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We know what to call our freeways

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POSTED February 7, 2009 4:59 a.m.
I don’t quite know when it all started.

Sometime after I got my license to drive and began darting through the streets of Manteca in my El Camino and began venturing out beyond the several-block radius of my parents’ Mayors Park home, I started hearing a phrase over-and-over again whenever I would get directions from anybody when I traveled along the Interstate.

“Well – you just take THE 5 down to San Diego, and then you take THE 8 East for about 15 miles or so…”

And for whatever reason, the majority of the time that I was hearing “The 5” coming out of someone’s mouth, there was a 90 percent chance that they had either originated from or resided in Southern California (I still firmly believe that nobody ever born in places like San Diego end up staying there, while everyone else in the world tries to take their place – ironic.)
Now I know that if you’re driving anywhere in California for any length of time, there’s a good chance that you’re going to come across or at least travel on Interstate 5 (we’ll refer to it as I-5 just to make things simpler.) And whenever I give directions to people, that’s what I call it – signifying the fact that it is a Federal Interstate and not a State Highway, and should be properly addressed as such.

Surely there can’t be any confusion about what freeway you’re taking regardless of the prefix that someone places in front of the 5 when you’re traveling in The Golden State, but when venture beyond the borders of our great land things aren’t quite as clear cut.

There are interstates that have the same numbers as the state highways. And while the person directing you to wherever you’re trying to get to might refer to the every traffic signal marking the distance back to said roadway as a “red light,” they never forget the proper prefix.

It’s kind of what keeps everything in order.

This may seem like a mundane point to some, but when I called Target the other day to get a prescription refilled and had to listen to the pre-recorded message giving me directions to my favorite mega-retailer, I was dumbfounded to hear that it was located just off of “I 99.”

Naturally this is wrong, but I have to give Target credit for at least trying to designate the major thoroughfare that their customers travel on with the right prefix. Had it been “THE 99” I would have immediately transferred my medical matters to another pharmacy based on principal alone.

If you grow up in Northern California, it’s almost certain that you’re pre-disposed to some sort of loathing of anything south of Bakersfield. Whether it’s bred in through sports (like the Giants-Dodgers rivalry that dates back to their days in New York) or the fact that some believe they’re stealing our water (a feeling that’s intensified in times of extreme drought – like the one we’re experiencing now) there comes a point when the pollution and the sprawl and the traffic and the attitude becomes a turn off and you begin to savor the open space and clean (relatively speaking) air.

Technically we really don’t even live in Northern California. (It’s more like Central California, but the Central Coast is hundreds of miles south of where we are. Whoever made up these rules did a bad job.)

But at least we know what to call our freeways whenever some poor Texan is trying to find his way to San Francisco.

And that’s something you can hang your hat on.
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