1 January 2006
Ode to a road
What's the most famous road in America?
Right you are. But Route 66 is less than a pale shadow of itself these days, more memory than actual roadway, and the remaining drivable sections of it are slowly, sometimes not slowly, being reincarnated as tourist traps.
That leaves the crown to the New Jersey Turnpike, a supersized ribbon of asphalt and angst that bisects the Garden State, the subject of a six-page tribute by David Holzman in the February issue of Car and Driver.
I first drove the Turnpike in 2001. Having only just finished a vaguely-similar road in Pennsylvania, I was filled with trepidation: C/D's own Brock Yates had once described the Turnpike as the American equivalent of MiG Alley, and, well, I'm no fighter pilot. It took only a few miles, though, for me to realize that if I were going to get into trouble, it would be caused by some nimrod with out-of-state plates: someone like, um, me.
Holzman's piece doesn't romanticize the Turnpike, but neither does it complain: the article, like the Turnpike itself, simply is, and in true Jersey fashion, it doesn't much concern itself with your reaction. The usual names are checked, from Bruce Springsteen to the Barista of Bloomfield Avenue, and there are the obligatory mentions of the delicate scent of sulfur dioxide and Paul Simon's whine about counting the cars with Kathy. But what matters here is the road, and whether you think it's the nexus of American despair or simply the least-complicated way from Point A to Point B, last year motorists and truckers rolled up more than six billion miles and paid $440 million in tolls.
The Interstate system, which wasn't even on the drawing boards when the New Jersey Turnpike was built, was intended as a reasonable facsimile of the German autobahnen. The Turnpike never had any such international ambitions: it's as American as apple pie and more so, lately, than Chevrolet. Houston architect R. Gregory Turner explains:
The turnpike is a swaggering giant that plows through the industrial heartland of the East Coast, overpowering even the mighty landscape of refineries, airports, and tank farms that have the temerity to get in its path. It is a muscular 12 lanes wide, formed of masses of concrete, steel, and asphalt. It is not a subtle roadway, it is straightforward; indeed, it is virtually straight! Its beauty is in its simplicity.
Mr Turner, I should point out, used to live near Exit 9.
And for a lot of us, when we think of New Jersey, we don't necessarily think of the Boss, the corruption, the chemicals, The Sopranos, or even the Shore; we think of the New Jersey Turnpike, and we wonder if we're going to run into beach traffic.Posted at 6:18 PM to Driver's Seat
TrackBack: 10:40 PM, 2 January 2006
» I’ve been everywhere from The Gleeson Bloglomerate
Yesterday, Charles Hill made the unsupportable assertion that with the exception of Route 66, the New Jersey Turnpike was “the most famous road in America.” You may participate in that debate over on Dustbury.com. But I wanted to show you......[read more]