I saw these driving up I-65 from Indianapolis this weekend, meaning millions of people have already seen ’em, but here it is anyway:
- The "Flying J" truck stop chain’s usual series of billboards now proudly proclaim themselves to have "WiFi Hotspots."
- There have already been Starbucks at the oases on the Indiana Tollway, and I believe they’re coming to the Tri-State in Illinois. This was the first time I saw a Starbucks advertised on one of those "Food" signs placed ahead of each Interstate exit. Some may see this as a bad sign of encroaching Starbucks domination (like McDonald’s doesn’t already dominate the highways). Many travelers who’ve endured bad gas station coffee will see this as a good sign: finally, a place to be assured of a decent cuppa Joe. Just as long as they’re open 24 hours and will fill Thermoses.
Even though the exit with the Starbucks was still in the Indianapolis suburbs, it suggested to me another part of a trend noted by people who marks such things: the resettlement of populations along the interstates. As rural areas continue to empty out, only the interstate corridors show any potential for growth. Industry locates there for easy access to trucking, and small town reinvent themselves as retail centers, extended rest stops or tourist attractions (like my father’s hometown of Walnut, Iowa turned all of its empty stores into an "Antique City."). Not suburbs, or even exurbs. Call them "exit-burbs."
Just a few days after I first posted this entry, the Chicago Tribune had an article about hotspots at truck stops becoming a big draw. That’s me: two days ahead of the curve.