I had the top down, and it was chilly out, but not cold. Traffic was light, making the four lanes seem very wide. Suddenly I was hit with the memory of the first time I had driven up that highway, when I was moving to San Diego.
It was a different convertible then, but the same chill air. I remember I had noticed how the wide, sprawling interchanges made such good use of the terrain to establish their different levels. I remember worrying that I had missed my exit, which was silly because I also noticed how much better-marked the exits are here compared with New Mexico.
Of course, once I got that feeling I started looking for the things that had changed in the last 17 years. I realized that almost every building I saw for the next few miles had not been there on my maiden trip; the first time through that canyon the freeway was all there was, and I have to admit I was quite taken with the bigness of it, the graceful sweep of the curves in the interchanges, and the way it fit into the canyon, occupying the space – consuming it – harmoniously. The road was a giant sculpture for driving on. Some environmentalist I turned out to be that night.
The road is now flanked by shopping centers, and condos crown the tops of the mesas. Miramar hasn’t changed visibly from the road – the military is the only organization in this town more powerful than the developers, and God Bless ’em for that. But the freeway isn’t as free any more; it’s very presence made the rest of the clutter inevitable. What was a graceful and thought-provoking rape of nature has now become part of just another meaningless urban jumble.
Part of the change is in me, as well. I no longer look at all the cars and wonder, “Where the hell are all those people going? Back then, when I was in a more sympathetic mood, especially late at night when, living near the freeway, I would stop and notice on those rare occasions when the noise had stopped – there was an actual gap in traffic leaving a silence so profound you had to comment on it, but not until the cars had started again – I would stop and think about what it meant to be on the road, to be going somewhere, with all the purpose of life that implies.
Now it’s just a big road with lots of cars, often too many, that I use when I have need. Maybe some time away from the big ribbon will restore my awe.