Saturday, December 13, 2003

Rambling on Roads

After the post of a few days ago, I wanted to offer a translation for my non-Californian readers: El Camino is the road where the car died, but it's much more than that. El Camino is El Camino Real, the old Spanish mission trail that runs from the Mexican border all the way to Sonoma County. It links the original missions: San Diego del Alcala (established 1769), San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel de Arcangel, Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Nuestra Señora de Soledad, San Juan Bautista, San Jose(established 1775), Santa Clara, San Francisco de Asis, San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma County (established 1823). That’s not an exhaustive list, but you might recognize some of the shortened names: San Diego, LA, Soledad (home of the maximum security prison), San Francisco, named for St. Francis of Assissi.

El Camino is the equivalent of Lancaster Pike, AKA Route 30, AKA the Pike west of Philadelphia, both in history and in current use. They’re both more or less Main Street for most of the towns they pass through, and they’re lined with strip malls, car dealerships, fast-food places, and other memorials to American culture. Yet both also run through some beautiful country between the urban areas.

The Pike was incorporated into the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway, which ran or runs from Atlantic City to San Francisco. Much of the Lincoln Highway has been swallowed by Route 80. From the George Washington Bridge to the Bay Bridge, 80 is a great road. (Well, at least on the eastern end, it always seems to be under construction, but I love it anyway.) Annals of the Former World, John McPhee's classic of popular geology, follows 80 from end to end, looking at the rock outcrops and discussing millions of years of geologic events, plus some history of the science and of the people along the way.

Route 80 links my old home and my new. Directions to my hometown from out here are easy: go north to the Bay Bridge, hang a right, and drive several thousand miles. I was born just north of 80; I remember it and 81 being constructed in the early and mid-1960s, when we were living in Columbia County. If you want to see Jackson, where I was a teenager, just take Route 81 North. Get off at Lenox, have an ice-cream cone, and then on to Jackson: twelve miles.

The old Lincoln Highway, of course, leads through and past other parts of my past. I went to college just off the Lancaster Pike. When I lived in Ardmore from third through sixth grades, we walked up and down the Pike. The Pike is also the Main Line -- the site of one of the greatest of all romantic comedies, The Philadelphia Story.” I lived in St. Davids, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Ardmore, in venues ranging from a dorm on the exquisitely beautiful Eastern College campus to a commune in a row house.

Sometime I need to write about Southeast Pennsylvania. I need to write about the passion I have for Philadelphia, and the life I lived there. Not tonight, though. Tonight I am just amazed that all the roads converge here, in California.

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