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View From the Highway: Great Lakes Economics

CNBC's Brian Sullivan just returned from his regular summer road trip to Wisconsin, where he had time to observe the changes in the economy from a different vantage point. The world sometimes looks different from behind the wheel than it does from behind a desk.

I'm a bit loopy as I write this, given that the usually 17-hour drive home from our Wisconsin vacation took closer to 20 due to traffic, and sleep remains elusive, but that traffic is all part of my completely unscientific economic takeaways from my annual trek to the great north woods and back.

So, dont'cha know, here's what I garnered from my much-needed voyage back into America's Heartland.

Everyone is on the road. I've done the drive to the upper part of Wisconsin every year now for the past 15, and without a doubt traffic seemed heavier than any time in the past four or five years. The 1,100-mile drive took three hours more than usual in part due to major backups in Michigan (I drive over the Upper Peninsula, over the Mackinac Bridge and straight down I-75 through the spine of Michigan), Ohio and Pennsylvania. The jams seemed to be caused only by the sheer volume of cars and trucks on the road. And by texting drivers rear-ending other texting drivers, who then text about the wreck.


They're on the road in newer cars (good news for Ford and GM.) Spotted many 30-day tags on shiny new cars both to and from walleye country. The drive being mostly Michigan and Ohio, most were American models. The Ford Fusion seemed hot, as did big new pickups and the Chevy Tahoe.

(Read More: Red, White and Blue: States Most Loyal to the Big 3)

The new cars are still on old roads. Despite some big projects such as the Zilwaukee Bridge repair, the highways largely remain old and bumpy. Hubcap replacement may become the business of the future. This means you, Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Toys are back. This is both on land and water. On the lake where we vacation, there were more new boats this year. There were also a lot of new RVs, campers and "toy hauler" trailers on the road (see: "traffic jam" and "Chevy Tahoe" above).

OMG! Facebook has a problem. Between our friends' families, there are probably 15 to 20 'tweens and teens. Despite the bright sunshine, faces were largely buried into iPhones (and yes, most were still iPhones). When I nagged them about what they were doing on said phones, most shot me an annoyed glance and mentioned Snapchat, Vine or Twitter. Facebook, at least according the cool kids on the lake, simply isn't cool anymore.

(Read More: Why America Is Losing Its Gas-Guzzling Ways)

Two final points of note.

I know obesity is a national crisis, but you cannot deny bratwurst and cheese curds remain delicious.

(Read More: Trucks Power Strongest June Auto Sales Since 2007)

To the jerk who left his dog to run free on the interstate: you're a jerk.

_ By CNBC's Brian Sullivan. Follow him on Twitter @SullyCNBC.

Travel

  • CNBC's Kate Rogers reports nearly every flight out of LaGuardia Airport has been cancelled or delayed due to ugly weather conditions.

  • People walk past a board that announces cancelled flights at LaGuardia airport on the day before Thanksgiving, in New York, Nov. 26, 2014.

    An insurance company is offering payouts if there are delays or cancellations and if luggage is lost.

  • What's goes into the busiest day of travel in the U.S., with Gordon Bethune, former Continental Air CEO, who says a decline of last minute seats is driving current customer behavior.

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