From: Joel Spolsky
Date: 16 May 1995 16:52:56 -0400
To: everyone
Subject: RYDER: The Official Truck of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing

OK, the subject wasn't apropos, but I keep seeing Ryder trucks on the road and I can't help but thinking what great advertising they've been getting.

This is coming from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, a quite dumpy and ugly town that doesn't even have the cool cachet of New Haven "crack capital of the Northeast." It is dumpy and ugly without any excuse. The library, where I'm sitting, is of the 1956 Suburban High School architectural school (a.k.a. Heartland Stalinist). The campus makes UCSB, a former army barracks, look lovely. Most everything was built on-the-cheap in the 50s and looks it. But, hey, it's amazing how many library catalog terminals you can walk up to and telnet from. I wonder if they know this.

Western Kentucky took longer to flatten out than I thought. As soon as I got out of the Appalachian Foothills I got into an area called "the knobs." OK, so there weren't any actual 2 hour climbs into the clouds, but the constant up-down-up-down was just as steep and a bit more annoying. The number of trampolines thinned out a bit and the farms started to look more prosperous (a measure of the prosperity of a family farm house is how much it looks like the cover of a seed catalog. Score 10 points for a giant lawn, 20 points for gravel circular driveway, and 5 points for each color tree you can identify. Deduct 3 points for porch swings, deduct 20 points for rusting household appliances piled out the side, and 25 points if they are actually piled in front). Well, OK, I didn't actually work out the scores, but this should give you a general impression of how boring a full week of Kentucky "heartland" can be. I regret that I did not learn all the words to Les Mis and Cats when I had the chance (although I never got quite bored enough to sing "Memories...") Coming up in Missouri: Gilbert and Sullivan.

Springfield, Kentucky

Oh and they can't pronounce things here for the life of them. Cairo, Illinois, is pronounced Kay-Roe, to rhyme with Hay-Roll. And the Arkansas River is are-CAN-ziss. Soda is pronounced POP. And every area is either called "the tristate area" or "the heartland area" although which 3 states and whose heart vary from county to county.

I had a nice day off in Falls of Rough, KY, at the Rough River Dam State Resort Park. The first night I camped out but it was raining so hard I transfered to the lodge/hotel there and watched The Weather Channel for a while (motto: "sounds stupid until you need it"). They have a private airstrip in case you don't have a bicycle and still want to camp out there.

Then on to Sebree, KY, a really dusty old ghost-town where the only motel was full up. So I went due north for about 20 miles to Henderson, KY, which is really just the ugly half of Evansville, Indiana. There after getting the wrong directions twice and travelling 20 extra miles back and forth in the dark and rain, I finally came upon a glorious strip mall containing all of the above: McDonalds, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, one each of all the major motel chains, and uncountable auto dealerships. The main reason I had such trouble finding it is that it is completely inaccessible if you are not in a car (it's in the middle of a big cloverleaf between highways which don't allow bikes); after an hour of exploring I found a way to get to the Wendy's via a parking lot, and from there a death-defying dash across 6 lanes of heavy traffic to the Days Inn. Whew.

The Ohio River

That took me far enough off route that I decided to take a shortcut straight to Carbondale (which is on the official route). The roads were extremely boring, with heavy traffic, but straight and flat so I could easily go 15 m.p.h. The traffic distracted me from humming "Les Miserables" ("all I did was steal some bread") and made me concentrate on thinking of ways to get back at drivers who, despite the fact that there are three lanes and no other traffic, insist not only on using the rightmost lane where I'm plodding along, but honking continuously as they pass. In their next life they will be turtles in L.A., if you believe in Karma.
Best wishes to all,

Joel

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