Thursday, August 24, 2006

Destination cities

Ah, the beauty of road signs. There's a promise to be held in each of them: Go this way, and you'll wind up there.

This shot - taken on Little River Turnpike in Alexandria - reduces the complexities of a trip to a handful of words. A jaunt north towards the hassles of the 14th Street Bridge, and the promise of what lies beyond in the nation's capital, is reduced to "Washington". A two-hour drive to the capital of the Confederacy (and home to a Nextel Cup race in a few weeks) sounds so much simpler when you read "Richmond".

(Of course, this is a fortunate sign on I-395, with some pretty exciting choices. However, I've been on parts of I-81 in western Virginia where the choices were Bristol and Lexington. Ouch. I-81 is generally pretty miserable like that, however; it's too far inland to include any major cities, so you're left with Syracuse, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, Carlisle, Hagerstown, Martinsburg, Roanoke, Bristol and Johnson City.)

But interstates always take you somewhere. There's always a destination city. When I'm in new places, I'll usually see signs like this and wonder what lies beyond, wonder what it's like to drive to those cities. When we were in Indianapolis in the spring, I took a road trip to the speedway, and we needed an interstate to get there. Along the way, I saw signs for Louisville (I-65 south) and St. Louis (I-70 west). Another time, while in Reno, we saw signs for Sacramento (I-80 west).

Sometimes the destinations are more remote than one might expect. Driving north on I-95 in Newington, Va., there's a sign that reads "N.J. - N.Y./Follow 95 North". Heading south on 95 just before Richmond, one sign directs travelers to I-85 if they're heading for Durham, N.C. or Atlanta.

And sometimes, the results are just disappointing. After starting the trip east on I-90 in Washington state, I had hoped to pick up a copy of the highly-regarded newspaper in Yakima. Unfortunately, Yakima was not quite what I was expecting; within two minutes, we had zipped through the entire town and were back in the wilderness, much like we had just driven from.

Though Yakima was not the greatest conquest of my traveling life, it was still a destination. After Yakima, the signs on I-90 where happy to tell us how to get back there - assuming we'd want to go back there. Which we didn't.

But these road signs offer a ray of hope. No matter how deep into Bumblefuck you are, keep driving, and civilization will eventually re-appear.

Even if it's only Bristol or Yakima.

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