Carefree Highways

Here’s a connect-the-dots challenge, tapping what’s left of your road-trip driving fever from Labor Day weekend. Pull up Google Maps, pick two towns on opposite edges of the continental United States, and see if you can discover the longest driving trip. The only rules: you must start and end with U.S. cities, and your answer must be the blue line (not the grey line alternatives).

My first guess on Google Maps (above) is effectively the longest drive between the borders of Mexico and Canada.  San Ysidro in California wouldn’t exist if not for the busy border crossing just to the south.  Van Buren in Maine wouldn’t exist if not for a small group of Nova Scotia citizens exiled from Canada in 1785.  As you can see, my southwest to northeast traverse gets me 3,291 miles of driving and takes more than two days (including a wealth of bathroom stops).  In the process, I pass through ten U.S. states and three Canadian provinces.  Label this trip a long-distance segue from “Ole!” to “Eh?”

My second guess chooses a sun-starved soul north of Seattle, seeking some beach time in the Florida Keys (though someone named Irma would object right about now).  Our friend finishes his oyster stew in tiny Blaine, WA; points his car to the southeast, and arrives in Key West, FL two-and-a-half days later, just in time for a twilight margarita with Jimmy Buffett.  His drive also passes through ten states (like my first guess) but lasts 3,559 miles.  If our friend finished in Miami he’d drive the same distance as my first guess, but Highway 1 – further south through the Florida Keys – buys him a 160-mile tiebreaker.

A recent Wall Street Journal article asserts we Americans are endlessly romanced by the allure of the open road (a “four-wheeled traipse” if you will), and the Labor Day holiday conveniently marks the end of the summer travel season.  Thus, you get a lot of drivers on the first weekend in September – 600,000 in Colorado alone, or 11% of the state’s population.  That translates to over 3.5 million road-trippers across the entire United States.  Traffic jam, anyone?

                  

In the prehistoric times of street-corner pay phones and folding road maps (read: 1970’s), the American Automobile Association (AAA) offered a service called “Triptik”.  Go to an AAA office, tell ’em where you want to go, and they’d hand you a step-by-step book of maps “prepared expressly for you”.  My parents gave me a Triptik – and all the station wagon gas I needed – as a high-school graduation present.  My buddy and I created a Western States round-trip starting in Los Angeles, driving as far north as Montana, as far east as South Dakota, and returning through the Southwestern states.  Our aim was to hit as many national parks as possible.  We spent a few nights in motels (on our own dime), but most nights in sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon.  No agenda, no worries – just a couple of teenagers making a ton of memories on the open road.

On the topic of road trips, I owe a nod to America’s beloved “Main Street” – U.S. Route 66.  Though nowhere close to the longest road trip in the U.S., Route 66 is certainly the most renowned.  Built in 1926, the “Mother Road” ran from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean west of Los Angeles – fully 2,448 miles.  Early 1900’s migration to the Western U.S. owes some of its success to 66, and all those road-trippers “got their kicks” at the hundreds of restaurants and motels born along the highway.  It wasn’t until 1985 – sixty years later – the last remnants of Route 66 were replaced by newer segments of the U.S. Interstate Highway System.

Now then; time to solve the Google Maps challenge (with a twist).  The winner of the point-to-point American road trip is some nearby version of my second guess above: Washington to Florida.  However, for my money I’d much prefer the drive from Oregon to Massachusetts (above).  The twist?  You can do it all on one ridiculously long highway!  U.S. Route 20 – “The Big Daddy” – starts in little Newport, Oregon (pop. 10,000) and ends in Boston (pop. 673,000).  You’ll cover 12 states and 3,154 miles before you hit the checkered flag.  It’ll take you almost two days without stopping, but please stop.  Along the way you’ll find the Idaho Potato Museum, Yellowstone National Park, “Carhenge” (a Stonehenge homage made entirely of autos!), Iowa’s Field of Dreams, Hall of Fame’s for RV’s/motor-homes, rock & roll, and baseball; and most importantly, the Jell-O Gallery Museum, your one-stop-shop + tribute to the jiggly dessert.  C’mon, how you gonna top that road trip (with a dollop of whipped cream?)

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

This April, a movie called The Circle will arrive in theaters, and it just might generate enough buzz to displace political headlines.  The previews start innocently enough: a wide-eyed young woman “Mae”, who can’t believe her good fortune at being hired into the thoroughly glamorous Internet company “Circle” (a super-hybrid of Apple, Google, and Facebook).  Predictably, things take a turn for the not-so-good when Mae realizes her new employer seeks a singularly “true” Internet identity for its consumers, revealing all there is to know about a person.

The previews for The Circle intrigued me enough to give the book a try, even though the reviews were mediocre at best.  But no matter; the premise draws me in and keeps me reading.  What resolution can possibly exist in a not-so-distant future where an individual’s “privacy” goes completely out the window?  The Circle proposes an all-knowing (and therefore) all-exploiting Internet service; a corporate version of totalitarianism.  I can’t imagine a happy ending, can you?  As Ray Bradbury would say, something wicked this way comes.

83-prescient

Ray Bradbury authored countless short stories placing believable humans in not-quite-so believable circumstances, yet seeking a peek into a probable future.  “Fahrenheit 451” is perhaps his most famous example, but I have my own favorites, including “The Golden Apples of the Sun”, “A Sound of Thunder”, “Skeleton”, and “The Veldt”.  I own a collection of Bradbury’s “hundred best”, and find them just as compelling as when I first read them forty years ago.  Why?  Because they still aren’t quite believable.  The presumptions and technologies and societies of Bradbury’s stories are still somewhere around the corner of the world of today.  But I have no doubt they’re coming.

The same case can be made for the cult-classic neo-noir film Blade Runner, produced in 1982 but based on a book written decades earlier.  Blade Runner made several far-reaching assumptions about a dystopian Los Angeles of the future: a) climate change, creating an environment dominated by darkness and rain, b) culture change, where its inhabitants, language, and food are decidedly Asian, and c) technological change, where “replicants” (robots) perform the mundane tasks humans no longer care to do.  Blade Runner’s mystique is in the depiction of a familiar place transformed by radical changes; the kind that aren’t so unbelievable.  Not now perhaps, but they’re coming.  (Also coming: a sequel to Blade Runner later this year).

Here’s another example from Hollywood.  Logan’s Run (which was an on-screen disaster just begging to be remade thirty years later), depicted a completely controlled, pleasure-filled world inside a giant, sterile dome – but only until age thirty, when its inhabitants were ceremoniously put to death (to conserve the resources of a supposedly dying planet).  By default, Logan’s world is a society where everything is new and clean, everyone is “young”, and a day in the life is controlled by some behind-the-scenes, largely technological presence.  “Logan 5” and “Jenny 6” (a delightful nod to the loss of individualism) are too dependent on the comforts of their world to ever acknowledge its limitations. Considering how technology shapes our actions and decisions today, perhaps Logan’s world is not so far-fetched anymore.

The appeal of Ray Bradbury, Blade Runner, and Logan’s Run – even today – is stories about worlds that are (still) not believable.  We can enjoy them yet keep them at arm’s length, comforted by the thought “can’t really happen”.  And that’s what makes The Circle a serious conversation piece (even if it’s a box-office flop): a taste of an all-powerful, all-knowing Internet – if governments and corporations let it get that far.  Once we reach that point is there any turning back, or will “drones” more aptly describe humans than cool little flying machines?  Terrifying foresight for sure, but hopefully not prescient thinking.

Okay, you’re done reading now.  Back to your Facebook feed.