Staring At Corners

mediumThere wasn’t much in my room that wasn’t blue. The walls were a soft shade of sky blue. The carpet had, at one time, been a deep, plush shag of royal blue, but had deformed into a matted, dreadlocks looking pathetic attempt at a shade of blue. There were spots in the carpet that were nearly as smooth as the concrete in the garage. My window curtains were blue. The duvet was blue. And then there was the fish tank which made the entire room ripple as though I was living in some dank undersea universe. It was my universe. I told stories to the walls, created fantastic world with my toys and populated them with the only friends I knew–the ones living in my head. I spent a great deal of my time in that little sanctuary, often just sitting indian-style on my bed in dead silence, staring at the fish lazily swimming in their tank as though they were moving in jello.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that the room color wasn’t an accident. It was that way when my parents purchased the house. And then they left it that way. Sure, I liked the color blue. But an entire room, floor to ceiling? No, it was their way of subduing me as though my room was the “calm room” in the psychiatric ward.

And I had spent a great deal of time in that room, and most of it because I was in trouble. Most of my trouble came from school. Attending a private Christian school had a myriad of drawbacks, but the biggest one was that your peer group was extremely limited. I had been in the same class with Caroline and Heidi since pre-school. My people meeting skills had peaked by the first grade and by the third grade my social sphere had been firmly established. This made making friends in the neighborhood difficult and once Adam and Billy moved, there really wasn’t anyone to play with. So, I retreated to my silent room; my opalescent world where I was keeper and king.

Samson_and_Delilah_by_RubensThe other issue with being in such a small social sphere was that our reputations had been established and perpetuated by the teachers in the school. I was constantly getting in trouble. Talking when I wasn’t supposed to. Not in line straight enough. Forgetting Bible verses–a sin tantamount to cannibalism in my school. When we forgot our verses, we had to rewrite Exodus 20:12 some twenty times. “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your GOD has given you.” Nothing like an implied threat! Honor your father–GOD–by memorizing verses or he’ll smite you from earth. By ’83 we were no longer learning simple verses; we had the joy of learning entire chapters. I didn’t want to recite “The Lord is my shephard…” or “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….” I got it. God loves me and he died for my sins. I figured that one out sometime in the first grade. I’d sang enough songs to beat that fact into my head. I wanted to read about the things that Delilah was doing with Sampson. I wanted to see the face of Mr. Swift–our hipster, before hipster was a thing, teacher–when child after child walked up to him and said: “Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.” Then had to answer the question that everyone would have: “What does it mean that he went in to her?”

Other than my spending time reading chapters of the Bible I wasn’t supposed to be and rewriting the Fifth Commandment when I should have been learning math, my reputation had been firmly established as a child that needed punishment in those rebellious years called Kindergarten.

the_paddles_infinite_stingOne day, while playing with Hot Wheel cars beside the green corrugated metal shed where the church school bus was stored, I got my foot caught between the bottom of a chain link fence and the asphalt. Of course I was screaming and crying. What five-year-old wouldn’t be as the sharp points at the bottom of the fence cut into their ankle? But I was also crying because we weren’t supposed to be playing on the side of the bus shed. I knew I would be in trouble and that scared me. I’d seen second graders get paddled and I knew it would be my turn. You’d think that that trauma would have sufficed, but, no, I had to be made an example of. In class, Mrs. Gaston–the daughter of the pastor of our school’s church–made sure to give me a good swing of her yardstick in front of all my classmates. From that day, I was a bad student. If Mrs. Gaston says your are bad, you stay that way until you leave Foothill Christian. When you are ten and that’s your reputation with the teachers, you might as well live up to it. Who could imagine with so many tropes of doom, I’d find a malicious portent in Getting Foot Stuck Under Fence? So, I read about harlots and daughters who were thought to be harlots and, of course, boobies. Thank God for the Song of Solomon. Had I been more astute, I’d have memorized every line from the Song of Solomon and used them to woo women. Unfortunately, social skills was one part of the curriculum lacking in my school.

My bad boy reputation firmly established, I was in constant trouble both at school and at home. If I had to serve detention after school, I would then be punished twice the detention time at home because I had to make my mother wait for me. And then when I’d question where a homemaker had to go, what could possibly demand her immediate attention at home, I was certain to my second swatting of the day. But therein lie the problem: How do you punish a kid with no social skills and spends all his time sitting quietly on his bed indian-style? “Go to your room!” wasn’t so much a threat as a privilage. “Don’t play with any toys!” was about as firm a threat as a yapping chihuahua. I’d shuffle off to my room and sit quietly staring at nothing, memorizing the distorted and faded colors of blue on the floor. Eventually, my father, probably out of desperation and a reluctance to admit defeat, realized that just sending me to my room was not a punishment. So, I started standing in the corner opposite my bedroom door. I’d stand there, staring at the corner, lost in my mind.

There I stood. Nose into the wall like so many other children before me. Standing like a silent sentinel in honor of Nemesis. I’d think about Niki. I’d tell myself stories where I wasn’t standing in the corner. I’d watch the darkness in my mind stretch into a tiny corner and feel myself falling away from it as though I was being ripped from a vacuum; heads of people I knew would shrink into ridiculously tiny bobbles atop their shoulders. I would tell myself the story of Lot and his daughters. And then I’d ask myself why something as lurid as that would be in the Bible. I’d stand for hours. I never made a sound. And, once, I fell asleep standing in my corner.

If Getting Foot Stuck Under Fence was an ominous portent, there was also a little wrinkle of wonder to it. Without it, I wouldn’t have found my corner and there I would never have ventured into the world of my imagination where all these stories come from now. So, I suppose I should thank Mrs. Gaston… but really. No. Seriously? Who paddles a five-year-old?

Read more stories from the ’83 series here

Jackasses and Elephants–1/15 in history

Thomas Nast--"A Live Jackass Kicking A Dead Lion". 1/15/1870

Thomas Nast–“A Live Jackass Kicking A Dead Lion”. 1/15/1870

It was on this day, 15 January 1870, that the famous American editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast–also known for taking down the Tammany Hall ring and its boss William Magear Tweed through is political cartoons–cemented the jackass as the symbol of the Democratic Party.

However, contrary to conventional thinking, Nast wasn’t the first person to associate the jackass to the Democratic Party. During the election of 1828, opponents of Andrew Jackson labeled him a “jackass” for his beliefs. Jackson embraced the image and often used it in his own campaign imagery. The Democratic Party had been associated, in one way or another, with the Jackass since.

Andrew Jackson's ass

Andrew Jackson’s ass

But what about the elephant? Well, we can thank Nast for that one, too. In an 1874 cartoon, Nast has the Democratic ass hiding in a lion’s costume frightening the forest animals (labelled as various newspapers) and the elephant (“Republican vote”). The issue at hand was whether or not U.S. Grant would run for an unprecedented third term as President. Here’s a link to Harper’s detailed description of the cartoon.

The Third Term Panic

The Third Term Panic

After this cartoon ran, the Republicans quickly adopted the elephant as their symbol and the rest, as they say, is history.

As a side note: Nast is also credited with creating the first images of a modern Santa Claus.

Santa Claus and His Works. Harper's Weekly, 29 December 1866

Santa Claus and His Works. Harper’s Weekly, 29 December 1866

Sorry, AOL, but this feels inappropriate

Reading through AOL today and saw this page:

AOL screen shot on 30 December 2014

AOL screen shot on 30 December 2014

If you can’t read the bottom link, it says: “Airlines in dire need of new pilots”. This on the same page they discuss the crash of AirAsia 8501.

10 Random New Year’s Facts That Will Make You The Cliff Clavin of Your Party

Before you drunkenly belt out “Auld Lang Syne”, desperately seek out anyone to share a New Year’s kiss, and make some promise that you probably won’t keep beyond January, let’s look at ## things you might not know about New Year’s.

1. All About Me

According to Statisticbrain.com, of the top 10 New Year’s resolutions, only one of our most common resolutions is altruistic: “Help Others in Their Dreams”. The other 9 are all about me, or in this case you. Self-improvement and education resolutions account for nearly 50% of the resolutions we make. Weight loss resolutions come in second at close to 40%. Less than 50% of resolutions are still being maintained beyond six months.

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Unfortunately, only 8% of us are actually able to claim victory over our resolution.

2. 22

Of all the numbers that will be bantered about, this one seems low. 22 is the percentage of people who admit to be passed out or fast asleep long before midnight. It is interesting since this is the prime reason for the holiday. That, and finding that one special someone to smooch right after drowning away all of last year’s problems at the bottom of a champagne flute. (Source)

Passed-Out New Year's Eve Reveler

3. Making Babies

It is no surprise that with all the drinking, kissing, and naked street dancing… wait, what? Naked street dancing? All will be explained in #9 so just go with it. Naked street dancing. So, it is no surprise that most babies are conceived during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

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According to a New York Times chart, the most popular birthdays occur between 9 September and 24 September. Tracking this back, it would mean that people were getting busy at the end of December. This shouldn’t come as any surprise since the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is as close to statistically perfect for doing some hanky-panky as you can get. Here’s a look at why the odds are in your favor that you’ll be doing more than kissing on New Year’s Eve:

  • People are 17 times more likely to have sex at midnight than at 10 am. Couple this with…
  • People are 13 times more likely to have sex at night than during the afternoon.
  • People are more likely to turn down and invitation to shag if it is too warm. Nearly twice as many than those who turned down the invitation because it was too cold.
  • More than twice as many condoms are sold the week before Christmas than the week after.
  • 83 percent of Americans feel that rainy days/nights are the best time to have sex.

If this isn’t enough proof, studies have found that prostitution related searches increase 2.78 percent during this time period. Matchmaking websites see a 5.67 percent increase in traffic during January, and Google searches for porn jump 4.28 percent above average in December. We just seem to want to get our groove on. And it doesn’t hurt that most of us are in crowded houses filled with drunken revelers desperately seeking someone to kiss.

4. Have a Ball

American’s, and eventually the world, have been watching a ball drop down One Times Square since 1907. People had been celebrating in Times Square for three years before the first ball drop, and even before this at Trinity Church where they’d “ring in the new, and ring out the old” with the Church and hand bells. There have been seven variations of the famous New Year’s Ball, including the original 700 pound wooden beast.

history-of-times-square-ball-drop

The Ball has dropped every year since 1907 save two. During the “dimouts” of 1942 and 1943, New Yorkers gathered in a darkened Times Square for a minute of silence and then surrounded by a chorus of chimes from sound trucks at the base of One Times Square. For two years, New Yorkers went back to the old Trinity Church celebrations.

5. Not Always Etched In Stone

The first time New Year’s is celebrated on January 1 came in the year 45 B.C. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was so FUBAR that it needed to be adjusted. The new Julian calendar would be 365 1/4 days long and so Caesar had to add 67 days to the year 46 B.C. which made the start of 45 B.C. on January 1. Convenient since the god Janus, from which January gets its name, is the two faced god of doors and gates.

janus2

But, just because Caesar said so didn’t mean that it was. By the medieval period, most Christian, and pagan, Europeans went back to the old Annunciation Day (25 March) as the beginning of the year.  William the Conqueror would try to get the new year back to 1 January, but it had nothing to do with calendric accuracy and more to get Christmas to align with his coronation day. Like most things political, it never came to fruition and 1 January would have to wait until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII created the calendar we use today. With New Year’s on 1 January, leap years, and all.

6. Burning Out The Old Year

When the mellow alcohol buzz and sleep-deprived haze begins to settle over your party, you can always liven things up with an effigy. That is, you can make yourself a life-sized, stuffed, sad old man or, as they do in Panama and a few other Latin American countries, make one of a famous actor or anyone else famous and light it on fire!

burn

The burning of Jack Straw in Hungary

In Hungary, they set fire to a scapegoat for all the ills and wrongs that happened the previous year. Called Jack Straw, he is paraded through town and then set aflame on New Year’s Eve. In Panama and Ecuador, they burn “muñecos“–effigies of people who played a significant role in politics, news, or even one’s personal life. These muñecos are created on Christmas and then lit up in a bonfire on New Year’s. Often, these effigies are stuffed with gun powder and fireworks. Just remember to be very careful in whom you chose to make your effigy of, and, for the sake of the hosts, take the conflagration outside.

7. Boxing Day

No, not the day after Christmas where you give gifts to all the peons that schlep all your crap around every, but “boxing” day where you beat the crap out of someone on New Year’s. Somewhere between the excessive amount alcohol consumed–New Year’s celebrations are the most popular drinking day of the year–and the fact that some stranger just smooched the person you came to the party with, nearly 40 percent “of 18- to 25-year-olds said they’ve woken up on New Year’s Day with an ‘unidentified party injury.'” 25 percent of 18-25 year-olds have said they’ve gotten into a fight on New Year’s.

Takanakuy festival in Peru

Takanakuy festival in Peru

If anyone tries to shame you for fighting on New Year’s, just say that you are celebrating the Peruvian festival of Takanakuy, which literally translates to “when the blood is boiling.” Each year, around Christmas, many Peruvians gather in the local sporting area, from little children to elderly women, to fist fight one another. The purpose of this end of the year celebration is to settle grievances from the previous year–from civil to personal–and hopefully start the New Year with peace and harmony, and to strengthen community bonds. So, next time your in-laws give you crap, clear some space in the living room and duke it out. Just say you are trying to strengthen familial bonds. Happy Takanakuy!

8. Not Always Etched In Stone, Part II

Most calendars used today around the world are based on a lunar or lunisolar cycle so their New Year’s Eve is fluid. For many, including the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, New Year’s happens on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. Typically, these New Year’s celebrations occur between 20 January and 20 February.

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Though they like to say they have nothing in common, Islam and Judaism share a few things in common, including their calendar. Both calendars are lunar based on 354 days and both start their days at sunrise and end at sunset vs. the Gregorian system of midnight. The Islamic New Year wanders across the calendar and for the next few years will coincide with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) occurring in September and October. Every 33 years, Rosh Hashanah and the Islamic New Year will occur on the same date. The next time this happens is in 2016-17.

9. All Hail Saturnalia

So, kissing seems to be the one factor that ties all New Year’s celebrations together whether it be getting smacked in the kisser in Peru or smooching at New Year’s eve. But where did the practice of the New Year’s kiss come from?

A New Year's kiss is supposed to set the tone for the year... don't be lonely like this guy

A New Year’s kiss is supposed to set the tone for the year… don’t be lonely like this guy

For singles this New Year’s kiss can be one of the most stressful events of the entire night. The closer the clock winds to midnight, the more frantic the search for kissable lips becomes. Unfortunately, history only heightens the pressure. Like most things we do today, the New Year’s kiss probably comes from the Roman weeks-long festival of Saturnalia celebrated around Christmas. It was an unholy gathering of flesh and wanderlust. Romans celebrated with massive feasts, drinking, singing and dancing in the streets naked, gambling, and other forms of dabauchery. By the medieval period, anxious Europeans would scramble for the perfect person to lock lips with at midnight believing that the first kiss would dictate the type of year you’d have. Also, many of these celebrations were masquerade balls–just a more refined version of naked street dancing and singing–with the masks representing the troublesome past year and protection from evil spirits and the kiss–after removing the mask–representing the change to something good. So, no pressure. You aren’t just looking for the handsome or pretty lips to snack on, you need someone to help purify the evil spirits of the past and set the perfect tone for your future year. Good luck hunting.

10. Not The Night To Go Commando

According to a Vanity Fair/60 minutes fashion poll, nearly 25 percent of Americans admitted that they go commando on some occasions (7 percent of people sitting around you right now are sans undies). However, in many Latin American countries, including Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, going commando sets you up poorly for the next year.

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From an old Spanish tradition, it is held that the color of the underwear worn on New Year’s Eve dictates the type of luck you will have in the forth coming year. Red? Looking for love and passion in the new year. Yellow? Wealth is coming your way. Green means a year of good health. White is for peace. Want to be inspired in the new year? Wear purple. So, if your party turns into a Saturnalian orgy of naked street singing, be sure to at least keep your undies on your head so you can set yourself up for good luck next year.

 

 

9 Things You May Not Know About the U.S. Interstate Highways

Last Christmas some 85.8 million people were expected to drive more than fifty miles from their homes. With gas prices falling and the weather across much of the U.S. tolerable, we can only expect that number to rise this year. Last Christmas, nearly 30 percent of those people took a trip with one in four taking a road trip. And there is one thing all these drivers had in common: At one point or another, they all utilized the U.S.’s vast Interstate Highway system.

“When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.” 

—John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley: In Search of America

Here are 9 facts to annoy your fellow travelers with….

1. The Highways Weren’t Eisenhower’s Idea

Eisenhower gets quite a bit of credit for the Interstate Highway system, but he was far from the first leader to push for a nationwide, limited access motorway–fancy way of saying Interstate. In reality, the U.S. had already kicked the tires as it were on a freeway system as early as 1939. Congress debated the construction of a system of interlinking toll and free roads, but nothing came of it. In 1944, Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, but it never established funding or construction means. That would not come until the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 that Eisenhower signed.

Köln-Bonn Autobahn 1932, with overpass allowing for clear, free traffic

Köln-Bonn Autobahn 1932, with overpass allowing for clear, free traffic

While it is true that Eisenhower got the highway bug in his system while rolling along with the U.S. Army toward Berlin on wonderfully wide roads that Adolf Hitler had built. Though Hitler is widely credited as the first freeway builder–the German Autobahns–this is also wrong. That title belongs to Hitler’s partner in crime, Benito Mussolini. Italy’s 80-mile long autostrada connecting Milan to Verese, designed by Piero Puricelli, was the world’s first limited-access motorway and opened in 1924. This beat Germany’s Köln-Bonn Autobahn by five years.

2. The “Semi”

The true paladins of the open road, truckers are either the bane of automobile drivers–clogging the highways by trying to pass other trucks–or white knights who rescue stranded drivers along desolate stretches of American wastelands. One thing is for sure, truckers and their rigs are an integral cog in the mechanisms of American economics.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

As you cruise down the highway toward Grandma’s house, just accept the fact that you will not be able to avoid the semi trailers careening down the road. There are close to 5.6 million of them registered in the U.S. And it is from these trailers that the “semi” truck got its name. These trailers are called semi trailers because they lack any front wheels and must be pulled. The term semi truck evolved from that.

As to the other “semi”, a Harris Interactive poll found that of the 1,832 U.S. adults who participated in the survey 11% admitted to “having participated in a sexual activity while driving.” So, if you find yourself working more than one stick on the highway, remember two things: 1. You’re not the first and, 2. Truckers in their semi’s have a prime perch for watching it all.

3. Non-Interstate Interstates

By definition, interstate means “existing between or including different states”. This makes perfect sense for anyone driving I-10 from California to Florida, but what is the deal with Interstates H-1, H-2, and H-3 in Hawaii?

Interstates H-1 and H-3 in Hawaii

Interstates H-1 and H-3 in Hawaii

How can there be “Interstates” in a state with no possible border to another state? In order for Hawaii to truly have interstates there would need to be a bridge nearly 2,400 miles long to connect it to San Francisco. For perspective, that would be a bridge nearly the length of I-10. What gives Hawaii?

Turns out Hawaii’s statehood movement had a lot to do with their getting Interstates. When the first interstates were being constructed, they had to meet a number of criteria including: Aid to national defense, whether the road is integral as a connector for population centers, service to industry (links to factories, mining, fishing, forestry, agriculture), and population. Hawaii gained statehood in the midst of this frenzied road building and the Federal Government enacted a study to decide if there was a need in Hawaii based on the criteria used for all the other roads. In 1960, a 50-mile system was recommended. And so, Hawaii got its Federal Interstate Highway system. They were given the “H” designation to set them apart from the primary Interstate system

As a side note: Alaska and Puerto Rico also have Federal Interstate Highways though they also are not contiguous to the main 48. Alaska’s highways are designated A 1-4 and Puerto Rico’s are designated PRI 1-3.

Second note: Not all of the interstates in the main 48 are true interstates, either. Several, including I-97 in Maryland, I-73 in North Carolina, and I-19 in Arizona, do not leave their states. It all comes down to where they got their funding.

4. Numbering the Roads and The Missing Interstates

Unlike nearly everything else the government does, there is actually a rhyme and reason to the numbering of the U.S. Interstates.  And this is one of the rare times where government intervention actually did something good.

Prior to the Federal Interstate Highway system, the United States was criss-crossed by roads built by for profit groups. During the 1920s many of these roads could barely be called roads as they were more mud, dirt and ditches than road. But, as Henry Ford continued to churn out automobiles, more and more of these state highways popped up across the landscape. Most of these roads followed old trails or Transcontinental Trails like the Oregon and Santa Fe. One of the first transcontinental highways was the Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco. It was a rock road and privately financed; Henry Ford wanted nothing to do with it because he thought roads and highways should be funded by the government. As the 1920s progress other groups formed to build and promote their own highways. By 1925, there were over 250 named highways, each with their own colored signs, names, and random sign placement. Without government oversight, many of these roads were re-routed into cities so that the clubs and groups that built them could profit from them.

Lincoln Highway between Fernley and Hazen, Nevada

Lincoln Highway between Fernley and Hazen, Nevada

In the midst of this chaos, the Federal government got involved in 1924 and started numbering all of these roads. Odd numbers ran North to South with the numbers increasing from East to West, and Even numbers run East to West with the numbers increasing from North to South. So, U.S. Route 1 runs along the Eastern Seaboard while U.S. Route 10 runs along the Canadian border.

When the Interstate Highways came along, the government decided to use the mirror image of the numbering system to avoid any confusion. Interstate 10 runs through the southern states while I-5 is in California. Thankfully, the government was wise enough to help avoid the classic “How could you get us lost?” fight between drivers and map readers. Where the two systems, the routes and the Interstates, meet in the middle of the country it was decided that there would be no Interstate 50 to avoid confusion with U.S. Route 50 which runs from Sacramento, CA to Ocean City, MD. This is the same for Interstate 60.

5. #1, #2, A Walk, And A Stretch, But No Food

For many Americans, a road trip means getting from point A to point B. In my house, my father’s mantra was: “The gas tank is full and our bladders are empty. We drive until the opposite is true.” This meant that I got to miss the many wonderful, and some not so wonderful, road side rest stops along the way.

The idea of a road side park predates the Interstate. Allen Williams, county engineer with the Ionia, MI County Roads Commission, is often credited with creating the road side stop.  In the late 1920s, he saw a young family trying to enjoy a picnic lunch along side the road, but they were sitting in the dirt with their food on a tree stump. A short while later, Williams put up a couple picnic tables he and his road crew had constructed along Route 16 just outside Saranac.

Rest Area sign on I-80 in Nevada

Rest Area sign on I-80 in Nevada

The Safety Rest Area as we know them grew as the Interstates were built with the first ones constructed in the late 1950s. One thing that has stayed constant with the Rest Areas–other than the smell–is that there is no food for sale at any of them. During the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act there was some debate as to allow commercial sales at the Rest Areas. However, House Representative Charles A. Vanik (D-OH) made clear Congress’ goals for the highways and their rest areas when he said, “Let the highway traveler turn off the Interstate system if he requires food, motor-vehicle service, lodging or Stuckey’s pecans.” This was done so that the small towns along the way wouldn’t lose out on customers. The safety areas are solely so the driver can get out, stretch, shake off drowsiness, take care of #1 and #2, and get right back on the road. In 1982, the law was amended a bit to allow for vending machines, however, in rural or remote parts of the country the rest areas are without so pack a lunch.

6. You Can’t Get There From Here

There are some places that the Interstate just can’t take you. And I don’t mean some small little village in the middle of the corn in Iowa. There are four state capitals that are not served by the Interstate system. You cannot get to Juneau, Alaska; Dover, Delaware; Jefferson City, Missouri; or Pierre, South Dakota on an interstate. Some internet trivia sites will list five state capitals, but the fifth, Carson City, Nevada, has recently been linked to the interstate system by I-580 running from Carson City to Reno (and I-80). And, it also happens that I-580 is yet another non-interstate interstate.

Eisenhower National Highway System

Eisenhower National Highway System

It isn’t just state capitals that the interstates avoid. There are some pretty large cities that are not served by the interstate system. Of the top 10, nine are in California including: Fresno (#37 on the 2000 census; cities with 100,000+ population), Bakersfield (#68), and Modesto (#101). Brownsville, TX (#150) comes in as the seventh largest city not served.

If you happen to live near an interstate and want to get away there are some pretty remote places that let you escape the noise, pollution, and trash. Your first option would be Barrow, Alaska. There are NO roads to Barrow. The nearest road would be in Prudhoe Bay and that is 197 miles. The nearest interstate would be in Fairbanks over 500 miles away… by plane. If that is too extreme, you could chose Morgan, MT 183 miles in a direct line away from I-15. Earl Swift, author of Big Roads, chose this hamlet of a few houses and white-tailed deer as the place furthest from the interstate. However, if you want to have neighbors, you might choose Whitewater, MT with a population of 64 (2010 census) and 175 miles from I-95. Tonopah, NV (150 miles as the crow flies from I-80) has a population of 2,478 (2010 census). Based on driving distance Key West, Florida (pop. 24,649 in 2010) is 162 miles from I-95 in Miami. And, it is a tropical paradise to boot!

7. Landing Strips and Curvy Bends?

While these might be popular in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, that they are purposely built into the National Highway System is false. These two items–highways as runways and curves for monotony–are the most widely perpetuated myths of the entire Interstate System. (Just an FYI–Googling “landing strip” is definitely NSFW, especially an image search).

Let’s look at the first myth: Every ____ number of miles has to be straight to use as a runway in time of war. Proponents of this myth use Eisenhower and the Autobahn as their source, and, as with every myth, there is a bit of truth in the story. The German Autobahn was designed in the 1920s and 30s to have sections used as runways, and Eisenhower may very well been aware of this, or even had seen it happen during the war. Autobahn’s as runways was true even through the Cold War. The A-29 between Ahlhorn and Groβenkneten is one example where NATO planners built a road to accommodate the Air Force if war with the Soviets broke out.

An A-10 Warthog using the A-29 autobahn as a landing strip in 1984

An A-10 Warthog using the A-29 autobahn as a landing strip in 1984

However, this was never the intent of the highway system or of Eisenhower himself. In fact, Eisenhower’s support for the highways had little to do with national defense at all. He understood the need for a system of roads to move the military around the nation and as a means to get civilians out of cities targeted by Soviet nukes, but his primary support was for economic development and traveler safety. The dual purpose of the highway system did interest the Air Force in the 1950s and they even sent people to Europe to investigate, and requested Congress that the highways have for every 50 miles three straight miles to accommodate American bombers. Though the investigators decided it was feasible, the plan was scrapped. What was built, and probably helped begin the myth, were flight strips located next to major highways whose purpose was to serve as auxiliary runways during World War II.

The second myth is that of a requirement to have curves in the road every so many miles. This one is also false, but has more truth in it than the runway story. You can look at any map of the highway system to see that this one isn’t true. There are some abysmally long, straight stretches of road in the Interstate system. One such chunk of asphalt is I-80 outside Salt Lake City to the Nevada border. This section of road crosses the Bonneville Salt Flats and is nearly 50 miles of perfectly straight road.

I-80 as it crosses the Salt Flats between Wendover, NV and Salt Lake City, UT

I-80 as it crosses the Salt Flats between Wendover, NV and Salt Lake City, UT

The Federal-Aid Highway Act (1956) makes no requirements of curves in the highway at any specific distance, but curves are often introduced when the road needs to avoid an area of cultural significance, environmentally sensitive areas, or when the terrain demands a curve. Road designers understand that excessively long “tangent sections” (straight road) can lead to boredom, drowsiness and accidents so curves are included, but the Act itself instructs that roads be as direct as practical and consistent with the land. I couldn’t imagine the Salt Flat section being any one bit longer than it already is, and for that, I’m glad there aren’t any curves.

8. Secret Highways

There are 19 secret highways in the United States. These aren’t clandestine routes used by the Illuminati to get from meeting to meeting, or private roads for the rich and powerful to avoid the rabble in traffic.

I-595 in Maryland... better known as US 50 or US 301

I-595 in Maryland… better known as US 50 or US 301

These are, instead, highways that are officially a part of the Eisenhower Interstate system on paper only. You will not see any signage of their existence on the roadways. The main purpose behind keeping these 19 roads “secret” is to not confuse drivers with additional numbers and signage for the routes. For example: I-305 in Sacramento, CA is signed as Business Loop I-80. The longest of these secret routes is I-595 in Maryland. At almost 20 miles it is known to drivers as US 50 and US 301. Complicating matters is that Florida also has an I-595. Alaska’s four main routes are technically part of the Interstate system, but are signed as Alaska State Routes. This also applies to Puerto Rico. Here is a link to all 19.

9. Looking for Adventure, And Whatever Comes Our Way

Before you fill up the gas tank, crank up Steppenwolf, and cruise down America’s roads, it is advisable to know which ones might end up leading you on a highway to hell. Though America can only claim one road on the world’s most deadly list (Alaska’s Dalton Highway between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay) and we certainly have nothing to compare with the North Yungas Road in Bolivia–often cited as the most deadly road in the world, also known as the “Road of Death–we have some dangerous highways of our own.

North Yungas Road in Bolivia. Also called "The Road of Death".

North Yungas Road in Bolivia. Also called “The Road of Death”.

I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is often credited as the most dangerous road in the United States. According the the Nevada AAA, the 180 mile stretch of road had more fatalities on it than any other in the state. With close to 8 million drivers annually, it isn’t a surprise that I-15 takes the top spot. Apparently, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas: Drinking and driving and distracted driving account for nearly all the accidents. It doesn’t help that I-15 through San Bernardino County is one of the straightest, most barren strips of concrete in America causing drivers to become inattentive, bored, and forgetful of their speeds.

I-15 in San Bernardino County, CA

I-15 in San Bernardino County, CA

Other highways that rank high in accidents and death include the 8 mile stretch of I-95 near Norwalk, Connecticut. Almost 10% of deaths on the entire 100 mile stretch occur on this little section. I-95 in Florida has nearly 1.73 fatal accidents per mile and has it’s own attorney to help you sue that darn trucker that rear ended you. Between 2000-2010, I-26 in South Carolina saw 325 fatalities with short sections that have triple the amount as other portions closer to Charleston. Finally, I-10 from Phoenix to the California border is notoriously dangerous with 85 fatalities a year.

As you pile the family in the car, remember, you aren’t the only one out there on our secret, hazardous, non-runway interstates.

Sources:

http://german.about.com/library/blgermyth08.htm

https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq.htm

http://www.restareahistory.org/History.html

http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/10-of-americas-most-dangerous-roads#slide-1