Ode To A Highway

Andrew Sullivan —  May 4 2013 @ 10:34am

Maria Bustillos lovingly describes her favorite route:

California natives always call it just ‘The Five’: not Highway Five or Interstate Five or I-5. The whole road is some 800 miles (1,200km) long, and is the only US interstate touching the borders of both Mexico and Canada. If, like me, you prefer to drive rather than to fly between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, the 400 or so miles along this route are the most distinctively Californian, the most revealing of the strange diversity of this landscape and its people, its terrible moral conflicts, and the weird vitality of its countless subcultures. The Five is unendingly rich and full of interest, despite all caricatures to the contrary; despite, or rather because of its glowing, gorgeous emptiness.

Once on the road, “the car becomes a meditation chamber”: 

It all happens by itself. Breathing slows, the benevolent sky swells out, almost always a blue so pure, clean and enamelled that even worries of climatic catastrophe recede for a moment. Maybe there are some clouds, artfully arranged. Choose your moment to leave town — I like to leave at around 5am, just before rush hour — and there won’t even be any traffic to speak of. Just the white noise of the purring engine to amplify the calm, blissful silence, which will at last find its way into even the most stubbornly busy mind.

Dropping into the Central Valley from the mountains surrounding the Tejon Pass is like breaking open a petit four, getting past the glossy, pretty exterior: inside is the cake. The urban surfaces of California are what we see in movies and on TV: slick, manufactured, shouting, cajoling, bamboozling, seducing, ready to sell you something. And then the confected beauty of the city gives way; now the land reaches far out to the sky. Your ears pop from the pressure change, and a sign advises you that the next gas station is 19 miles off.

(Photo courtesy of Orange County Archives)