It is probably no accident that those lulls in a cross-country road trip, when eager camaraderie and ingenious mix tapes give way to bleary-eyed silence and a car stereo auto-cycling through various colors of radio snow, seem to coincide with the appearance of billboards trumpeting the imminent appearance of some roadside attraction sure to cure your driving blues and suck the money from your wallet. Driving through Nebraska en route to California a few years ago, the highway hypnosis setting in hard, I was jolted to attention by a sign advertising something called the Great Platte River Road Archway with the promise of “The Second Longest Escalator in Nebraska!” There was no debate in the car: we pulled over at the Archway (hard to miss, as it spans Route 80) and found our way to the foot of The Second Longest Escalator in Nebraska.
It was… whatever the opposite of breathtaking is. It didn’t seem particularly long, for one thing, though in that case perhaps we should have sought out The Longest Escalator in Nebraska. Like any other escalator, you stand on it and you ascend, in this case into a heady atmosphere of elevation and lethargy. At the top of the escalator is a sort of “living history” museum celebrating the great western migration and the American pioneering spirit, effectively turning the slow escalator ride that precedes it into a sad parody of how far we have fallen, from risking life and limb to achieve our Manifest Destiny (note: problematic!) to using technology to answer that most pressing of questions, “Stairs?? Can’t we just be carried magically up to where we want to go?”
– Philip Leers
Philip Leers is a moving image scholar and archivist working at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, PA. You can find more writing about his cross country trip at bothdogandpony.