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    On the Road
    by Jack Kerouac
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    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

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Entries in freeway (2)


Blue Highways: Pawcatuck, Connecticut

Unfolding the Map

We cross into Connecticut... the 31st state on the Blue Highways tour.  I have some connection to Connecticut - I used to go there quite a bit to see some friends but I haven't been there in several years now.  I used to go to New York City a lot, and that would bring me to Connecticut.  This post i about how I was intimidated to drive in New York City, until I actually did it.  To see where Pawcatuck sits, follow the freeway to the map.

Book Quote

"When I crossed the Pawcatuck River into Pawcatuck, Connecticut, just up the old Post Road from Wequetequock, I realized I was heading straight into New York City.  I had two choices: drive far inland to bypass it or take the New London-Orient Point ferry to Long Island and cut through the bottom edge of the Apple."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 6

Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck, Connecticut. Photo by Jennifer and Pat at their Road Trip Memories blog. Click on photo to go to host page.Pawcatuck, Connecticut

It's hard for me to believe, but there was a time when I'd have avoided New York City.

Don't get me wrong.  I understand LHM's reasons for trying to find a way that minimized his exposure to NYC.  After all, Blue Highways states very clearly at the beginning that LHM's purposes is to find the roads less traveled.  He is not, in any sense of the word, a socially anxious person.

He is unlike my parents, for example, who avoided cities if they could help it.  We lived in a rural town with a population of just over 5,000 people.  The biggest city that my parents cared to visit regularly was a town of about 50,000 two hours drive distant, and they only did that for medical reasons or perhaps to do some shopping.  Since the mall was just off the freeway, or in other words easy to get into and easy to get out of, that suited them just fine.  When we did have to go farther, to San Francisco or Oakland for example, that was occasion for anxiety.  I've already written about how horrible it was for them to take a wrong turn or get off on the wrong exit.

I was a little different.  Something in me sought out the challenges of cities.  When I left California at age 22, I went to live in Milwaukee.  Milwaukee was large, about 500,000 people, and it felt like a big city.  Driving in Milwaukee, especially on the freeways, was fun because you had to be aware at all times.  Milwaukee was one of those cities that was built first, and when freeways came around they just threw them into places where they might best fit.  Curves were sharp and one had to watch for exits as they would just sneak up on you and before you knew it, you'd have passed them.  There was even a "bridge to nowhere," that was part of a lakefront freeway that never quite happened.  The freeway crossed the bridge over the harbor area and then, abruptly, ended in the quaint neighborhood of Bay View.

Chicago was Milwaukee times ten.  Miles and miles of freeways seemingly plunked down in the middle and the outskirts of the city.  As I drove through, looking up at the tall buildings, they seemed to almost mock me in my puny car, as if I and the rest of the little ants driving in didn't belong there.  Chicago was always filled with pitfalls.  Exits that one had to watch for on both sides, construction continually happening that blocked exits and made one detour.  Traffic jams that slowed things to a crawl and made a usual half-hour trip past downtown turn into two hours or more.  Aggressive drivers that scared the hell out of the rookie Chicago driver.  Toll booths where you literally tossed coins into a basket and hoped that the little green light flashed on.  Yet I never avoided downtown Chicago.  I could have taken the I-294 loop around the city, but I loved the challenge and I loved the views and therefore I always aimed my vehicle for the heart of downtown.

I never avoided the downtowns of any other city either.  Even if it meant taking less time off my trip, I drove through downtown Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Indianapolis just to see them.  But New York City was a different animal.  I was intimidated by that city.  I had never been there, but just the reputation alone, built up by reputation passed on through books, television, movies and word-of-mouth and other sources had me convinced that one needed to be an expert to drive there.  So it was with great trepidation that I took my first driving trip from Milwaukee to New York.  It seemed simple enough.  I would cross the George Washington Bridge, take the first exit and find a friend's place on the upper West Side just a stone's throw from the bridge.  It was intimidating, but I did it.  When I parked the car, I felt like the member of an exclusive club.  Nobody I had grown up with had ever driven in New York City!

Of course, that's all I did.  And even parking the car was a problem.  The next morning when I got up I was warned that I should check on my car because it was garbage day.  I ran out to find the street empty save for my car, which was adorned with a large ticket and a big red sticker on the the window that declared how my car had impeded that day's city services.  I drove with my scarlet letter to find another parking place and cursed what seemed a huge amount for a ticket.

Being there, however, led me to be courageous enough to drive one of the freeways, at least for a look.  It was intimidating, but doable.  And I got over my fear of driving in New York City.  I must say that I didn't do much penetration of the streets where the taxi-cabs rule.  But, I learned that any city in America is drivable if one pays attention and doesn't take loud horns too seriously.

Today, I like to think I'd drive anything.  My next goal, something I've never tried, is to drive in a foreign country (not including Canada, where I've already driven).  I'd start out with an easy one, where they drive on the right like in the US.  Then, perhaps, I'd try a country like England or Ireland where the traffic moves on the left side of the road.  I must say, I'm probably too intimidated to try driving in a place like Rome, where it seems that it would take years of study to know what the unwritten rules of the road are.  I would have to say the same for India or another developing country metropolis.  There are both written and unwritten rules for driving in those places, but the rules are too convoluted for me to follow and would take being a true native to understand.

But, you never know.

Musical Interlude

I'm going to repeat this song from an earlier post.  I was driving through Chicago and this song, Midnight Oil's Dreamworld, came on WXRT, and it was the perfect song for driving at 65 down the freeway toward the city.


If you want to know more about Pawcatuck

Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce
Wikipedia: Pawcatuck

Next up: Mystic, Connecticut


Blue Highways: Jackson, Mississippi

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapWe skirt the environs of Jackson with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) who thinks urban sprawl is like an aneurism.  That's a pretty cool metaphor, in my opinion.  To check out where Jackson is, and even perhaps use Google Maps to look at the urban sprawl thirty years later, click on the thumbnail of the map at the right.  Leave a comment if you've been in Jackson, or just want to say hi.

Book Quote

"Then I went back to the Trace and followed dusk around the spread of Jackson highways that had broken open like aneurisms and leaked out strawberry-syrup pancakes, magic-finger motel beds, and double-cheese pizzas."

Blue Highways: Part 3, Chapter 6


Downtown Jackson, Mississippi. Click on image to go to host site.

Jackson, Mississippi

I've never been to Jackson.  My experience in Mississippi is limited to traveling on I-10 from New Orleans to my wife's parents' home in Sarasota, Florida.  Basically, my experience has been passing by casinos as the interstate bypasses small Gulf cities like Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.

In one way, I am of two minds about the sprawl and spread of cities.  When I was a child, I used to love when we drove from my small town down to the Bay Area.  When we got close to San Francisco and Oakland, I was fascinated by the urban city-scapes.  The tall buildings with their shapes (the TransAmerica Pyramid was a favorite of mine).  But what I really enjoyed was the freeway over and underpasses, particualarly those "cloverleaf" formations that accompanied interchanges.  The roads wound smoothly in arcing curves, up and over, and then back down - but repeated.  On those curves cars motored along, looking like blood cells in arteries.  To me it looked so futuristic.  I remember the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco that zipped along the waterfront, the buildings so close you could almost touch them.

I still get that feeling.  When I lived in San Antonio we had opportunities to go to Houston often, and way outside the downtown, near the Galleria, at I-10s intersection with one of the loop highways, the ramps towered high above the interstate.  I don't understand anything about engineering and architecture, but I loved the look and the futuristic feel.

Of course, there is the downside of the interstate and interchanges, which LHM refers to in his quotation.  I've written about it before. In San Antonio, urban sprawl, like the "aneurism" that LHM uses as a metaphor, broke out along the loops around the city.  The inner loop was filled with the IHOPs, the Motel 6's and the Super 8's, and the Pizza Huts and every other chain store you can think of, bleeding its residents' business away from the downtown.  The outer loop had not yet developed quite as much, but will probably get there considering that San Antonio is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country.

To build interstates through cities, it must also be realized that cities often used eminent domain, and many times displaced minority residents, to build these ramps and skyways that so enchanted me as a child.  In Milwaukee, where I lived in the 1990s, a whole swath of housing was cleared along the city's north side.  The planned freeway never happened, and that housing was never recovered.  In New Orleans, the I-10 skyway past the French Quarter was built down what was once a vibrant boulevard live oak-lined boulevard in an African-American neighborhood that was filled with small minority-owned businesses.  In it's place, the skyway looms, but the residents have painted the columns with likenesses of live oaks and each Mardi Gras, families meet and cook-out underneath the roaring skyway.

But sometimes, cities realize their mistakes and reclaim the space once occupied by their freeways.  That Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco that caught my imagination?  It was torn down, and San Francisco developed its waterfront including its ferry building.  The area is now vital, and people come to the Embarcadero for its ambience, its shopping and its food.

If Jackson was as LHM described when he went through thirty years ago, I hope that it hasn't grown too much.  I hope that instead of letting business dollars seep away to the outer sections of the city that Jackson, if it had a Southern charm, retains it in a downtown where residents like to shop, eat and visit.  I hope that if Jackson started down the path of sprawl, that it did something about it.  I'm not too hopeful given how other cities in America have been developing, but hope is always there.

If you want to know more about Jackson

Jackson City Website
Jackson Clarion-Ledger (newspaper)
Jackson Daily Photo (blog)
Jackson Free Press (alternative newspaper)
Jackson Jambalaya (blog)
Jackson, Mississippi Tourism
Official Jackson Website
Wikipedia: Jackson

Next up: Clinton, Mississippi