Ode to Hwy 99

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October 19th 2006
Published: October 19th 2006
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It was on a routine business trip to Los Angeles down Highway 99 that the thought came to me: "You know, of all highways I have ever been on, Highway 99 has got to be the most special of them all. I owe something to this Highway.

This was borne...

"Ode to Hwy 99"

Oh, no, don't expect this to have some sort of formal stanzaic structure. No strophe, antistrophe or epode here. I just wish to write about a highway that has been a part of my life, as long as I can remember.

I could not tell you where the place was. But somewhere near where we lived in Pasadena, prior to leaving on our annual camping trip, I tagged along with my dad to a store to get camping supplies. I remember the smell of canvas. Tents everywhere. I learned to love anything that said 'Coleman.' That meant we were going camping!!! Today, I still have the umbrella tent my dad bought. That good old tent. Yeah. What memories... from hearing bears sniffing outside, picking award winning mega mountain buggars while hunkered down in my sleeping bag, to having to hide my face as my SISTER used the porta-pottie inside that stupid tent while it rained cats and dogs outside.

Yeahh, every year we'd (well, my mom and dad would) pack the car.. one of em was a black and white Buick and head north. The year: sometime in the late 50's. Some years we'd go to Yosemite up highway 385, but most of the time, we'd take the route up Highway 99, through the Grapevine, and down into the San Joaquin Valley.

That was my recollection as a child. Then in 1962, we took a journey of a different sort up that same route: this time a moving van followed us. That was the year we moved to Fresno.

Fresno. My first and most vivid recollection was going through it on Highway 99. What a sight of wrecking yards, and junkyards and Trash Mountain. Yeahh, TRASH MOUNTAIN. You can still see it on the west side of the highway. Who designed all this to be seen from the highway??? There were even pigs down in those horrid places. To me, Fresno was a pig sty. But, in 1962, that's where we moved.

By sheer memory, I wrote down 18 places of substance along Hwy 99. In between these cities are many more other little towns. There is Bakersfield, Delano, Tulare, Visalia, Kingsburg, Selma, Fresno, Madera, Chowchilla, Merced, Atwater, Turlock. Modesto. Ceres. Manteca. Lodi. Stockton. Sacramento Red Bluff, and Redding. Yeahh, I know it goes further north, but I will confine this work of love to the highway that I know: Highway 99 from Bakersfield to Sacramento.

Don't let anyone tell you that Interstate 5 is the main artery of California. And yeahh, Highway 1, and 101 may be more scenic. But I have to tell you that if Highway 99 were all of a sudden closed down, it would affect the entire world. YOU would hurt.

No, it isn't the prettiest, or maybe even the busiest. But it goes straight through the richest agricultural region in the world... Kern, Tulare, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus and Sacramento Counties. This is the living heritage of the Grapes of Wrath. It belongs to field workers, truck drivers, Joe Lunchbucket and the self made man. The fella who pulled himself up by his own boot straps wore his boots out around Hwy 99. It's better than the best in the west... it's 'west of the west'.

Let me tell you... this is California. Go ahead... visit Disneyland, Universal Studios, Sea World in San Diego, Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. By all means, drive the coast, take in the beaches, see the desert. But if you miss Highway 99, you have missed the backbone of the state of California.

(to be continued)


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