Theories conflict about path of I-135

Is Interstate 35 the highway to heaven or the highway to hell? Folks on the American lunatic fringe agree about one thing. The 1,500-mile road from Laredo, Texas, to Duluth, Minn., has near cosmic significance. But the whack-jobs are in radical disagreement about the meaning of the four-lanes of asphalt.

The Texas prophetess Cindy Jacobs had a revelation that Interstate 35 is referenced in Isaiah 35:8, which states, ?And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way: the unclean shall not pass over it, and fools shall not err therein.?

This ecstatic utterance by Mrs. Jacobs might have gone unnoticed. Her prophesies for New Jersey and New Zealand were so wrong they could be easily ignored. But after Pat Robertson gave her a bit of airtime on his TV show about prophecies regarding Interstate 35, her devotees started praying and whooping along the road with the intent that only the clean live in proximity and certainly no fools travel on it.

I am worried these folks will stop me for a theological examination the next time I take Interstate 35. ?I just want to go to Hillsboro and eat supper with my family,? I shall plead. But I don?t know if I can prove I am righteous and not a fool after driving 600 miles.

I might get into an argument with them. ?Look, the Bible didn?t have chapter and verse numbers until the 16th century. You folks are both modernists and bad numerologists.?

But probably a smart-mouth statement like that will make them deny me access to the Highway to Heaven and force me to take the long way home on Interstate 70.

These folks are right about one thing. Isaiah 35:9 states, ?No lion shall be there.? Yup, I hardly ever see a lion between Kansas City and Emporia. (There are rumors of mountain lions and cougars in the region but I am unclear if they meet the criteria of being biblical lions.)

Another equally sincere group of wing nuts sees Interstate 35 as the highway to hell and the path for the destruction of America.

They believe the Bush administration has a secret plan to build a NAFTA superhighway the width of four football fields from Mexico to Canada using Interstate 35.

Mexican trucks will zip from the Mexican Port of Lazaro Cardenas to Canada loaded with Chinese and Asian merchandise?stopping only at the Mexican customs office in Kansas City. The expanded version goes from Mexico City to Toronto. (Other conspiracy theorists expand the width of the highway to fifty miles and include freight and passenger trains and pipelines running down the center.)

This is merely a preliminary step toward disbanding the United States and merging it into a new super-nation including Mexico and Canada.

Folks are taking this conspiracy theory seriously. The Montana Legislature has passed a resolution denouncing the NAFTA highway and at least 20 U.S. congressmen have proposed a bill blocking it?including one congresswoman from Kansas. Republican candidates for president indicate they are asked about the NAFTA highway in town meetings as an issue second only to immigration policy.

Sadly, the NAFTA superhighway is a hoax. A private lobbying group in Texas put up a Web site with Interstate 35 highlighted as a proposed shipping route.

The overly meticulous calculated from the width of the marking that it would be four football fields or 50 miles wide?depending on how you read the highlighting.

I like thinking about the implications of an international superhighway through the Flint Hills. Doubtless, it would relocate a good deal of Emporia?but that is no great loss and might even have some positive long-term benefits. The cowboy restaurant in Cassidy and the bar in Matfield Green would need to expand their offerings to include tacos and Dos Equis beer?but they could handle this transition.

It is fun to imagine the NAFTA conspiracy road to hell theorists sitting down with the Pentecostal highway to heaven folks. ?Hey, you people need to work out your differences?calmly and rationally.?

For me, Interstate 35 is neither the highway to heaven nor the highway to hell. It is merely part of my journey between Chicago and Hillsboro. Certainly, the sight of sunrises and sunsets in the Flint Hills over the past 30 years has a deeply spiritual meaning for me. But that is personal and hardly cosmic or political.

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