Highways


I drove to Chico today. A family friend needed a ride, so I drove her up there and dropped her off. I’ll go back up there on Thursday and pick her up. Not a bad drive at all. When making any trip, I prefer not to come back the same way I got there. So in this vein, I took a different route back. On my way up there, I drove 680 to 80 to 505 to 5 to 32 to Chico. I’m sure no one is as big of a geography geek as I am to actually trace my path, but I give the details nonetheless. On the way back I took 99 south to Sacramento (or Sacramentucky) and then 80 to 680. 99 was nice, I’d never done that stretch of it before. If you’re familiar at all with the US highway system, you may wonder what a 99 is doing on the West Coast.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the US highway system, here’s a little lesson. President Eisenhower, influenced by both his almost envious admiration of the Autobahn in Germany and his experience of following the “Lincoln Highway” as a young man, passed the “Federal-Aid Highway Act” in 1956. This created, or (pardon the pun) paved the way for the national grid we now know and love. Sorry, Alaska, you’re the only state to not have any interstates…yes, Hawaii has interstates (Don’t ask me, I don’t make the rules). There are major interstate highways that run North-South and East-West across the country. If you are on the west coast you are familiar with I-5, perhaps I-90 in Seattle or I-10 in L.A. (Here in the Bay Area it’s all about the 80). North-South highways are odd numbers and East-West highways are evens. I-5 is the Western N-S highway going Canada to Mexico through Washington, Oregon, and California. I-95 is the Eastern N-S highway going from Canada to Miami. Incidentally, I’ve driven the 5 from the Mexican border to Canada…never all at once, but there isn’t a section I haven’t driven. I’ve driven on the 95 from Newburyport, Massachusetts into North Carolina. So, no matter where you are in the 48 states, near you should be either an Interstate ending with a 5 or a 0. So as I check my traffic log, lots of people will be familiar with the 5, the 10 (Los Angeles), the 95 (Hello, Boston visitors, whoever you are), the 90 (Ohio loves the Motion), the 40 (new daddy in ARK), the 75 (someone who bookmarked my blog from Atlanta [Marietta, specifically])… I know I’ve already said too much about highways. It’s fascinating to me, though.

So in exchange for my long ramble about interstates, I recommend a great book. William Least Heat-Moon wrote Blue Highways: A Journey into America on a special trip in 1978 (published in 1982). He jumps right to my attention in the first page when he writes, “A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go.” With a series of events in his life converging, he sets out across America to perhaps escape from home, or perhaps to find it. Instead of using the Interstate highways listed above to get around the U.S., he uses the “blue highways” more minor interstates or state routes. I haven’t thought of this book for years, but today I thought of it passing through a part of California, most of you either have never been or can’t even picture. I need to read it again to get some more details back in my head. Here are a few quotes from the book.

“At any particular moment in a man’s life, he can say that everything he has done and not done, that has been done and not been done to him, has brought him to that moment. If he’s being installed as Chieftain or receiving a Nobel Prize, that’s a fulfilling notion. But if he’s in a sleeping bag at ten thousand feet in a snowstorm, parked in the middle of a highway and waiting to freeze to death, the idea can make him feel calamitously stupid.”

“Other than to amuse himself, why should a man pretend to know where he’s going or understand what he sees?”

“Boredom lies only with the traveler’s limited perception and his failure to explore deeply enough. After a while, I found my perception limited.”

“I can’t say, over the miles, that I had learned what I had wanted to know because I hadn’t known what I wanted to know. But I did learn what I didn’t know I wanted to know.”

“Instead of insight, maybe all a man gets is strength to wander for a while. Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire, to know nothing for certain. An inheritance of wonder and nothing more.”

So two things from this. First, buy this book. Second, I’d love to take “MK in Motion” truly into motion and travel the U.S. blogging and logging little places that the average travel show or hip travel magazine doesn’t go. As William Least Heat-Moon does, count the calendars on the wall of a diner to know if you’re in the right place. Meet people, see places, and bring you all along as I do it. So, that’s my thought today. I’m not going to jump on the road tomorrow to head out across the states…I’ve got to be in Chico on Thursday, after all, but with the right budget and plan, I could really see myself doing it. Different friends could join me for different pieces of the trip. I could visit people who check in to MK in Motion and see their “home.” I started this wanting to write a little essay or article about home, but I will save that for another time. Below are links to find Blue Highways.

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Title Wave (some love for the ANC; $3.50 used)
Powell’s (P-Land)

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