Interstate 94

Written by Matthew Weber

This summer I was staring down the interstate and keeping my car centered between the lines, fighting off the urge to sleep by thinking about Seattle and the excitement of what was to come. I was meeting my friend’s band out west to document the recording of their EP. Two headlights illuminated the seemingly endless dotted lines: there was nobody else on the road at 2 a.m.

I-94 is 1,582 miles long. There are 11 major junctions with other highways along its route from Port Huron, Michigan to Billings, Montana. I was just driving 840 miles of this interstate by coming from Minneapolis.

I felt giddy when I got to Billings. It was a beautiful evening and the sun was setting on the large cliffs that rose higher than the nearby refineries’ smoke stacks. The campsite I stayed at was located in a peaceful spot right on the Yellowstone River. There were homes nearby and I got to thinking about the people who lived there. “How lucky they are,” I thought to myself.

The one road that brought me to Billings seemed lifeless at times. I made a point of stopping at small towns and driving through like I knew where I was going. Many of them weren’t special, but I felt special being there.

There was a museum in Terry, Montana that stuffed the last 137 years of the area’s history into the town’s former bank. The lobby was ornately constructed with marble floors and beautifully built wooden desks. The train tracks that run through town used to be a flow of money moving west.

Without the interstate’s proximity to Terry, I never would have found it or learned about all the wonderful things that happened there. I-94 replaced Highway 10, so it ran through many of the same towns.

An old man sat next to me at the only café in Salem, North Dakota. He drowned his hash browns in ketchup, then slowly and shakily began to work his knife and fork. I watched him eat for a few seconds with a newfound respect for this man I barely knew. Before he began eating ­– and essentially forgot about me – we had talked about his life.

Although I don’t remember his name, I know he drove a semi truck on old highway 10 once a week, from Minneapolis to Seattle and back again. Salem’s local café was a regular stop for him back in his truck driving days.

Now he drives his old pickup truck from his home in Montana to Minneapolis once a month so he can visit his son.

I imagined this scene playing out hundreds of times as the decades passed. Him sitting in the same spot and possibly ordering the same thing. His hands wrinkling as the silverware dulls from all the years of use. The wait staff greet him with the type of smile reserved only for friends and family.

“How lucky he is,” I thought.

I was reminded that there will be beauty anywhere you go, if you look for it. Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time.