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TimeSpace: Half A Tank

Post photographer Michael Williamson is traveling across the country covering the economic situation.

Heading South On I-81


Driver's eye view of a suprisingly truck free Interstate 81. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

ALONG INTERSTATE 81--We were driving toward the lightning in the distance – “flickering on and off like a street lamp with a loose wire in the wind,” Michael said from the driver’s seat, turning toward me to see if I was as captivated by the flashes as he was.

I wasn’t. I was busy looking for ticks in my hair. I’d found two digging into the back of my head after we’d left the woods of Prince William County and now I felt phantom bites all over my body. Michael had found one on his neck, but was over it by the time we pulled into the gas station in Strasburg.

It was nearing midnight – too late for dinner and too early for breakfast – but we still had more than 200 miles to drive and needed something to keep us awake. We settled on a shared bag of chocolate-covered pretzels.

Snacks are one of Michael’s many Rules of the Road. “Number 238” or “Number 443,” he’ll say from time to time, before parceling out another travel tip. He’s taken at least two dozen cross-country drives. This is my first.

But we’ve both driven along I-81 many times before and we know we’ve seen more 18-wheelers than this. A year ago, a car could easily find itself sandwiched between two massive trucks, but on this night, there are miles between some. We're on our way to Volvo’s New River Valley Plant to see where many of these road giants are made and to understand how the economy has impacted their production. Trucks, unlike cars, are made to order. So if there is no freight to haul, no trucks are made. More freight, more trucks. The basic laws of economics.

When we finally get to the hotel—a $39 a night joint in the middle of Radford—it’s 2 a.m. My hair is frizzy from scratching and Michael’s eyes are half-closed despite the chocolate. All we want to do is sleep (we have six hours before we're expected at the plant) when the guy at the front desk confirms our suspicion that these aren't the type of rooms where you pull back the covers. He asks if we want to rent by the hour.

By Theresa Vargas  |  June 3, 2009; 2:19 PM ET
Categories:  Behind the Wheel  
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Next: All You Can Eat


Please read "Travels with Charley" and "Blue Highways" while on the road.

Posted by: isenberg888 | June 3, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

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