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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Poppies and Freeways

The other day I was driving home from a meeting in a town over an hour away and I had to take a bunch of freeways I wasn’t used to driving. I listen to the traffic news a lot so I’m familiar with the numbers and the names but not always sure which name goes with which number. In Los Angeles the freeways have names, like The Golden State, or The San Bernadino. The newscasters also refer to specific areas on the freeways, like the Orange Crush, and the East L.A. Interchange. I don’t always know where these places are because I don’t drive them.

Another point about the freeway system is that my “Eastern” friends, i.e.; anyone past Nevada, are always making fun of us Californians for saying “the” before a freeway number. Well, I discovered there is a reason for that, and I quote from Grant Geyer’s article in “American Speech.” 

“In about 1941, just before the completion of the first of the famous freeways, intercity traffic came into Los Angeles on the north-south axis on U.S. 99, U.S. 101, or California Route 1.... Before the freeways were built, locals generally preferred the old, time-honored street or road names instead of numbers in conversation. So for ‘U.S. 99’ they said San Fernando Road because the highway followed that particular named street, as far as the distant end of “town.” Likewise, ‘U.S. 101’ was Ventura Boulevard and ‘Route 1’ was Pacific Coast Highway....Route 1 or Route 101 was not used in town.
When the federal interstate system grew up, the southern California area got its share of funding and road numbers.... However, for the first 20 years of the interstate system, no one used the numerical designations.... The interstate routes around Los Angeles were called the 
Ventura Freeway, the Hollywood Freeway, the Santa Ana Freeway, the Golden State Freeway, the San Bernardino Freeway, the Pasadena Freeway, the Glendale Freeway, the San Diego Freeway, the Santa Monica Freeway, the Harbor Freeway, the Riverside Freeway, and the Long Beach Freeway.

....The strange-sounding usage of the plus number, as in the 118, was the natural result of an amazing proliferation of new, minor interstate cutovers, extensions, and bypasses that began about 1975.... [It] was even more pronounced when new major Los Angeles interstates sprang up without having any precursors and without being extensions of earlier, nonnumerical freeways. The first one I remember in this category was the 605 Freeway.” (“The” Freeway in Southern California, by Grant Geyer, American Speech, Summer 2001)

So, fancy that, a legitimate reason for our “funny” way of referring to the freeway system.

Along my drive I had to take “the” 10 West to “the” 57 North and right there at this colossal interchange (not the East L.A. interchange) there were wild poppies growing along the side of the road. It was beautiful! I was surprised by the cluster of nature that created a small haven of beauty on an urban freeway. It pleased me. Maybe I was already happy from having had a wonderful day and evening by myself (sans children and spouse) with little demands, or maybe it really was just an appreciation for an enigma among spoils.


Poppies, by the way, are one of my most favorite flowers. Maybe a true Californian at heart, but mostly their presence in late winter and early spring in the desert where I live signals new life and color in an otherwise drab environment. Unfortunately when the blooms disappear they look like messy weeds and their roots like pale carrots. While they bloom along roadsides, on the hillsides, and yes, apparently even along freeway interchanges, I am awestruck at their cheerfulness.


  1. It's sort of like saying "depending on traffic" after saying how long til you'll be somewhere. When I was still living in WI people were like, "Um, what traffic would that be?". Too late though, it's ingrained and I will tack that on anytime I'm traveling.

  2. I use "the" here in Hawaii too... I take the H1 to the H2 and so on. I don't listen to the radio much so mI'm not sure whether or not there are names attached to these freeways, but being an implant from California I have brought with me the nuances of speech that are so particular for that region.

    As for the poppies, they hold a special place in my memories of Southern California, and I miss the early springs of my past. It always meant that summer was approaching and that "Dreaded" school was on the verge of closing for the summer!! WOO HOO! In any case, I am a big fan of the poppies that grow in SoCal and can't wait to experience them again sometime... not likely anytime soon though :(.

    If anyone wants to join me on my 2 hour road-trip around the Island we'll hit all the major freeways... oh wait, there are only two.... ;)

  3. Very interesting! I didn't know that us Californians referred to freeways in an unusual way...that's how much of a California girl I am! LOL I know exactly where you are talking about on the 10 & 57, it's nice up there!

  4. Oh, and I remember visiting my brother in AZ and everything was "Loops"? That was weird...

  5. here in Florida, we say "I" for interstate before our roads. I4 is the main road to disney and across town. I408 takes you west, and I427 south. I think it sounds dumb.. but when explaining to people, somehow they get it. The "I" makes it sound important.

    OH BTW, I thought I was the only person in the world who loved Poppies. They are so colorful, and make you smile. I wish you would have stoped to take a pic.

  6. i love poppies. and driving is just confusing in California...

  7. Fun. I was impressed with THE story. Can't wait to hear more of what's happening in THE next little while. Have a great day.

  8. Poppies are why we are the golden state. As ships first saw the coastline in California there were so many poppies the land had a golden look to it. Thus the name Golden State! How could a true Californian not love poppies.

    The AV is drab but the sky is so beautiful. I miss that.

    Each state has it's own quirky way of communicating. I can usually figure it out but my sister moved to Australia and she just seems to forget I need a translator, lol.


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