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July 10, 2017


Extremely interesting post, wj. I regularly drive across London and up the M1 to the North Country, 200 miles door to door, and it usually takes four hours (one hour getting across London). That's considered quite a long journey here - it would take a considerable emergency to make me do it there and back in one day. When I once took three leisurely days to drive solo from LA to Santa Fe, the emptiness of the open road was an incredible luxury, apart even from the stupendous scenery. But your larger point is the most interesting: the effect all this has on the American as opposed to say the European psyche. I'm on the accursed phone, so not conducive to musing, but I may get back to this later.

I think the English have historically had similar feelings. When I was growing up, visiting anywhere they didn't speak English would have been a major undertaking - passports and visas needed, no Channel Tunnel, no cheap flights. I didn't do it until I was 26. I live in Wales, but it's really rare to meet anyone who doesn't speak English.

De-lurking, since I am from Germany and may contribute a bit to the discussion...
For your post - yes and no... Yes, countries in Europe are much smaller than the US. No, it is easily possible to travel 400 miles and not cross any borders - see Germany, France, Spain, Poland, UK... This is even more pronounced if you consider cultural distances, e.g. German is also spoken in Austria and parts of Switzerland. Some people from northern Germany still retain Plattdeutsch, which can be considered as an old form of German, or as a second language, and thus are able to understand Dutch. As for cultural apropriation, this has been going on for ages - in every German cookbook, you find a recipe for "Gulasch" - originally from Hungary, changed beyond all recognition, or "Böhmische Knödel" - Bohemia, or "Grießnockerl", "Strudel" - Austria and so on... And all over Europe, you will find Pizza, Chinese restaurants and many others. It is completely possible to remain insular here, too.
I think, your last point is your strongest one - cultural (and economic) domination during the last decades counts for most of your observations. Similarly, people in the UK often complain that their fellows do not wish to learn other languages... even though the age of the British Empire has been over for quite some time

it is easily possible to travel 400 miles and not cross any borders

from the place where i work, i can get on the highway, I-40, and drive 2500+ miles to Bakersfield California.

i'd cross state borders, but i'd never leave the country. i would barely even have to turn the steering wheel.

the scale of the landscape in the US west of the Mississippi is pretty amazing. oceanic.

i have no doubt that that informs the general sensibility of the folks who live there. hard to see how it would not.

i'm in new england, where it would be hard to find 400 miles to go in a straight line. from where i live, on the coast about 15 miles north of boston, i can get to 5 of the 6 new england states in an hour so.

you have to get upstate in maine to get anything remotely similar to the kinds of large scale open landscape that exists in the western US. maine is pretty big. but still, nothing like the west.

new england is highly insular, parochial even. in spite of being physically part of the continental US. we're geographically somewhat apart, and apart also in terms of sensibility. people who grow up here quite often stay here.

driving two hours or so from boston to the cape is a serious outing. folks might go three hours or so north to ski and come back the same day, but that's an exception.

the scale of the landscape in the US west of the Mississippi is pretty amazing. oceanic.

Where it really thins out, going from east to west, is the Great Plains (~500 miles west of the Mississippi). Look at NASA's nighttime maps, or the Census Bureau's population dot maps -- you can easily see the arc running from Canada to Mexico where the eastern settlement pattern of a small town every few miles and at least a small city every 50-100 miles stops.

Things are getting even sparser on the GP today -- a majority of the counties there are losing population in absolute terms. Some of them have dropped back down below the usual definition of "frontier" meaning less than six people per square mile.


I wouldn't often do 1200km in a day but 800 k's is a nice stretch, and we'll sometimes nip down to Sydney to visit friends or take in a show and come back the same evening. That's maybe 700 k's round trip.

What we don't have in Oz is the population in between, and the tremendous cultural domination which you mention in your last point.

I had considered mentioning Australia and Canada, as other examples of places where you can drive for vast distances without "leaving home". (Even ignoring the vast emptiness between Adelaide and Perth, which I doubt many people brave, there is still the drive from Brisbane to Melbourne.) But I don't have a feel for how often, or how casually, anyone does.

It also occurs to me that Russia has the geography for long distances in the same country. But I have no clue whether anyone drives any of them. Perhaps someone else here knows. (Lurker, maybe?)

And thanks, is(de) for pointing out that there actually are places (Italy and Poland, in addition to Spain, France, and Germany) where you could manage a couple of hundred miles in one country. I actually considered checking a map on exactly that point before posting . . . but American parochialism got the better of me. (And in a post like this! Go figure.)

The Trans-Siberian Highway is definitely a thing. Chile Highway 5 runs about 2,000 driving miles from north to south. Argentina's National Route 40 is almost 3,000 driving miles along the other side of the Andes, although some amount of the southern part is not paved. Brazil's BR-101, running along the east coast, is almost 3,000 driving miles and connects 12 state capitals.

The thing about the interstate system in the western US is the sheer number of routes of great length. Denver sits at the intersection of two interstate highwayss (ignoring the I-76 spur) and it's better than 400 driving miles on any of them to reach a city of 100,000 people outside of the Front Range.

August 1, I'm headed out of Denver via automobile to the Great Smokies in eastern Tennessee, where a brother and his peeps have rented a luxury cabin for a week. I'm going to take a southern route thru countryside I haven't seen before, cutting thru the northern portions of Texas, Louisiana, Miss., Alabama, and Georgia.

After Tennessee, I'll head north to spend a week eating my way thru New York City with my son, who attends graduate school at Columbia.

Then back thru Jersey to see an old friend, Pittsburgh for a quick hello to family, and ultimately catching the full eclipse of the sun on August 21, probably in southeastern Nebraska as it traverses the country, and on back to Denver.

I figure 4500 miles. Two years ago I did 5400 miles to Maine via the northernmost routes in the country, including Michigan's Northern Peninsula.

I take camping equipment with for when I don't want to pay for lodging.

I like driving. I would fly the first leg of this summer trip, but the rental car companies want mucho bucks for leaving cars elsewhere besides their origin, and I really want to see that eclipse.

I blame Putin.

May drive back East in the Fall again and hope to get to Boston. ;) I'll probably fly to Pittsburgh and use it as a base for car rental.

This week, up to Crested Butte to hike and camp for a few days (bed and breakfast the other nights). Backpack up Rustler's Gulch near the Maroon Bells to catch alpine wildflower season.


Great post, and good points that I mostly agree with.

There's a kind of fractal quality to insularity that fascinates me. During one of the stretches where my son was living in China (the country), I ran into the parents of one of his childhood playmates, and they were lamenting that their own son had moved all the way to China (the town), about 35 miles from here.

But lest you think that was the insularity and non-worldliness of rural people, not long after that I had a conversation with a woman in Boston who was lamenting that one of her grown-up offspring had moved far away -- all the way to Amesbury, 40ish miles north.

All I could think was ... 40 miles? I'll take that any day.

Similarly, when the land trust I volunteer for was forming, the organizers imagined their coverage area to include seven rural-ish towns around here. Some of the towns were reluctant to be involved, lest other towns got more land conserved. I was new here then, and the distinction between one "town" and another was pretty much lost on me. But it sure ain't lost on people who were born around here, and now that I've been here for a long time, I do get it. Somewhat.

Then again, I once got sort of lost in a nearby "town" that is so out of the way, it barely has a mile of state-numbered roadway in it. I stopped at one of those ramshackle country stores to buy some chocolate and ask directions, and the woman behind the counter had just gotten back from...IIRC...German and Bulgaria, where she and her husband had gone to visit exchange students that they had hosted in the past.

So -- you never know. It's an amazing world, and it's nice to think about something other than depressing politics for a bit.

More on fractal insularity…riffing off russell's comments about New England.

I live in, and love, New England, and consider it the home of my spirit, even if I *was* born in Ohio. I also live in a state that has a phrase to describe anyone who wasn't born here: you're either a Mainer, or you're "from away." You can never become a "naturalized" Mainer…even if, like my daughter, you were brought here when you were six weeks old. They'll accept your presence, maybe even love you, in fact you can even become the governor (Angus King comes to mind), but you're still not a true Mainer.

If you read the Augusta paper, and there has been, let's say, a house fire, the article might say "The occupants were out of state at the time the fire broke out." In no other place where I've ever lived would the article have said that, it would have said "out of town" or "on vacation" or "away from home."

When I first lived here, I was chatting with a guy who said he had just gotten back from vacation. I asked him where he'd gone, and he said, in total seriousness, "out of state."

New Hampshire? Paris? Tajikistan?

Didn't matter. What mattered was that he had crossed the state border into the outer world, and that was all that needed to be said.

There's a kind of fractal quality to insularity that fascinates me

over the weekend, someone from my hometown started a FB post asking "how far did you have to walk to school? or did you take the bus?"

now, i always had to walk to school. in elementary school, i had to walk even though the cut-off for being able to ride the bus was ... the other side of my street. and i've always been mad about that because i swear it was a two mile walk to school and upstate NY winters can be cold!

to verify this, i went over to the google map distance calculator and measured and ... it was 0.6 miles from that house to the school.

in 7th grade we moved across town when my father bought a new house. i had to abandon all my old friends and meet all new friends. new grocery convenience stores to hang out at, new woods to play in. it was a whole new world. very traumatic!

i checked that distance, too. the two houses are ... 0.5 miles away.

turns out the whole stupid town was only 1.5 miles across.

Count! If you get to Boston in the fall, we *have* to have a get-together!

I made three cross-country trips by car (with friends) when I was younger (1972, 1974, 1976; plus an abbreviated one in 1984 (abbrev. because it was just Milwaukee to the Grand Canyon and back, a matter of a mere 1800 miles or so each way). It's an amazing, beautiful country. I try to remember that when the humans that inhabit it are driving me crazy.

A funny thing I've noticed, living in the NJ suburbs of Philly, is that people from the PA suburbs - but not people from Philly proper - seem think that NJ is something like a single point on the map, existing at the centroid of the actual NJ (or maybe some arbitrary place at the Jersey Shore). It's as though no matter where you live in NJ, it must be kind of far away from wherever you are in PA, and that any other place in NJ is in pretty much the same place.

A couple anecdotes:

I needed to replace some pavers in the sidewalk at my old house, and the closest place I could find the ones I needed was in Upper Darby, PA. When it somehow came up that I had come from NJ to get the pavers, the sales guys asked why I didn't go to Brick, NJ (no pun intended) to buy them.

Well, maybe because Upper Darby is about a third as far away as Brick, despite requiring a state-border crossing.

Or the time we struck up a conversation with the guys tailgating next to us at an Eagles game. They were from Drexel Hill, PA. They felt the need to explain to us that Drexel Hill was a suburb of Philadelphia, as though we had never heard of it, and assumed that we had no idea where anything was in Philadelphia, because we were from this strange, faraway land called "New Jersey." Meanwhile it took us half as long to drive to the stadium as it took them.

It's like there's some strange time-space portal at the midpoint of the Walt Whitman Bridge, rather than an invisible line having no thickness whatsoever, separating PA from NJ.

Cleek, I think there is a real difference whether you live in town (including in a suburb) or out in the country.

Growing up, we were 5 miles out of town. (Today, the subdivisions run out past where I grew up, for another 3-4 miles. But that's now.) The bus ran another half dozen miles out. It was our responsibility** to get ourselves together in the morning to catch the bus -- 7:05 AM pick-up. (After dropping us at school, it had to make another run. Nobody ever seemed concerned that we were on our own, unsupervised, at school for most of an hour every morning. And again after school, before the bus got back from its first run to deal with us.)

If we missed the bus, or if it was just a nice day, we rode our bikes to school. I think the first time I (accidentally) missed the bus and had to ride to school was about 3rd grade. 5 miles seems longer when your legs are shorter, even on a bike.

And there was a hill midway to school. So yes, it really was up hill both ways! ;-)

In summer, we rode our bikes in to town to the high school pool to swim. Or to the library.

A five mile bike ride was just . . . normal.

** I could do a whole 'nother post on how growing up on a farm forces you to learn responsibility in a way that growing in down doesn't. Or have I done that one already...?

I could do a whole 'nother post on how growing up on a farm forces you to learn responsibility in a way that growing in down doesn't.

Rural elitists are always putting us city folk down.

hsh -- funny stories.

wj -- not sure about town vs country. I've known of fairly young kids -- even now -- navigating the bus and subway systems in Boston and NY. I think it depends on a lot of things, not least how much responsibility a child's parents are willing to grant and foster.

When my son was growing up he had a huge appetite, and he didn't like the schedule according to which I produced meals. (Granted, I was a bit slack in that department sometimes.) He learned to make his own spaghetti with garlic butter, and his own baked chicken and potatoes, when he was 7 or 8 years old.

When he was younger than that, we used to have fights every Saturday morning in soccer season because he was never ready on time. I would nag, and nag, and it did no good, he was still always dawdling. Finally one Saturday morning I handed him a list of what he had to gather and do to be ready and said "Be ready by 9:45 or we're not going." We never had a problem again.

Point being: I think it's more a personality (both parents and children) and context thing than a city/country thing. Just trying to provoke a debate that isn't about politics! ;-)

And if you (wj) have done a post on that topic, I haven't seen it. (But I was often AWOL for several years......)

HSH, some typos are just SO embarrassing

I don't really know how many miles it is but I drove Georgia to Dallas and then to Bisbee a bunch of times(5). When you leave Dallas for Bisbee, through the high plains of Texas and then across the continental divide, you could really not steer except right around El Paso.

I should be in Boston in the fall, I will buy for anyone that is willing to have a drink with me. JanieM especially, I swear I'm a nice guy.

JanieM especially, I swear I'm a nice guy.


OK, not a post but maybe a brief comment.

When I was growing up, local merchants routinely hired high school kids for summer jobs. (And, in smaller numbers, for after school jobs during the year.) Given a choice, they would always hire "farm kids." Always.

Why? If you grow up on a farm, you have chores, often involving feed and water for the animals. If you don't do the chores, animals start dying. So you learn to do them reliably. No matter if you have other things you would rather be doing. No matter if the weather is miserable out. No matter if you are sick in bed -- you could probably arrange for someone else to do your chores in that case, but it was still your responsibility to make those arrangements. And the merchants knew that.

Town kids might be, probably were, perfectly responsible and reliable. But with farm kids, it was a safe bet for them. And, not surprisingly, they would opt for the sure thing.

You can never become a "naturalized" Mainer…even if, like my daughter, you were brought here when you were six weeks old.

If the cat had her kittens in the oven, we wouldn't call them biscuits.

I could do a whole 'nother post on how growing up on a farm forces you to learn responsibility in a way that growing in down doesn't

As the product of a decidedly suburban upbringing, I find this completely believable.

Well, I commute 55 miles each way each day. All of it in California.

I'm particularly tickled by the New England subthread as I have some friends from Massachusetts so that I've driven across the state lengthwise a couple of times.
Somehow, in my memory, it seems at least as far across the width of Massachusetts as it does to the Oregon border from San Francisco, even though it's less than half the distance.

You can never become a "naturalized" Mainer…even if, like my daughter, you were brought here when you were six weeks old.
If the cat had her kittens in the oven, we wouldn't call them biscuits.

Ha ha. And yet, it's possible to become an "American" even if your mother had you in outer Mongolia.

And there are folks who work in Silicon Valley, whose homes are like 100 miles from work. (Say Lodi or even Manteca.) Thus do zoning laws create long commutes . . . and greenhouse gasses in a nominally very green state.

And yet, it's possible to become an "American" even if your mother had you in outer Mongolia.

Not to hear some people tell it. But then, for some you aren't a real American unless your ancestors have been here for at least 4 generations.

I've encountered people who liked long commutes. They considered that their personal time away from family and work.

A heads up for Count for his upcoming journey - there aren't any direct ways to get across north Georgia going east/west. There are these big, tree covered hills, called mountains here (humor the locals), that the roads have to weave around. Everything should be a full, deep green during your visit.

Since Alaska airline cancelled our planned flight and left several hundred people distributed over flight for two days, and since that left us in LAS VEGAS in 117 degree heat, my vacation parter and I dronve home. That's LV to Tacoma WA. We left at eleven in the morning and arrived at nine the next morning with a brief stop for sleep. I mention this because...I am proud of myself! I didnt know I could do that much driving at my age! Also, just as a warning, traffic is heavy all the way from LV to Salt lAKE, with everyone careening along in a mad pack at between inety and one hundred (exce tfor the idiots who camp out in teh hast lane and drive eighty) and Slat Lake is a horrible vortex of traffic which took and hour and half to extricate ourselves. FWIW

Lovely thread and welcome is(de)! A question from me.

I grew up in Maryland, PG county to be exact, and my dad's sisters lived in Montgomery County (1 h away) and Gettysburg PA (2h away). For us, the 1 hour trip was a weekend thing, the 2 h was at least a long weekend. Move to MS in JHS and all of a sudden, people are driving up from the coast to Starkville, 4 hours OMG! Slowly get used to that, and then start meeting people from TX who drive 5 hrs one way just to go shopping and my horn teacher at uni, from Iowa, tells of driving 7,8 hours to gigs and driving back the same day.

I was never sure if this was part of being a kid and your ability to handle stretches of time or a difference in geography. What does everyone think (who has/had kids) How do kids handle these 3,4 or 7,8 hour drives?

"How do kids handle these 3,4 or 7,8 hour drives?"

Fights in the back seats.

Somehow, in my memory, it seems at least as far across the width of Massachusetts as it does to the Oregon border from San Francisco

Route 128 and the Pike will do that to ya.

Thanks, priest.

I was looking at Route 20 out of Birmingham, Alabama into Atlanta and then northeast thru the mountains to the Knoxville/Gatlinburg area, though now that you mention, to save time I might take 59 north out of Birmingham into Tennessee and just nip the northwest corner of Georgia.

I keep things fluid. Like Henderson the Rain King, I stop at intervals and take a little jog around the car or up and down the rest stop to keep the legs from seizing up and to summon the old grun-tu-molani of I want, I want.

As to lj's "How do kids ...?" question, my one brother and I rode backwards in the far backseat of the Olds Vista Cruiser (pretty soon after totaled by that same brother when he came of age; I believe he was airborne for some alarming distance; probably had a concussion, but lived, and still does, to total four more of our mother's cars over the next 45 years, two of his own, at least one motorcycle and I believe he took a riding lawnmower into a ravine once while trying to do a handstand on the steering device) in comas and missed the entire trip.

"Why didn't you wake us?" was one of our frequent annoying questions 50 miles past some scenic wonder.

The two little sisters were in the middle seat and my other younger brother sat upfront with my mother with multiple maps spread out on his lap navigating for my mother, who didn't let us forget her undying devotion and favoritism towards him for those good deeds until .... forgetting became her main activity.

She loved all of us, but he knew how to get on her good side, which really, is the only side she had. Ha!

I'll see him in Gatlinberg.


Yeah, I remember my Dad when he was living suddenly and thrillingly swerving whatever station wagon it was at high speeds on to the shoulder of highways, gravel flying, and giving us the stink eye in the rear view mirror until we settled down in the backseat, sometimes threatening to leave one more of we boys right there if we thought the car wasn't big enough for peaceful co-existence.

"Frank!", my mother would protest. "My God!!"

Then pulling back on to the highway and trying to play yet MORE cow poker and remain silent, hoping the other one didn't see as we passed a cemetery on my side.

I had an uncle who on family trips would take off a shoe and throw if over his shoulder into the back seats when the cousins were acting up.

They all died in a fiery wreck on the Interstate.

No, they didn't.

when i was a kid, my family would make periodic pilgrimages to GA to visit my old man's family.

mom, dad, and four kids, in a 60's vintage mercury comet. that was not a large car.

my old man would drive straight through, long island to GA. I-95 wasn't completely finished, so lots of local roads through the carolinas. stops for the bathroom and meals, otherwise no breaks. probably something like 24 hours straight, at that time.

i have no idea how we got through it without losing our minds.

It occurs to me now that "kids today" probably have their faces buried in their smart phones for the duration of trips, peering at photographs of the sights going by the car window.

It occurs to me now that "kids today" probably have their faces buried in their smart phones for the duration of trips, peering at photographs of the sights going by the car window.

How do kids handle these 3,4 or 7,8 hour drives?

When I was little, my folks gave me Dramamine. Nominally to stop car sickness, but in reality to put me and my sister out cold for three hours.

By the time I had kids there were more in-car entertainment options, especially music. I liked Tom Chapin's "Don't Make Me Go to School Today" lyrics set to the Swan Lake theme. As they got older, it was amusing to look in the rear view mirror and watch them listening individually, one head bobbing up-and-down at one tempo and the other side-to-side at a different tempo.

Today my granddaughter has a tablet with every kind of music known to mankind and a dozen Disney movies.

A Texan is visiting a Vermonter.
Texan: "My spread back home is so big, I can get in my car in the morning, drive all day, and still be on my own property at sundown."
Vermonter: "Ayup. I had a car like that once."

One time, I "commuted" to work from Bellagio, Italy to Kaufbeuren, Germany, crossing 3 national borders in the process. This was back in the ancient days before the EU existed. Google tells me the route I took (probably; I can't actually remember) is 425km without the short ferry ride across Lake Como.

In Kaufbeuren, a town of about 15K souls, there were 5 (five!) Greek restaurants. Also at least 2 Italian restaurants which served pizza -- with corn kernels as a basic topping along with tomato sauce and mozarella.

One marketing guy that worked in Kaufbeuren in those days, and routinely visited the surrounding countries, kept four different wallets on his person, each containing cash in a different currency. Funny thing is, Southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Northern Italy are (were?) basically a single culture.

If the Count makes it to Boston, I will suspend all other recreations, paid or not, to meet him. Beer and chasers are on me.

Same goes for Marty, who will find that I, too am a nice guy -- who thinks Marty is wrong about every single thing :)


El Paso is closer to San Diego than it is to Texarkana. Texarkana is closer to Chicago than it is to El Paso!

That said, If a road trip is going to run over 4 hours each way I'm on a plane. I'd never dream of driving to either El Paso or Texarkana!

When I was little, my folks gave me Dramamine. Nominally to stop car sickness, but in reality to put me and my sister out cold for three hours.

I thought that was what Paregoric was for.

NJ is really three places, New Hope where we could buy beer 40 odd years ago, Margate where we drank it in large quantities for Memorial Day weekend (bar closed with God Bless America and we were all Flyers fans for those days) and Camden just over the bridge at the law school.

Oh and the turnpike where you always have to pay to get out of New Jersey.

Other than historical accident, El Paso really ought to be part of New Mexico. El Paso is part of the Western Interconnect electric grid, not the Texas Interconnect. Huge Spanish-language bus service from Denver down to El Paso on I-25, then west to San Diego on I-10 and I-8.

Stratford, TX, up at the top of the Texas Panhandle, is closer to the capital cities of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico than it is to the capital of Texas.

At least the Paregoric came in honey, at least mine always did.

I drove 2800 miles roundtrip three or 4 times a year from 2012 to 2016. I love to drive at night and can do the 1400 in 22 hrs with a short nap, but mostly 24. Driving I-95 from MA to FL is all about getting from richmond to RI between 7 at night and 6 in the morning. Both ways. But the GW after 10 is best.

When I lived in New Jersey many years ago, I used to give people directions to my parents' house in Nebraska to demonstrate how f*cked up the highways/streets in NJ were: "You can get on the Garden State Parkway going north? Okay, when you get to I-80, take I-80 west. Watch out for the tricky interchange in Chicago. When you get to the 84th street exit in Omaha (about 24 hours), get off and go south. Fourth traffic light, about five miles, turn right. It's the white house with the flat garage roof on the left a block in."

I'm kinda wan, mousy, and quiet in person.

You'll know me by the monocle and the pageboy.

Sometimes when I get exercised, my glass eye pops out and rolls under the table.

Pants are usually optional.

I love to drive at night

Finally, something we have in common. ;-)


All these driving stories remind me that when I was in college, you could drive from my home in Ohio to the MIT campus without hitting a traffic light: around a few small-town corners to Ohio-11 to I-90. Off I-90 in Cambridge, and it's hard to believe, but there was a way to do it without hitting a light.

My very untraveled parents took me the first time, Sept. 1968, and we immediately got lost in some sketchy part of Boston. My dad, a firefighter, was dismayed to find out that a Boston firefighter couldn't give him directions to MIT. A cabby finally set us straight.

Then a campus cop told us to break the law by double-parking long enough to unload my stuff into the dorm, and my dad was too overwhelmed by the whole experience to spend even one night in Cambridge. To my mom's dismay, he made sure I was in the right place, helped me take my stuff (not all that much, by today's standards) into the dorm, and headed back west.

Here's a wonderful video of driving around Boston and Cambridge in 1964: quite unbelievable if you know the area now, but...it sure brings back memories.

New Hope, PA is one of my favorite places in NJ.

There was lots of alcohol involved. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

It is right on the border, so you get a Mulligan.

On parochialism in New England:
Sometime around 1900, a Boston matron and her daughter made a train trip to San Fransisco. Asked by friends there what route they took, the Boston dowager replied: "Oh, we took the southern route. We went through Dedham."

For Janie, my favorite Mainer story:
A man goes into a general store in South Paris ME and buys some stuff. The total comes to $13.50 including tax. The man lays a $10, 3 $1s and 2 quarters on the counter and, seeing the storekeeper look at it funny, asks "Is that enough?" Replies the storekeeper: "Just barely."


God, I remember driving through Ohio and Indiana in the middle of the summer humidity without air conditioning, the windows full open.

From eastern Long Island, north shore. It’s not Levittown or Massapequa, I usually need to explain. In fact it used to be mostly potato and cauliflower farms. The duck farms were mostly gone by the time I was born. Now it’s vineyards everywhere, but that’s another topic.

At my folks house my cel phone often connects to a nearby tower… in Bridgeport, CT. And that’s kinda what it felt like growing up - a lot more New England than New York. Best of both worlds, I thought. Country-esque living, but 2 hours and change into Penn Station by train.

Anyway, I’ve been informed by my wife (who hails from Augusta) on multiple occasions that I am not a true New Englander. I’m granted honorary status here and there. But Mainer? Oh, that’s right out. I’m from away, and that’s that.

I don’t care. I’m retiring there anyway.

But Mainer? Oh, that’s right out. I’m from away, and that’s that.

You're doing a pretty good imitation of the lingo, though. I'm sure you'll fit right in.


Tony P. -- that made me laugh out loud.

You're doing a pretty good imitation of the lingo, though. I'm sure you'll fit right in.

Thanks! I'm working on it, but there's this Red Sox thing...


Dad got transferred for a year when I was very young. So LI to Rancho Palos Verdes, CA in a 1968 navy blue Plymouth sedan of some sort. No A/C, of course. Southern route out, through Texas, N.Mex, Arizona (summer - navy blue vinyl interior!), and northern route back to see Sequoia, Crater, Ranier, etc… Never made it up to Banff, to Dad’s chagrin. But what an invaluable thing, to see so much of the country at such a young age!

hsh, seriously we went there from Warminster because I was old enough to buy beer in NJ, so being on the border was the important part.

but there's this Red Sox thing...

Do you mean that you're not a Red Sox fan?

I'm a lifelong Yankee fan and no one seems to care. I feel like people get much more exercised about the Patriots than the Red Sox these days, but it could be that I just hang around in the wrong (or right?) circles. I.e., not rabid sports fans of whatever stripe.

When I was 5, in the fall of 1952, my parents, brother, and I took the red-eye (although I doubt that the term existed then) from SF to Chicago. And then took a DC3 on to Detroit to pick up our new car. I can remember seeing it coming off the assembly line, with the forks thru the windows. They put in a gallon of gas for us, and we just drove off. (When we got home, our mechanic was horrified.)

I don't recall the visit with Grandmother in Chicago. Nor the drive home on Route 66. (This was, of course, pre Interstate highways.) But one story made it into family lore. Crossing New Mexico, we hit black ice. Fortunately, no traffic, 'cause we swerved into the oncoming lane, before Dad recovered. As my folks are sitting there shaking in the front seat, my little brother (age 3) yells "Do it again, Daddy! Do it again!" Ah, kids.

Do you mean that you're not a Red Sox fan?

Still a Long Island kid, so Mets, Islanders, and... Seahawks (long story). My in-laws in the Northport/Belfast area watch every game, and my wife's company is based out of Tewksbury, so we get the nice corporate tix every now and again. 3 hours and change to Boston for us, so it usually requires an overnight if we're going to take advantage of the bar, which we do. I suspect they're trying to convert me.

As for the Patriots, I was offered tix to the Pats/'Hawks Super Bowl in Phoenix. For free, we just had to get out there. Of course, we couldn't pass up the opportunity and the seats were 29th row, on the 20 yard line. I couldn't believe our luck! And it was a great game for me until about the last 30 seconds. And now I'll never hear the end of it. Why, oh why, didn't you hand it off to Marshawn???!

but i'm not bitter.

I wish I was coming to Boston for the Count, JanieM, TonyP and Marty proposed drinks meet-up!

And I wish I was about to drive across America on a long road trip. I frequently fantasise about driving around the backroads of the South for months, with the trees dripping spanish moss. Or various other long, American road trips. I was heavily influenced by reading William Least-Heat-Moon's Blue Highways at an impressionable age, and my LA-Santa Fe trip cemented it. The thing about what I remember of your Interstates versus our Motorways is that (I guess because of the distances involved) your Interstates are so basic: just one lane in each direction, with no barrier in the middle and and frequently no made-road on the sides. It's so relaxing, and particularly since very often you're the only car in sight. Our Motorways (and I think all European motorways, autobahns etc) are always fairly crowded, even at night. Ah, the romance of the wide open spaces!

Follow up for Count: I was thinking you were looking at non-interstate routes for crossing north Georgia. But if you're going for speed then I-59 north out of Birmingham is the way to go. Avoiding metro Atlanta highways will be good for your blood pressure, plus we're due for another road disaster, it's been a few months since the bridge fire and sinkholes.

GftNC: I first read Blue Highways 26 years ago, it definitely makes one itchy to hit the road. As for US highways, the Interstate Highway System is, almost universally, designed as limited access with at least two lanes of travel in each direction, varying types of medians/barriers, and paved shoulders/emergency lanes (though I believe in the early days there were sections in the west that were not originally constructed to that standard). Federally funded US Highways came earlier, and currently vary a great deal in design, with many in rural, lightly-traveled areas matching your description, as do most state highways and numbered county roads.

Last summer I took a long road trip for the first time in years, almost all of my distance driving has been round trips from Atlanta to Tallahassee and Atlanta to Tybee Island. For Road Trip 2016 I planned stops in places to visit friends, some that I had not seen in many years. Two nights in Pearl/Jackson MS, two nights in Austin (my first Airbnb!), two nights in Tulsa, three nights in KC, then one night in Paducah, KY on the way back. Longest segment was Pearl to Austin, a bit over 9 hours, heavy early morning fog (6-7am) between Pearl and Vicksburg.

though I believe in the early days there were sections in the west that were not originally constructed to that standard

IIRC from the information at the stops, the 12-mile section of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon in Colorado was the last part of the original Interstate System to go four lanes -- it was finished in 1992. Through parts of the canyon, it feels very much like the roadways are hung on the canyon walls, one above the other -- spectacular engineering. Rockfalls regularly reduce the highway to two lanes, or even close it. At ~$40M/mile, that stretch of interstate is far and away the most expense rural highway in the country.

There are reasons that the major transportation corridor through the Rockies is (and has always been) farther north, through the South Pass region in Wyoming.

I'm not 100% sure of the accuracy of this summary, but I heard that the US highway and interstate systems were both a result of Pres. Eisenhower.

As a young officer in WWI, he was given the job of evaluating how the road network could help the war effort, and let the brass know how bad it was.

Then, between the wars, he was involved in getting the US highway network up and running.

Plus, and President, getting the interstates started. Everyone knows the story about Eisenhower's reaction to seeing Autobahns; it's the earlier part that puts it in context.

The way I heard the story, Eisenhower was massively impressed by the Autobahns, which he saw at the end of WW II. So as President, he pushed for legislation to build something similar here. (Primary justification was military / national security, with constitutional cover from the interstate commerce clause.)

So my memory is not of your Interstates at all, by the sound of things. I wonder what I was on from LA to Santa Fe, because the roads were mainly as I describe, going through the most wonderful, haunting desert. And the only other vehicles I saw were usually trucks, which to European eyes are very different and exotic. The only disadvantage was that for very long stretches I could get no radio stations other than Christian ones, or Country music stations, and in those days I hated Country music. But in almost every respect it was a perfect trip; I stopped at the Grand Canyon on my way there, and Monument Valley on my way back - the latter a much more profound experience, and also went to the Hoover Dam which I found amazing. I'm not much of a sightseer in general, but the scenery of the American West ravished me - I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

For us Finns driving outside the country is somewhat difficult. Most of the population is centered in the Southern part of the country, and the land connection to Sweden and Norway is far up north. Actually, the border has been completely open, without any border control or need for passports since 1955, so driving in Norway and Sweden is something you might do for fun on vacations, but unless you live in the North, you will not do it by lark, as it is about eight hours' drive from Helsinki to the Swedish border and about fifteen to the Norwegian border.

In practice, if you want to drive to rest of Europe, you will need to take a boat to Sweden, Estonia or Germany, and even then, it is a long ride to get to Central Europe. In theory, it is quite possible to drive to or through Russia, but you'll need a visa, and unless you are a seasoned Russia hand, you will not drive there for fun.

So for us living in Southern Finland, road traffic looks a lot like living on an island.

The version I remember is that as a major in the early 1920s he was charged with bringing an armored division from the West Coast to the East Coast and it took six weeks. Then he saw the Autobahns. The military was involved in at least some of the decision making: the west terminus of I-70 was supposed to be in Denver, but the Army really, really wanted a second route across the middle of the Rockies.

This was in 1993 or 4 by the way, so according to Michael Cain's info those roads definitely weren't Interstates. I'd just assumed they were, since it was a pretty long trip and through a few states - how naive of me!

Wikipedia tells us "Much of the western part of I-40, from Oklahoma City to Barstow, parallels or overlays the historic U.S. Route 66". From a quick search it appears construction in the west was ongoing in the 60s and 70s, with the last portion in New Mexico not completed until 1984. So you may have been on US 66 for a good chunk of the way.

I wonder what I was on from LA to Santa Fe, because the roads were mainly as I describe, going through the most wonderful, haunting desert.

Most likely the remains of the old Route 66 (justifiably) of song and legend. Although no longer an official part of the US highway system, most of the two-lane parts across the Southwest have been maintained by the states for tourism under the moniker "Scenic Route 66". It does run through some truly stunning scenery.

Much of the western part of I-40, from Oklahoma City to Barstow, parallels or overlays the historic U.S. Route 66.

Keeping in mind that this is the West where, except when constrained by mountain passes, "parallels" can easily mean "over there 30 or 40 miles" :^) It is often said that I-80 across Wyoming "parallels" the route of the original Transcontinental Railroad, even though there are places where the routes diverge by more then 50 miles. The Interstate engineers had a lot more money, better technology, and somewhat different design constraints than the people who laid out Route 66.

It may have been said above, but there are also small-i "interstates" -- i.e. federal highways that aren't big-I "Interstates" -- webbing the country.

If we hadn't wanted to drive between Ohio and Cambridge as fast as possible back when I was in school, we could have taken US Route 20, which runs through my home town and heads east to end in Kenmore Square in Boston. (You could also take it west to Seattle...)

Route 20 goes through the downtowns of every little town along the way (okay, that may be a slight exaggeration), so it's a very slow way to get across the country.

Eisenhower's six-week trip, mentioned by Michael Cain, was, according to Wikipedia, on US Route 30, a.k.a. the Lincoln Highway, in 1919:

The Interstate Highway System gained a champion in President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was influenced by his experiences as a young Army officer crossing the country in the 1919 Army Convoy on the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America.

I stopped at the Grand Canyon on my way there, and Monument Valley on my way back - the latter a much more profound experience.

I've never been to Monument Valley, so I can't compare the two. But if you didn't go down into the Canyon, you didn't get the full experience, and you should go back and do that if you ever get a chance. (I don't do "shoulds" very often. :-)

From the rim the Canyon looks like every postcard image of it that you ever saw. Hiking down into it is ... otherworldly. I did three hiking trips there in my wild youth, one that lasted two weeks. It's just unbelievable.

Also not a hike to take lightly. Desert conditions, reverse of mountain-climbing, etc.

I hiked in a lot of places out west in the good old days, and the Grand Canyon and Olympic National Park are set apart from everything else in my memories...in my heart, really. The coastal strip of ONP -- well, there was a time when I and my compadres from those days were thinking of moving out there, and for many years I thought that's where I'd go if I knew ahead of time that I was dying.

Then I saw Maine and settled for the toy version. Which, repeating myself I know, I love; I don't say that to demean it. But I would still like to see the Olympics again -- maybe one of these years.

The US Numbered Highway System has a fascinating history. It is handled by an association of state representatives (the feds have a rep, but that rep doesn't vote). Construction and maintenance is done by the states, sometimes with and sometimes without federal dollars.


For most of us Finns, the Russian road network is something not personally known. That country is huge, and though it is just over the border, visiting it is a bit of a hassle: you'll need a visa, and unless you speak Russian, you don't want to drive there. An encounter with traffic police that only speaks Russian is rather possible, and very unpleasant if you don't speak it. Essentially, only experienced Russia hands go drive in Russia. Even then, most would limit their visit to Vyborg or St. Petersburg. Personally, I would not dare park a Finnish-registered car in St. Petersburg. My car's insurance does not cover theft in Russia. (I understand that currently, Murmansk and everything within 300 km from the Arctic Sea is border zone and closed to foreigners, so it is not a place available for tourism.) In many ways the border towards Russia is not just a line on the map. It is a bit like metaphysical border between two universes.

For us living in Southern Finland, then, Finland looks rather like an island. The Swedish and Norwegian borders are, since 1955, open and without passport controls (or even a requirement to carry an ID). However, it takes about eight hours to drive to the Swedish border from Helsinki, and Norwegian border is some fifteen hours away. More importantly, the areas of Sweden and Norway behind the border are, with the marked exception of Haparanda, wilderness devoid of anything very interesting, unless you want to visit Nordkap. So, for most touristic purposes, you'll need to take a ferry to Estonia, Sweden or Germany to get to see Central Europe.

My single greatest excursion was a nine-day raft trip from Lake Powell to Lake Mead.

JanieM, I believe you. As soon as I read it I saw the truth of what you said, (although I am not a hiker). And maybe that's why Monument Valley was so wonderful: you don't view it from a tourist point above, you drive down a steep, very bad rutted, track (I wondered whether my rental car was going to make it, and wished I was in a 4x4) and then suddenly there you are, alone and driving through the landscape of every western you ever saw, in all its weird, red mesa-strewn beauty. It's like Mars, and you're (or at least I was) alone in it. It's in the Navajo nation, and although I think some people do live there in small encampments, I don't recall seeing any. It was the most extraordinary experience, and lives in my heart too, just like you said.

For stretches in California and Arizona there are state roads that carry the number 66 that run near the I-40 route, with, as Michael Cain notes, some significant divergences. I-25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe is concurrent with what had been US 85; a bit east of that is New Mexico state road 14, just took a quick look with Google Street View and it's definitely a two lane road through wide open spaces. Need to step outside and catch the sunset.

I was in Monument Valley about three weeks ago. The raod in is terrifiying. I thought my rental car would get a flat and there I would be trying to fix in in one hudred and ten dgree weather. I had lots of company: the Navajos habe jeep ride concessionaires. I was with a friend who is Native American, coastal Salish. There was a covered market of Navajo crafts. We stopped, and my freind got into a conversation with one of the sellers. She was with her family and they spoke their native language. In fact Ithink her dad didnt speak much English. He had memorixed a sale pitch but could not respond to comments or questions. Anyway my fried made th ecomment ath tshe had not grown up on the reserve and felt cut off from her history That opened a flood gate and the Navajo seller, the duaghter, dropped the sales pitch and went into the history of her family's connection to MV, the sybolic meaing of various materials for the crafts, the hsitory of symbols used (they were using a lot of Anasazi petroglyph images) and more. My freind was looking for that kind of conncetion and the vist was prfoundly meaning ful to her. I was not moved by the landscape; the jeeps were noisy (had piped music) and I was scared of the drive back. HOwever, I was glad to spend money directly to triabl members rather than through a trading post and I now have a lovely smoke fired ceramic tortoise to help me remeber how wonderful it was to get a glimpse into they way Navajo traditions are surviving and living on.

The navojo artist was wearing a tshirt that said, " Iloved American before it was America>

Sounds like when I was there they hadn't got their act together, tourist-wise, so I was lucky. Given this description, I'll never try to go back...

Need to step outside and catch the sunset.

We're approaching my favorite time of year in the Southwest -- the North American Monsoon. Gorgeous sunny mornings, and who knows what in the afternoon. Might be sunny all day; or maybe the thunderstorms will bloom.

Summer of '95 I worked in Prescott, and sometimes on days off I would go "down the hill", as they said, to hang out with my friend who had hooked me up with the job, in Tempe. I was a bit perplexed to hear about a Monsoon that might or might not include any actual rain. Having grown up in the southeast, with the perpetual summer forecast of "widely scattered late afternoon to evening thundershowers", may have had something to do with that. Did see some impressive lightning, though.

Once great thing about monsoons in Phoenix, at least sometimes, is the rapid drop in temperature - like 30 or more degrees in about 20 minutes. It doesn't last, but it's fun.

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