After living over 20 years in Southern California, I’m still a bit hesitant driving on the freeways. One day I found myself driving alone up the 405 and was moved to pray. Although that time, I didn’t pray to the Divine, I spoke directly to the freeway and asked for safe passage to my destination. The 405 nodded, smiled, then asked me to dance.
As I drove up from West LA, Interstate 405 seemed like a flirty young man with a bit of a rebellious and trickster streak. I hit the scan button on the radio and let him choose the music. A little bit of 80s pop as we passed near Westwood, and then Fleetwood Mac when we caught the last breath of Pacific Ocean breeze. It was all Elvis, young Elvis, as our hips rocked this way and that way through the Sepulveda Pass. I moved into the left lanes to avoid the exits to the 101 and went down into the Valley, while the Police told their story about Roxanne and her red light.
I felt profoundly grateful as I neared the connection to the next freeway (a much smaller and less intimidating one). I was a little sad to leave my dance partner and thanked him for the good time. He winked and said “Later, Darlin’”. The mischievous streak was confirmed when just moments after exiting onto the other freeway, I had to detour due to unexpected road construction. A gentleman would have warned me, but I took no offense. I danced with the 405, and it was what it was.
Part of me is fascinated by Freeways. They’re kin to Rivers with their own ecosystems and flow, merging and swelling into large thoroughfares, diverging into small steams. They are places in and of themselves moving through other places. People, plants, and animals live near the banks of the Freeways and make their livings from them. Like all Rivers, Freeways are haunted.
I used to wonder if Freeways were just a new material form of old and forgotten Rivers. The building materials of the structures being made from rocks, metals, and minerals found in dried Riverbeds. The ancient River now flowing in a new body built from the remains of its old body.
After dancing with the 405, I believe that Freeways are something uniquely themselves. They’re an expression of a new idea into the material world. Their essence seems tightly entwined with and emergent from the Cities they move through.
Rivers seem to birth Cities. Cities birth Freeways. Cities touch each other and communicate through the Freeway system, like Trees do through the Mycelial network. Yet, it seems that connection and communication are not their only role. They stretch out upon the land, arms and legs akimbo, like children laying on grass in the Sun. What could they be getting up to?
I once knew a mapmaker who explained to me how Interstate Freeways in the USA get their numbers while we were traveling North on the 15. The ones that run North/South get the odd numbers and numbering begins in the West. The ones with even numbers run East/West and the numbering begins in the South. Ones named with one or two digit numbers are the main Interstates – for example, I-5, I-10, I-15. Interstates that are named with 3 digits are offshoots of the main Interstates. If the offshoot loops back into the main Interstate it gets an even number followed by the name of the main Freeway. If not, it gets an odd number to start. For example, the 405 – it’s an offshoot of the I-5. You can tell because the 40 is even and it ends in 5 which is the name of the main Interstate it comes from. State Routes are completely different.
I’ve been paying attention to the feelings that I get from the Freeways that I travel along. The 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway) feels like being on the edge of a bed and about to slip off, even in the places where there’s land on either side – delicately balanced. The 101 is loopy and playful; like a Golden Retriever puppy. The 5 feels like a solid and dependable older person. The farmlands it moves through echo through the whole of its length. It makes sense that the 405 would feel like a rebel from its parent, the 5.
As places, Freeways are best experienced moving swiftly along them. I think that much of the frustration of being stopped in heavy traffic isn’t so much that you’re going to be late, but that it feels so wrong to be still in something that is meant to be flowing. Freeways desire movement and most anything that curtails movement draws miles of its ire. It wants us to move, to go, to flow. Freeways are places in motion.
I’ve yet to dance with another freeway like I did that day with the 405. To be honest, they are still a bit intimidating to me. But I’ve found that I can drive and tune in to their vibrations and listen to their voice sometimes. When I do this, I get a sense of these places that move through places, these not-Rivers, these massive lounging children in love with flow.