|I have just come back from a two-week road trip across the United States. I had many objectives, one of which was to see what is going on out in the real world. We read the news all the time, but until one goes out and touches the land, it is sometimes hard to have a complete perspective of exactly what is the current state of affairs.
My route was southern-tier focused: Atlanta to Houston, to Albuquerque, to Phoenix, to Los Angeles, to Las Vegas, to Golden (Denver), to St. Louis, to Nashville, and home.
Forty years of road travel observations and comparisons led me to the following conclusions. First, the economy is moving forward to some degree—compared, for instance, to the summer of 1974 when no gas stations on the highways were open at night, things seem normal.
Fast food wait staff is extraordinarily courteous. In my experience, this means higher qualified people have displaced lower qualified (because the higher qualified cannot find jobs matching their skills) and the owners of the fast food places are in a highly competitive situation and trying to beat the competition with service. This is a sign of a weak economy.
The truck stops on the main east west highways I traveled (portions of I-10, I-40, and I-70) were loaded with rental trucks dragging trailers and cars. I talked to some of these people. Conclusion—blue collar families are on the move, finding jobs and opportunities in new communities. Long term, this is a good sign—these folks, who typically stay rooted, have determined their future lies somewhere else and they are taking the initiative to do something about it. I was only approached for money one time while filling up my automobile. A summer ago, it seemed like someone was hitting me up for money every time I stopped to fill up.
Relatively high-end places (The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Dodgers Stadium, high-end restaurants, and so forth) seemed to be in a state of business as usual. High-end mall stores are having perpetual deep sales, trying to pull in traffic. I thought about staying in Breckenridge, Colorado, one night, but even though it is not ski season, they wanted USD 459 per night. I passed.
Overall, if one avoided the news and went out on a road vacation, they may not observe anything other than a normal summer, except for the preponderance of rental moving trucks and the courteous hamburger flippers. But these are two important signs, signs that things are not quite up to the usual state of affairs here in the good old USA.