The Star Along the Interstate at Christmas

I can claim the (dubious) distinction of having had Christmas Night Dinner  in 2012 at a truck stop, specifically, the I-80 Truck Center, along I-80, in Wolcott, Iowa, about 45 minutes west of Davenport. It purports to be “The World’s Largest Truckstop;” as I can’t find supporting data, we’ll have to take management at their word.

The meal was not memorable.

It was, however, notable, as my wife and son and I were on a mission, to see my dad in the Chicago area the next day. We stayed  that night at a surprisingly-busy hotel in Davenport. More folks than I thought were on their road for Christmas. That visit turned out to be the last time our son saw his grandfather alive.

The interstate system is more than ribbons of concrete. It is the pathway from which stories, individual and collective, are formed. Each vehicle has occupants on a mission, if only to get to the next town. I believe those who travel at night have the most interesting and, yes, personal, stories to share.

If the interstates provide the pathway, how do the off-ramps and towns fit in the narrative? They are the chapter-creators in our larger story of life, death, and re-birth. Of joy and sorrow, anger and forgiveness, of belief and hope lost, and found. It is the search for the star, although the Golden Arches might seem like an incongruous symbol.

I think of the McDonald’s location along I-29, at the  92 Highway turnoff at Platte City, Missouri. If you are from out of town and are on the way to visit the College or Monastery in Atchison, you likely have driven by it and, perhaps, stopped in.

I’ve wondered over the years what happens at that 24-hour location on Christmas Eve night? Who finds themselves drawn to stop, to rest, to seek a few moments away from traffic, to converse, or not, to think.

What would the heralding of the arrival of Christ look like in that structure?

The picture in my mind, my “movie”, is professional truck drivers mingling with travelers headed somewhere, or perhaps, with nowhere to travel, nowhere, at that point in their lives, on that special night of nights, with no one to be with and no place to rest. I would concentrate on those alone, and, certainly, those with sleepy children who may have been sent away and are in search of a place to rest, to be safe, to call “home”, if only for a brief time.

That McDonalds, if you’ll allow, is for me, a stopping point on the Advent journey, a beacon, and, yes the Arches are, in a unique time and space, the star that calls to travelers in their search for faith, hope, and love.

Stop here. You are not alone.

For whatever reason you are on this road, at this time, and now, in this space, you may welcome The Child, in your heart.

You may be searching on a dark night, but rest, if only for a moment.

The Light of the World is in your midst.

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Michael Throop

Dr. Michael Throop spent nearly 40 years on air in radio and television, with a majority of that time spent in broadcast journalism. He began his teaching career in Spring, 2007, as a lecturer in the University of Kansas School of Journalism. Michael joined Benedictine College in Fall, 2007, as an adjunct in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department, and was promoted to Assistant Professor in Fall 2019. He works with students in all levels, teaching Media and Society as an introductory and General Education initiative, as well as creating departmental courses exploring the emergence of social media and its impact on journalism, nonprofit communications, and the greater society