In a powerful passage, the prophet Isaiah used the image of a highway to proclaim the coming of a Savior: “In the desert prepare a way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3). Centuries later each of the four Gospels applied these words to the ministry of John the Baptist. He was a voice in the wilderness, crying out, “the crooked roads shall become straight.… And all mankind will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:5–6).

Those of us who live in the Midwest have an advantage in understanding these passages, for, when it comes to highways, we know straight.

Good ice cream in Big Rock

U.S. Highway 30, for instance, is the road you want if you are headed west from the Chicago suburbs to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For most of my adult life, I have been making that trip several times a year, and so I know this straight road close up. To be sure, from Rock Falls on the Illinois side of the Mississippi to just past DeWitt on the Iowa side, Highway 30 does roll along with the countryside as it dips and turns down to the river. Otherwise, for most of the 200-mile journey it is pretty straight.

I have heard well-meaning folk from both coasts call such a road flat and uninteresting. For me, it is open, high, subdued, and—notwithstanding overzealous truckers and an occasional vehicle piloted with geriatric patience—tranquil.

Part of Highway 30’s charm is the unobtrusive way that modern civilization encroaches on the vast expanse of fertile prairie. Reasonably clean bathrooms in Clarence, Calamus, Clinton, and Morrison. Still pretty good ice cream in Big Rock, though nothing like you once could buy at a much-missed Elmwood’s Dairy Bar on the outskirts of Clinton. More recently, a series of well-run Casey’s quick-shop ...

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