Shasta: La Vista, Baby

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I've stepped out of California for just a few days, headed for a family reunion in Washington. In all my previous passes through Oregon, I've stayed on Interstate 5, to visit relatives in the Willamette Valley, but this time we tried Highway 97. I'd never seen Shasta from this angle (north and east of the mountain). For all its current problems, California still has the ability to dazzle one with the sheer beauty of its vistas. I'll be back.

Where North is West and East is South

Friday, July 03, 2009




I realize how easy it is to kick California when it’s down, but if this state is having trouble finding its way out of the woods, part of the problem may stem from a federal highway system that can’t distinguish north and south from east and west. I’ve run up against this problem twice in the last month.

The first time, I was in Contra Costa County, trying to get on Interstate 80 at Richmond Parkway. I intended to travel due south for the thirteen miles that would put me on Interstate 880. Then I would continue south-by-southeast to US 101, and still farther south-by-southeast to Gilroy. However, in approaching the freeway onramp, my choices were “East” or “West.”

Taken continentally, Interstate 80 runs from San Francisco, California to Teaneck, New Jersey, which I will grant is farther east than I have ever been. In my personal experience, I-80 connects San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, a route that moves the traveler about 110 miles north to arrive 125 miles east. However, the immediate portion I intended to travel runs 13 miles due south. In the middle of choosing a correct lane for the choices of on-ramps, I had no reason to imagine either the highway’s western end across the Oakland Bay Bridge into Frisco, or the 2899.54 miles to Teaneck. “East” or “West” was not the choice I needed to be offered.

The following two weeks, I was in Southern California, using the Ventura Freeway to run back and forth between Camarillo (on the west) and Glendale (on the east). About the first 50 miles are on US 101. Then it becomes US 134. But notice I use “east” and “west.” For over a hundred miles, the 101, 134, and then the 210 hug a line at 34°8’ N Latitude. In the morning, inbound drivers have the rising sun in their eyes, replaced outbound in the evening by the setting sun. Yet at 30 consecutive on-ramps, drivers face a choice of “North” or “South.”

Maybe this is unimportant in a state that is $24 billion (and counting) short of balancing its budget, where the governor has declared a state of emergency (hey, at least he’s not off hiking the Appalachian Trail), where the treasurer is paying the state’s debts with IOU’s, and lists of possible solutions include a constitutional convention. After all, we got into this problem because for thirty years the legislature busied itself with piddling stuff because they couldn’t face the big problem.

However, as a state, we’re lost and can’t determine which way to go. We’ve spent the last year more-or-less hugging a tree. If help is coming, it hasn’t yet appeared. We may have to venture out on our own, into territory where the trails aren’t marked. But what is worse, some of our routes bear fictitious or fanciful orientation. If we start by correcting these, maybe we can figure out where we ought to be headed.