i have always been obsessed with driving and roads. my first cross-country road trip was in 1975, Massachusetts to Bremerton Washington. my most recent road trip was probably a month ago. all lower-48 states except (somehow?) North Dakota. every secondary highway in Nevada south of highway 50 and many above, nearly all the state highways in Arizona, New Mexico, most Southern California desert and mountain highways.
all of my favorite driving is done in cars i've made (from junk cars and parts) or highly modified (almost the same thing). i like my driving relatively unmediated by distraction. my roadster is open, no roof, no doors; road and me and machine. my new car has doors and wind-up windows, but manual everything, bench seat, column shift.
it's this convergence of road and made machine that enables the experience i crave. if i didn't make it then i don't know it and when on the road (literally and metaphorically both) knowing makes it one experience.
my most interesting driving is on rural roads, the openness of deserts and mountain roads. i have no fantasy of 'back to nature'; there is no place that is both interesting and un-meddled with (never mind the obvious road to/through it). debris and abandonment contains it's own adventure, every ruin is a world to visit.
there's a mini-industry of books for driving tours/sightseeing. the places they visit are beautiful, but beside the point. to me the point is the road itself, driven.
for me, roads are situations, not mere places or things. driving on roads is precisely wabi tek sabi. driving a machine on a road is not a screen onto the world, it is the world.
the map is not the territory. but i like maps and terrain, and land and driving. why should i have to choose?
few things in american culture are as rigidly codified as cars and driving, including strict social-class restrictions. rarely is anything remotely automotive seen in the arts (which may be just as well, given the state of so-called 'fine' arts). as i see it the driving i'm writing about here is mostly in the cracks between. nothing rarefied; anyone can do it. motorcycle folk are probably more aware of this (as 'riding'), the not commuting, not travel; bodily experience in the now blending machine and road and land.
there's noting really glamorous about it; in fact it's tedious, if you decide to think of it that way, and it seems most peope do. when i head out on a long trip, the first day getting out of town is exactly that; I-10 out of Los Angeles is a slog, but reaching into and through the Inland Empire, the terrain and experience mutate into (what i call) real driving.
an Interstate through urban territory (eg. I-10 getting out of LA County) is so embedded in the matrix of urbanity and traffic, distraction, crap in the roadway, accidents and detours, the road is just work. but as the Interstate reaches into more open land, even a modern Interstate looks purposeful, its context (and very reason for existing) more visible as surrounding density drops.
the section of I-40 that passes through the Bristol Mountain Range in the Mojave Desert begins to look a bit like the science fiction that it partly is, when you make yourself aware (a priori) of it's history and that of travel across the Western desert. white colonizers travelled east to west only in the 19th century. (around 1826 Mormon founder Jedediah Smith called it the "land of starvation", his ignorance probably quite obvious to the Mojave folk, living there for centuries).
the Mojave is daunting and difficult even today (though there's now mobile data the whole way). the Bristol Mountains in particular were a huge impediment to road building, so much so that the 1950's [lunatic] Project Plowshare proposed to excavate the mountains using 22 nuclear bombs.
the Mojave Desert of some 50,000 square miles has only three east/west roads through it -- I-15 to Las Vegas, and I-40 and old route 66 to Needles. and 66 is partially closed (due to 880 [not a typo] timber bridges in need of repair).
driving the 150 miles through the Mojave on I-40 is a chore; only two gas
stops 100 miles apart, not one exit has so much as a (non-abandoned) building.
i suppose in a modern car you crank up the A/C and stereo and wait it out. or
you can embrace the highway and the desert that tolerates its existence.
Interstate 40, west from Fenner, CA, 70 mph, in the roadster.
driving is experiental, and all i have to show for it is a bunch of photos and a few stories.
i have a fairly specific way of thinking about my relationship to the
road, driving, maps, navigation, and taking
image, video and sound records. works for me.
Google Earth is one of the most amazing software projects ever made. it achieves a peculiar end that i don't think it's fully appreciated (probably even by Google): it is a 3-D data viewer that actually corellates the visual with bodily experience. this is doubly unusual, as most software models today emphasize disembodied cerebral "experience". this leads me to think that this aspect of Google Earth is an accident.
Google Earth not a "map" in any way. data and images extracted mostly from orbiting satellites are abstracted into vectors, mixed with images, and interoperates with "Street View" data about as close to seamlessly as i could imagine. the amazing part -- besides the obvious monumental technical achievement -- is that the end result is to "see" something that you could actually, physically do with your body: "fly" over "the earth". OK few of us could practically afford the helicopter or small plane necessary to do this, but your body would see pretty much what Google Earth renders for you and so it makes sense when you see it on a screen. i have personally and multiple times "pre-toured" routes through desert mountain roads and when i later drove those roads, "remembered" ala deja vous terrain and shapes. wonderfully disturbing.
but it's equally amazing when it utterly fails.
then there's the classic which way to Millinocket?, old 1930's radio show. my horrible grandmother had this on a 78 record which is how i heard it as a kid. (shift gears) much later, Laurie Anderson spent some time in upper New England; i recall from some radio interview her describing how the residents of whatever small town she was in would sit in their parked cars around the town square with an old-timey band playing in the gazebo, and how odd it was... so she arranged a performance where people parked their cars around the square, 'played' some arrangement on the car horns for an audience of locals she managed to get into the gazebo. everyone was puzzled. (memory is inherently biased and i can't find the reference...)
but i soon realized that whatever her time spent in New England was, it likely informed these words from BIG SCIENCE (1982):
... Hey Pal! How do I get to town from here? And he said: Well just take a right where they're going to build that new shopping mall, go straight past where they're going to put in the freeway, take a left at what's going to be the new sports center, and keep going until you hit the place where they're thinking of building that drive-in bank. You can't miss it. And I said: This must be the place.
this map, painted along the face of what was once a cafe, shows all the major routes at time (who knows; 1930's?) with distances given. barely legible when i took the photograph(s). i did not record and don't recall where this ruin is; i'm fairly sure it's in the vicinity of Arizona highway 89 from Prescott down to highway 93. i do recall that the photo was tken with my Canon Elph (loved that camera, i think i still have it) taken as two wide/panorama shots, scanned then stitched in Photoshop. (if you're looking at this on a small screen, click the image for full size.)
smaller versions of this kind of map, or sometimes just distances to the next or major towns, were commonly painted on the side of buildings "before the current era", i recall a few from the dim dark past, so for whatever reason the practice was dropped probably before my time and what i saw were remnants.
the kind what with water coming out of the ground, mainly in the west and especially deserts. back east, water is everywhere. here in the west, water is (or was, and may be again) a rare and precious thing. you don't just find it laying on the ground.
long ago my brother Frankie befriended some then-elderly women who as reckless youths drove cross-country, from Massachusetts to Long Beach California, in 1930. some 8600+ miles, nearly all of it dirt (the national obsession with paved roads having just begun). these women had the foresight to write letters home, take photographs and preserve ephemera from their trip, and the luck (for us) to have been interviewed by my brother in the late 1990's.
the A-to-P Gypsy Trip was originally
a self-published book, 120 or so printed sheets, spiral bound. i doubt many
copies were made.
what is driving without maps?
you should know about Center for Land Use Interpretation. this is just a microscopic sample that i had pulled out for past projects or research at one time.
lovely photo essay on the southern-most stub of Highway 99 that straddles the Grapevine.
pretty fault fold near Palmdale.
i've done some art work related to the land. actually a lot of my work has been about the land in one way or another. this stuff is old, and by today's standards poorly documented. large images were so daunting, once! lol
brief video documentation of some of the above.
in 2000 i did this cable TV show (yes, i was one of those cranks on late night cable) about men blowing up the earth with big bomb toys.
rough list of roads probably worth driving.