Friday, June 28, 2013


As with maps of the London Underground, it looks much more
simple than it really is.
I remember when I got my senior driver’s license I was just delighted. I felt grown up, I suppose, and I felt trusted and responsible. It was 1959 and, coincidentally, there was a Soviet National Exhibition in New York City. I wandered around the exhibits – shiny Sputnik and all – picking up bits of literature and handouts here and there. I looked at it all, the exhibits and literature, and to me, even then, it all seemed so dated, cheesy, so poorly done. 

Then I had one of what my brother calls “Kodak moments”, the memorable little bits of life that deeply etch their significance on your brain. I thought about my new license that allowed me to drive, with just that license and my Mom’s car’s registration for identification, all across the thousands of miles of America if I wanted to go and if I Mom let me have the car, of course.
It's 1974 and there I am in my '69 Saab. I drove -
and drove that car for over fifteen years.
I do love to drive.

I doubted that in most other countries, especially in the Soviet Union, there were many my age who could say the same thing. I knew that citizens of many countries had to carry their I.D. papers at all times; I knew that freedom for them was just a word in a dictionary. I remember feeling a bit of sorrow for the Russians because they gave such a poor showing at the exhibition and had so little compared to what I had.

Enough of that memory – but it did come back to me when I read that tomorrow is the anniversary of President Eisenhower’s 1956 signing of the Federal Highway Act that established our Interstate Highway System – now the Eisenhower Interstate System.*  We weren’t all back roads and the Lincoln Highway before that: the Pennsylvania Turnpike and The New York State Thruway, the two I knew of, were already built, and there were many ‘local’ roads like Northern State Parkway or The Wilbur Cross Parkway.  My aunt and uncle lived off of that one.

Though there are some strange sections of the interstates – like the confusing “inner” and “outer” rings of I-485 here in Charlotte; and I-85 right here is going from east to west, crossing the north-south I-77 – I do like the logic of the system: north-south routes are odd numbers like I-95 on the east coast and I-5 on the west.  You’ll note that the numbers get higher from west to east. (On the U.S. Routes the numbers get higher from east to west: US Rt. 1 on the east coast, 101 on the west.)
Imagine that Charlotte is in the center of this system -
except that the 485 Inner-Outer routes go
the other way. It isn't easy for most folks to remember.

East-west Interstate routes start with I-10 from Florida to California, and I-90 from Massachusetts to Washington – going higher from south to north. (The numbers of the U.S. routes going east to west get higher as they go south.)
Before we moved to the Carolinas we lived only a few miles off of US 20.  Many times on our drives west on the more northern Interstates we crossed US 20. We thought it would be a great trip – given plenty of time – to drive that route all the way across the country. It wouldn’t be quick but it would be interesting.
Folks thought we were kidding when we gave them directions to our new home - yes, take Exit 61 off of I-485 Outer on to Johnston Road - how convenient!

This is our exit - do come and visit!

*You might like to read this interesting entry in The Writer’s Almanac.

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