Note: First published on Blogger on April 24, 2007
Unfolding the Map
Sal gets out into rural California. Hard to believe there is such a thing, right, when most of what is transmitted around the country about California involves glamorous LA city life, or crunchy granola San Francisco city life. Surprise! California is much more rural than urban, at least in land space, and if you throw a dart at a map of California you're probably more likely to stick in the general vicinity of a country-music listening redneck than you are a hip-hop loving, clubbing, partying blonde bombshell starlet of the week. So check the map.
"The first was the mad one, with a burly blond kid in a souped-up rod. 'See that toe?' he said as he gunned the heap to eighty and passed everybody on the road. 'Look at it.' It was swathed in bandages. 'I just had it amputated this morning. The bastards wanted me to stay in the hospital. I packed my bag and left. What's a toe?' Yes, indeed, I said to myself, look out now, and I hung on. You never saw a driving fool like that. He made Tracy in no time. Tracy is a railroad town; brakemen eat surly meals in diners by the tracks. Trains howl away across the valley."
On the Road, Chapter 12
I didn't have an amputated toe, but I drove like that through California once. I was in maybe my second year of college. A friend of mine, John, and I drove down to Walnut Creek where I could visit my sister, who was in the hospital there. On the way back, being youthful, we decided to see how fast we could get back to our hometown. From Walnut Creek, the trip could take about four hours, the last 75 miles or so over winding roads through the coast range to Fort Bragg. We may have been spurred on by a supposed deadline -- John had to be home for dinner or I had to be home for something or other.
So, starting from Walnut Creek, we pushed 90 mph, me driving, while taking the long flat road around the top of the Bay area, then hitting the freeway at highway 101 and heading north. We slowed somewhat through Santa Rosa, but then pushed it again until we got to Cloverdale, where we turned west on CA-128 and drove over to the coast. This was the windy section, but I swear that John, who was driving this part, pushed 60 mph over most of it. We clocked in at 2½ hours, if I remember correctly. Only now when I look back on it am I amazed that we didn't get stopped by a cop, nor did we have a major wreck.
Years later, I learned what Sal is learning while careening with madmen over two-lane highways in rural California. On a month-long trip to Bangladesh, I was driven most everywhere. You can't imagine my thoughts the first time I sat in the back of the vehicle as the driver careened toward a huge truck bearing down on us in the opposite direction. Both blared their horns incessantly and I was certain there would be a head-on. At the last minute, both swerved, still blaring their horns, and passed each other with little room to spare. I was to experience many more moments like that, and learned how to simply go into a Zen-like calm. It is a good day to die, I would say, and simply let it be. Thankfully, I think some sorts of rules of the road that I was not aware of were at work, and I lived.
I don't know anything about Tracy, and I am not even sure if it is still a railroad town. Most likely it isn't, and is a stereotypical sleepy Central Valley farm community, but check out the links below to learn more.
If you want to know more about Tracy:
Next up: Manteca, California