Wednesday, February 04, 2009

hwy 99

2 main highways run north to south in california, interstate 5 and highway 99, and both go toward l.a. both are simply not pretty. but highway 99 is the lower gi tract of the central valley. it is ug [emphasis on the uhg!!] ly. nothing pretty about it. just a single black track that runs almost in a straight line thru some serious ag land. nothing but farm, such as almond orchards and dairy. and dairy farms fucking stink! i'm talking the smell is horrendous. yes, i know, agriculture is a vital industry and it happens to be the largest industry of california. but that doesn't make it pretty to look at. not at all.

which is funny since i think the popular image most people have of california is one of sun, sand and surf, or the cosmopolitan european atmosphere of san francisco. but a huge chunk of california is peppered with cities with names like los banos [the bath, or bathroom] and manteca [lard, like to use in cooking]. that gives you an idea of the flat [the central valley is indeed very flat] horrors of many sections of my beloved state. plus it gets very hot here in summer, superhot, almost like the surface of the sun. and in winter, such as now, highway 99 is often enveloped in some seriously thick fog, called tule fog, that makes driving treacherous. which happened to us yesterday as we drove to fresno. lotsa thick fog in the morning. big soggy blankets of it.

in other words, driving south in california simply is an exercise in your temper and sanity. hang on sloopy for it is a long and boring road. but why get so exercised over this when frankly a place is simply the result of geologic and man-made time as an area slowly accretes into a measurable identity? and that identity is hardly artificial. you couldn't make up the results of highway 99. you can try as planners have indeed, but highway 99, as most places we live tend to be, is a series of accidents. it's identity of the flat and boring and frankly ugly is one of necessity. it is what it is because it can't be anything else.

i can't answer my own question on why be so freaked by my travels down highway 99. perhaps it has something to do with my own love of travel by road. there is a mystique to it, isn't there. after all, keruoac wrote his famous book because of that mystique. do i want everything to be pleasing to the eye and nose and ear? no, really, i don't. and i did see a few worn-out and dilapidated examples of road-side vernacular architecture and two drive-in theaters. i love the worn, used and crumbling ruins of our civilizations, especially if it's pop culture. so then it can't be highway 99's fault because it is what it must be. can poems be written about it? i firmly believe poetry can be written about anything. in fact, the city of fresno is full of good poets. so it must be me. the problem lies with me. as i traveled thru and on highway 99 i felt an agitation that belied the circumstances that put me on the road. i looked about and saw ugliness and despair in the land and the buildings. my own curiosity deadened. and frankly i was sick to know why.


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