store is often a mile or two. Going back this summer I was able to see the driving experience with new eyes.
I had not driven a car for three and a half years before going back to the US in June. Germany has such wonderful public transport that I don’t need to drive. I ride my bike, walk and use trains here. So being on the road, even if I wasn’t driving, was a fascinating experience. It was also frightening enough to remember why I didn’t like driving. All of these cars whizzing about. Though without needing to pay attention to the traffic, I did have a grand time looking at the stuff about.
The sights along the highway are equally unusual compared to the standard sights from a speeding train. Newly paved parking lots huddle around shiny new buildings nestled in plots of dirt as all of the trees have been removed. Fast food places in row. Each one offering their own version of greasy delights.
The concept of space is so much different in the US versus Europe. Stores peer at each other across acres of paved parking lots. A store without a parking lot would go out of business on a highway. Everyone has cars and the only way to get places is these cars. Even crossing the street is often safer just to drive. Even walking from your car to the store is to be limited. Hence every store has a parking lot.
It is also often cheaper to develop a new plot of land than to even bother tearing down a derelict building. This said I was surprised the number of re purposed buildings. Most of them it seemed become “we buy gold” places. These kind of places are interspersed among the new shiny places and the 30 year old strip malls. Add the ubiquitous orange construction barrels as well. There is always something being built.
Alcohol sales are regulated by the individual states. Only specific stores can sell anything stronger than wine. In Georgia, they are called Package stores. So that small liquor selection in the local grocery store in Germany is replaced by a store with every conceivable type of liquor all in various sized bottles. These often seem to end up on the side of highways. Because really, while driving is the time to be thinking about how much alcohol you want to buy. It is probably a cost thing in reality though. See above the need of every building for its own parking lot.
Living abroad means sometimes going home and seeing things in a new light. Things aren’t always as you remember and sometimes they are stranger. Going back on the road near Atlanta was a bit of a surreal experience. Having Ali giggle when I was happy to get pictures of what amounts to dull stuff along the road was priceless.
July 7, 2012 @ 3:05 pm
Wow, is that Highway 29? I recognize a lot of those buildings. It really is sad to see how much suburban sprawl has changed the landscape of America. I totally understand what you mean about how far apart things are in America. To get to my local Target, it takes about 20 minutes and I have to take a highway 🙁
December 6, 2011 @ 12:46 am
So true 🙂 Space is just a totally different concept in the US, especially in the South it seems. It has become almost normal for us to be willing to drive 5-6 hours just for a weekend trip…. back in Germany I would have never done that 🙂
December 7, 2011 @ 10:25 pm
We did a 4 hour train to Paris and that was ok. 5-6 would get me to Munich or almost to Berlin from here. It would also get me to Milan and almost to the Italian Riviera. It seems insane to do that for a weekend, but you are right I remember driving from NC to DC for a weekend or all the way across Virginia for a weekend too. Sheesh.
November 29, 2011 @ 12:26 pm
Agreed, there’s nothing like living in another country then returning home to see things in a whole new light. I had forgotten about the huge parking lots as well with nary a Parkhaus in sight.
November 29, 2011 @ 9:59 pm
Parking decks exist in the south too, but with SO much land just laying there unused it is often more economic to use it to grow out rather than up or down like here in Germany.
November 28, 2011 @ 3:27 pm
Road trips in the US are a necessity. Sometimes I enjoy them. And sometimes I want someone else to do the driving. This is why I like trains in Europe. The US is different and cars will always be a necessity because the country is so big. However, it would be nice to have some trains as an option.
November 29, 2011 @ 9:56 pm
Road Trip! is somehow different to me than a long drive to get somewhere. Especially if it is a mundane place, like a specific store.
A Road Trip! is like the 22 hour drive from Virginia to Minnesota one year for Thanksgiving. Stopping to take pictures of water towers and going into Walmart at 2am and peeing in corn fields because although the exit said there was a town, there was no town.
November 28, 2011 @ 8:00 am
Wow, haha – haven’t seen images like these in a long time. I really don’t miss the sprawl of many parts of the States
November 29, 2011 @ 9:54 pm
Yup sprawl and more sprawl. I was having fun taking pictures of roads.
November 27, 2011 @ 11:54 am
I would be stuffed if I lived there, as I don’t drive. I have never liked driving and, around Lincolnshire where many of the roads are dangerous ‘red routes’, I would really rather get on a bus than risk it behind the wheel. Imagine if they tried to introduce a ‘get on your bike’ scheme here. Don’t think it would be welcomed some how 🙂
November 27, 2011 @ 11:00 pm
Yeah, not having a license is very odd in the US. Being able to drive is common but often not required to get said license.
Red routes? So they mark dangerous roads somehow? Why wouldn’t they like bikes there?
November 28, 2011 @ 11:25 pm
Yep the red routes are basically high casualty roads. I meant I don’t think introducing all the ‘cycle to work’ type schemes they have in Europe would work in places like this where everybody drives 🙂
November 29, 2011 @ 9:58 pm
Wow. Does marking them red help that fewer people drive them or those that do are more careful?
Yeah, biking wouldn’t work in the US. One the distances are too far and two the weather in the summer in Atlanta is too hot. It would just plain not work there. New York has a fair number of bikes despite the traffic there. Other cities have done it too. Often smaller places like college towns have a decent amount of bikes, but when employees have an hour commute bikes aren’t an option.