Robert Eller

Traffic sucks. Here we are at the weekend before Christmas when everyone who did not start planning for who-gets-what-gift back in September pays the price. You would have thought that buying online would alleviate the mad rush that goes into shopping at the last minute. Probably it has to some degree. But there are those that put the ritual of purchasing presents off until the last minute, all in the name of using procrastination as a way to get into the spirit of the holiday season. These are the same people who are usually late for meetings, don’t read instructions and are generally winging it when it comes to matters they regard of lesser importance. Let’s just say I am a fellow traveler.

What person has not cursed someone for pulling out in front of them or failing to go on when the light is green or making some other bad driving decision. We are all out there trying to get the whole ordeal over with and make it back home with something to put under the tree. If you have never done that, a snarky congratulations. Otherwise, join me as we plunge into the another last minute Christmas. We will make brief eye contact as we judge each other’s driving.

However, those are the burdens of the post-modern age. Just because traffic has been a snarl for our lifetimes does not mean it has always been that way. It used to be that a ride from one place to another involved other, bigger problems. Much bigger.Traffic, Ugh.

Consider a photo I came across at the Caldwell Heritage Museum (Vaiden Street in Lenoir, check it out). Notice that the shot has a latter day label that explains the route of the stagecoach. Lenoir to Blowing Rock. From the look of the image, the driver mounted up to pose for this shot sometime near the end of the 19th century, give or take a year. Think about what that ride must have been like.

First, you had to physically walk into the stagecoach office and purchase a ticket. Those were the days before widespread phone usage. Then you would have boarded the open air coach with luggage thrown up on top. Yes, luggage because this was not just on a day trip. This journey was too arduous to go on a whim. Once the horses are geed up, you got to smell all that comes with being behind them. Remember that was the era of the privy, which means a shelter built around a hole dug in the ground for purposes of relieving oneself. Sewage pipes were a welcome innovation. Next, the bumps and dust that came with riding on dirt roads. The only way to alleviate the boredom was conversation with the other passengers who accompanied you on the half-day trip up the mountain. Fun stuff.

Transportation has evolved since those days. Now a ride from Lenoir to Blowing Rock is given barely a thought. A half hour in a climate controlled vehicle will get you there. No horse perfume, little discomfort on the four-lane highway that takes you to the High Country. Just a pleasant ride by contrast with booking passage on the stage.

It’s interesting that the next big innovation in getting from place to place, the railroad, never managed to usurp the stagecoach as a ride up the mountain. The Carolina and Northwestern line made the trip to Edgemont and Mortimer, while Boone got connected from the Tennessee side but the trek proved too steep for rails from the east. Internal combustion vehicles leapfrogged rail lines as the best way to get to elevations that high.

So the next time we meet in traffic, as frustrating as it is, let us all shout hallelujah that the trip does not come with the pleasure of having to smell what they euphemistically used to call “road apples.”

Photo: Loaded up and ready to go. In 1892, this was a luxury ride up the mountain to Blowing Rock.