California’s Interstate 5 is a 1,400-mile-long highway that has a reputation, particularly in its 460-mile stretch through Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, for utter homogeneity and the ability to bore even hardened highway veterans to stunned vapidity.
For me, that stretch is the best part.
From my earliest memories my family drove I5, from Los Angeles to San Jose where we visited Jack and Glenda , or to Fresno and Pine Flat Lake where we camped on the shore and waterskied for days, or to Shasta for even longer waterski vacations, or sometimes even to parts further north in Oregon: Crater Lake, or my sister Juli.
I drive slowly compared to other interstate drivers, so mostly I just hang out in the right lane and take my time.
The scenery is what I call The Landscape of My Heart. I’ve talked about it before, how the classic California landscape affects me. When I’m in it, I tend to relax more, to feel at home, and that’s what driving I5 says to me, no matter which way I drive it, north or south. Home.
Home of the heart.
I drove it recently, when I went home to LA, to help my mother . And it was stupendously beautiful.
I get to remember the visit I’m leaving behind, but don’t yet need to think about the responsibilities that wait for me back in San Francisco.
You can just go ahead and wail and slobber, and ain’t nobody ever going to hear you, and let me tell you there have been times when I’ve needed that.
You can talk to yourself, you can whimper, you can scream out loud. You can be as morose as you need to be, you can swear and spit and say horrible things about yourself or other people, and I5 just takes it in stride and comforts you.
You can giggle and chortle to your heart’s content, and nobody will look at you like you’re crazy. You can talk your way through confusion and ambiguity, or pray out loud, or lose your train of thought and find it again without anybody interrupting you.
And then that part ends, and I’m driving up the Grapevine pass. The tilt of this land, the hills colored like lions, the bare and revealed gelogic structure, has always moved me deeply.
And the pass this year is lousy with orange California poppies like I’ve never seen it, not in all of the forty years I remember climbing the grade, a last gift before I’m over Tejon Pass and down into Castaic, first outpost of the LA Metropolitan Region, the concrete jungle I’ll pass through for another hour or two before I make it to mom’s, which is lovely, but isn’t quite home.
And I feel like I’ve been comforted the whole way. Supported somehow, which is odd in that I5 is inanimate and yet I anthropomorphize it so completely. It speaks to me, it always has, and it says, “Home.”