Highway One–Life’s Signposts


Like pathways, roads fascinate me. It might be the natural metaphor that roads imbue. Or it’s a simple how we leave and how we arrive and all that is in between.

A colleague is writing a book about a historical road. His enthusiasm inspires me. I’m a little bit envious of his project, especially when he posted that he recently shot hundreds of photos of the original old road.

Portions of California’s 644-mile Highway 1 hold significant personal signposts. Some are cloaked in memory’s fog. Other signposts signify warm, bright moments from the past. But always, the highway is number one in my life. It’s the sweetness of youth. It’s the patina of age.

Each time I drive down Santa Monica’s Ocean Avenue on to PCH north (Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1), a haunting and unexplained memory overwhelms me. Fog swoops in like a sneaker wave and impacts my emotions. The emotions are something from long ago—but significant to who I have become. The mystery of the emotions will likely remain buried in the sand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut when I fast forward to the Sixties and those romps from the hot San Fernando Valley on to the curves and drops of Malibu Canyon Road that brought me to PCH and Malibu’s mecca of sandy beaches and rousing surf, the sun graces those signposts.

Either north or south, these Highway 1 moments are hair-in-the-breeze, face-in-the-sun points of personal life, love and loss.

The roads we travel can be as crazed as Jack Kerouac’s tales, or a migration from dust to failed dreams as written by John Steinbeck. They can also be roads to conquer and convert like the missionaries that followed old trails and cut new roads through the world of California’s native people. Roads can bring us to and take us from who and what we love.

It goes without saying that all roads lead to the one that I travel today. In a literal sense, Highway 1 is that road. In a symbolic sense it’s the single road that I’ve sought most of my life. But when I crossed the scenic road last Sunday while hiking a country trail, I had this fear that I would have to leave the first significant highway along my sixty-odd year journey. I pushed that thought from my mind and kept walking toward the sea.

This business of aging, like being on the road, hit ruts, provides awe-inspiring views, still requires a map, needs light in the dark, and maybe a few more roadside rests than before. And no matter how radically I adjust the rear view mirror, what’s behind me remains.

Sometimes I wish this road had less zigs and zags. Sometimes I wish more warning signs came with flashing red lights. But it doesn’t always work that way. And for all I know, a predictable straight road would bore me to tears anyway.

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