The Lincoln Highway is one of the nation’s first cross-country highways. It still starts and ends on the east and west coasts of the nation. In Ohio, the Lincoln Highway is the main strap of the Rust Belt, and driving across it lets road-trippers know how the loss of manufacturing has created the moniker Rust Belt.
The names of the town echo the past of the settlers of Ohio—Findlay, Massillon, Canton, Lima, Mansfield—and most of these towns have quaint yet quiet downtowns where the business of civic life keeps them busy. Some towns, like Mansfield, have reminders of the past on the Lincoln Highway that have been maintained and/or preserved by locals. But keep traveling east and you’ll see the debris of factories, crumbling buildings and decaying homes that belie the truth of what’s going on in our country.
There are always plenty of bright spots along every road that used to be a major thoroughfare using the Main streets of small towns, but most of them have been relinquished to back-road status by the Interstate. The creation of the Interstate System was the first blow to Main Streets, and the creation of corporations was the the final blow—a one-two K.O. that should echo like sonar every time you hear Mitt Romney say he’s going to “create jobs.” Gene the retail clerk doesn’t matter for shit as long as corporations like AT&T can buy elections.
The only reason places like Kewpee Burgers in Lima, Ohio, have survived is because of the memories associated with the locally own dining joint. Corporate chains on a local scale are one thing—they’re locally owned and contribute to the local community—but on a national level you’re dealing with Henry Ford’s assembly line mentality; a chemically preserved consistency that gives the false sense of familiarity to the traveler because, Hey, you can have the same burger anywhere you go.
I’ve got to get off the Lincoln Highway. There’s too much loss and struggling going on. Indianapolis is calling me.