updated 12 apr 2020
20 nov 2019
i've 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 class status and meanings of cars and driving is rigidly codified in american culture. it's rare for anything automotive or driving-related to appear in so-called fine arts (which may be just as well). the driving i'm interested in always in the cracks between; nothing rarefied or exotic, anyone can do it. motorcycle folk are probably more aware of this (as 'riding'), not commuting, not travel, not 'goal-oriented'; bodily experience in the blending machine and road and land.
there's nothing glamorous about it; in fact it's tedious, if you decide to think of it that way, and it seems most people do. when i head out on a long trip, the first day getting out of town is often exactly that; I-10 out of Los Angeles is a slog, but along the way 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 entangled in the matrix of urbanity and traffic, distraction, crap in the roadway, accidents and detours, that the road is seen as just work. but as the Interstate reaches into more open space on the land, even a modern Interstate looks purposeful, its context, its very reason for existing, more visible as surrounding density drops. also the air is truly bad; PM and UFP.
cars make air bad. maybe below some density the mess can be absorbed, but intra-urban LA freeways are physically awful: on a recent trip from LA to the Las Vegas area, in my open roadster, at each end of the trip i nearly gagged on a nasty black snot-thing an inch long. sorry to be disgusting. this has happened to me on other long trips that involve lots of intra-urban driving. i did some research on particulate matter on roadways -- as opposed to the remote AQMD test/measurement sites -- and it's really terrible.
from Near Roadway Exposure and Ultrafine Particles from AQMD is this chart, here without the measurement and meaning context, which is available in the report, but you'll actually have to read it -- on-roadway particulates are more than 10 times the density (amount) as reported by the AQMD report locations, which are in residential areas (reasonably enough). i was looking for, with my limited knowledge, PM2.5 and PM10 densities. this scatterplot/bar chart is not that, it's about UFPs (ultra-fine particles). but there is a correlation between UFPs and larger PM stuff, and all i was looking for was can-i-hit-a-barn-door knowledge.
my conclusion: while driving long distances within/through the greater LA basin, or other large urban sprawls eg. Phoenix, i wear an N95 particulate mask. (3M Aura 9211+ are decent, cheap, and foldable). if you know me at all, you will know i'm no alarmist. the shit out of my nose was scary.
(note the vertical scale is in POWERS OF TEN, not linear! "on road" is more than 10 times larger than "urban background". the line is the error bar. note also "rural"; this doesn't necessarily mean "pollution", particulate matter is also perfectly normal part of nature. also, North America is hugely, vastly, cleaner air than china, india, much of african continent. rtfm.)
desert roads are beautiful. we are nature.
below is a quick view of the solar farm up near Boulder City
Interstate 40, west from Fenner, CA, 70 mph, in the roadster.
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.
yeah sure maps are not the territory, but why do i have to choose? the science and art of mapping is outside the scope of this page, but suffice to say they're a wonderful way to augment dirt rocks and roads, and to plan and visualize driving when you can't actually be on the road.
the satellite mapping of the planet, accessible by Google Earth and google Maps, is up on a short list of the most profound things humans have ever done to (with, for) the planet. satellite image and height data is a (small part of a tremendous, gargantuan) database abstraction of the earth, that with good 3-D viewer software (the aforementioned) actually corellates the visual with bodily experience. this is doubly unusual, as most software models today emphasize disembodied cerebral "experience".
Google Earth is not a "map". 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.
it's also wonderful 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 facade 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 taken 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.
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.
Highway 58 self-guided-tour
Through the Grapevine
LA's traffic infrastructure
pretty fault fold near Palmdale.
abandoned AFB/prison in Boron
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.