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Walt Whitman Takes a Drive Down Interstate 5

Jul 14, 2010

(Editor's Note, in regard to the following blog post: The California Planning & Development Report disclaims any belief, credence or even any wish-it-were-true feelings in regard to spiritualims, ghosts, spooks, spectres, poltergeists and similar phenomena—even if one of our correspondents of longest standing, Morris Newman, seems to be crediting his most recent work products to the honored dead. If he's just in a temporary funk, we can try to overlook it. If this line of supernatural thinking continues however, an exchange of memos may be in order, if you know what we mean.)

Dear readers, I understand, and even anticipate your skepticism when I try to tell you, as gently as I can, that I was driving my daughter's 1999 olive green Dodge Neon southward from Berkeley on the Monday of the July 4th weekend, after fetching my oldest boy from school. It was about that point in the afternoon that I began to feel even more fuzzy headed than usual.

As if instructed by a Sixth Sense, I glanced sidelong at the passenger side, where No. 1 Son had been sitting, and there was an old man with a flowing, snowy white beard, who bore a striking resemblance to the immortal Bard of Camden, N.J. After exchanging a few pleasantries about the weather and the extraordinary mileage on the Neon, the gentleman recited the following poem to me, as we drove down the length of Interstate 5. I enjoyed his company, because the ride is usually so monotonous. He recited the following to me; I took careful notes. 

You have taken me by storm, O Interstate!

Tho' I didn't want to yield myself so easily to the blandishments of the vile road,

O the crassness, the money grubbing!

The naïve wonder of urbanites for the commonplace:

Grape vines, cattle, stone fruit orchards, McDonalds!

We will someday stop at every McDonalds

Between Stockton and San Diego, if it kills us, 

That's one Youtube video that'll go viral, for sure!

 

Yes, I love Interstate 5. The snob in me dies.

This is the Main Street of California.

This is small business and farmers repositioning,

Fruitstands side by side the shrieking corporate signs:

"We're from Nowhere's-ville, baby, and You're coming with Us."

 

Interstate 5 is all about travel,

So interesting, so energetic, so American.  

Little travel villages popping up everywhere! 

We stopped at Petro just north of the Grapevine, 

There are actually two (!) Petros in the same roadside location, 

Each with its own gas station! I love America, land of invention! 

 

The Petro itself is a work of art,

Tho' I suspect it is a corporate product

To be cloned mercilessly across the heartland:

A general store with sundries, liniments, Christian hoodies,  

A Subway sandwich shop, a mini-cinema

With movies to watch while you launder your duds.

O wondrous hybrid of Little America and 7-11, 

O Petro, thou fostereth the love of trucker culture and the road,

For millions of Californians motoring through  – zip, zip, zip!

Who on the whole are well behaved, diverse, fascinating, 

The millionaire in a sleeveless tee from Banana Republic

Standing in line with the farm worker at the In N Out. 

O the 5 is the great equalizer in an unequal state.

 

Interstate 5 is the Great Strip, the Back Road of California,

The 5 is not the 101, with its coastlines, hillsides, picturesque towns, 

Interstate 5 is good, old-style California hucksterism,

Fruit stands, corn mazes, antiques, trucks full of garlic,

Merle Haggard, Tom Joad, Indian food, last gas for 25 miles,

All of which we feel a grudging affection for,

And which the corporate Nothingness, Heaven forbid, threatens to blot out.

Vulgar, plebe California – You are us, and we are you. 

(At this point, we dropped off the ghost of the venerable poet at the Beyond Baroque building in Venice, and the recitation went no further. Scholars wishing to anthologize this piece will have to take our word for it.) 

-Morris Newman

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