Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back in the I-Life

I'm one of those people who remembers things by the calendar year in which they occurred.  I will tie a particular event to its numeric year and then mentally index it, so that when that year is mentioned at a later date, it will elicit some kind of response in me, sometimes good, sometimes bad.  My friends and family know this, so when it's family storytelling time, I'm often asked to recall the year that some event or the other happened.  It's never anything as earth-shattering as the first moon landing (1969) or the year JFK was assassinated (1963), but rather something like the year our dinner preparations almost set the Point Mugu State Park campground on fire -- that was 1969.  Along these lines, I'm finding that 2010 has earned its own place in my personal history -- to me, it has become the year of Interstate Surfing, the year of the I-Life, as it were, and this is not a bad thing at all.

We tend to take Interstates for granted these days, but they weren't always fixtures on the landscape.  I can recall driving across country from Memphis to Los Angeles in 1959 in a '57 Chevy Bel Air, without air conditioning, with my parents, grandmother and grandfather.  Our road of choice was Route 66, which was colorful and scenic, a treat in those days.  But several days of driving on two-lane stretches was tiring, especially with temperatures so high that we had to put newspapers on the windows to shield us from the heat.  To add to the fun, we blew a tire in both directions when passing through Holbrook, Arizona.  Nowadays, we crank up the air and check the navigation system to see how long it will take us to get to the next Cracker Barrel.

Our daughter Hannah is at college in North Carolina, so several times a year, we make the trip up and back to help her move, to bring provisions to her and to her friends, and to lend a general joie de vivre to the entire college scene (which actually looks like it has plenty of joie).  We've developed a circuit of sorts: we have good friends in both Charlotte, North Carolina, and Johnson City, Tennessee, so we will typically make a roundabout type of drive, attempting to hit both cities in the process.  I-85, I-77, I-40 and I-26 make those trips possible.

About every other year, although not quite as often as in the past, we make the drive from Atlanta to Boston and back to visit my wife Karen's family.  I-85 is always a given, but in North Carolina, one must choose between I-77 to I-81 (the rural route) or I-85 to I-95 (the urban route).  New York itself is just a sublime adventure, and actually quite fun to drive through, I think, given that the roads are actually well marked.  Along such straits as the Cross Bronx Expressway, one can try to guess the make and model of cars from the stripped remains in the breakdown lanes.  Once you're in New England, just about anything goes, and it's all close together.  Generally for us, it's a scenic patchwork quilt of I-84 to I-90, then mainlining the Massachusetts Turnpike (lovingly called the "Mass Pike" by locals) into metropolitan Boston.

It's down to a science with Interstates -- truly, we don't even think about the specifics of our navigation, because it's all in the numbers.  Florida?  I-75 to I-10 over to I-95 (east) or straight down I-75 (west).  Along the Panhandle, it's I-10, all the way to N'awlins.  Headed to Memphis? I-20 to I-22.  Nashville?  I-75 to I-24.  Los Angeles?  I-20 to I-22 to I-40 to I-15 to I-10.  Oh, and I forgot to mention...just getting out of Atlanta often requires traversing I-285, the "Atlanta Bypass", as it is lovingly called on the overhead signs, and 285 is undoubtedly the quintessential driving experience in the South.

The point of all this rambling, and the central question, is: how does this all relate to what will become my future recollection of 2010?  Precisely because of all these travels.  This year, I seem to have spent a lot of time on the I-roads, and there was quality with the quantity.  I went to college a few times, returned home to Memphis for a trip that defined what "home" was all about, spent a wonderful weekend on the Georgia coast, made a bajillion forays into the city, and got to spend priceless time with friends all over the place.  And the whole time, those big green signs pointed me in the right direction, while the little blue ones told me where to find gas.

So it's bon voyage,'s been a fun year of travel.  By the way, I've been wondering...does every Cracker Barrel sell the same stuff?