Have you heard of the Highway Beautification Act? I hadn’t, but thanks to lots of time to discuss and reflect during our recent road trip, I learned quite a bit about it.

I have never known highways without billboards. The vast open spaces of New Mexico are filled with billboards, most advertising the next in a series of travel centers that all have the same things to offer: turquoise and silver jewelry, moccasins, ice cream, tacky souvenirs…you get the picture….

It’s impossible to take a road trip in this country without being assaulted by billboards. Lady Bird Johnson, wife of former President Lyndon Johnson, had a bee in her bonnet about beauty being an important element in the improvement of civic life. (Certainly the degradation of our modern political conversation lends credence to this—but her focus was on highways and city streets.)

Texas Billboard by Shirin McArthur

You can read a fascinating article about this here, but the bottom line with regard to highway billboards is that Lady Bird Johnson was the first environmentally conscious First Lady and she had a lot of successes, but her fight against the commercialization of our roadways was not one of them. The Highway Beatification Act was considered a compromised failure at the time it was passed, because the billboard lobby was just too strong. As we passed hundreds of billboards on our trip across the country this summer, I could definitely see the value of her commitment.


So what does this have to do with sitting jobs? Something else that caught my attention during our drive was the number of advertisements for truck-driving jobs. It seems that fewer people than ever are willing to drive through this sea of billboards in order to make a living. (Yes, there are many other—much more powerful—reasons for the shortage of drivers; you can read about them here.) Fewer people, in fact, are willing to take jobs that require sitting for long periods of time. I sit when I work, most of the time, but I can get up and walk around when my body needs a break. For a truck driver, that requires pulling off the road and delaying delivery of the job.

There is hope, I think—at least for the desk-job part. Millennials have invented and popularized convertible and standing desks, thus making many sitting jobs more survivable—at least theoretically. They’ve done such a good job, I wonder what it would take to get them to tackle the beautification of our roadways…! Meanwhile, back at my desk, I ponder what I’m being called to do. My photos beautify the Internet—our most powerful and highly traveled roadway. Perhaps that’s a start….

What might you do to beautify the world around you, for your own sake and for generations to come?

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