Friday, January 25, 2008

Southern California Storm

   I see by AOL news that Interstate Highway 5 is blocked by snow.  I-5 is the main, and practically the only connection between Southern California and anything north, like Merced or San Francisco.  When it is blocked everything stops.  It is likely to remain closed for five or more days.

  I lived most of my life in Southern California, and I have fond memories of I-5...before it ever was I-5. I have been stranded by snow on I-5 several times.  Long ago.... when cars were flivvers, as Model T Fords were called, there was no way north from Los Angeles.  As the old joke says, "You can't get there from here."  Then some enterprising road builder built a long snaky, twisting two lane road through the mountains. It was so twisted and curvy they called it the "grapevine".

As a child I was carried by an ancient Hudson over the grapevine. It took hours.  As cars improved, so did roads.  Now the Interstate cuts through mountains that one used to wind around and over. Still gets blocked from time to time by winter weather. 

Funny thing is, in nice weather, you can get off the Interstate and find patches of the old Grapevine.  Now it is fun, then it was misery.  Now, you slow down to the pace of a Model-T Ford and crawl along the abandoned "old road".  You reminisce along the way. "There's where we cracked both heads on our first V-8.  Boiled over, right there and there's where we spent the night waiting for the Greyhound Bus to deliver us parts." Getting there was part of the adventure, and no one expected to make Bakersfield in two hours.  Sometimes it was two days.

   The grade of the old road was steep.  On the way up you overheated and had to stop and cool off.  On the way down you were in danger of burning out your brakes and running away.  The road had "escape ramps" for runaway trucks.  When a big rig lost his brakes and began to roar down the hill it was Whoa Nellie Get Out of the Way. Whoosh he flow down the hill until he came to an escape ramp and they could turnoff into some soft sand which would stop him before he smashed some poor tourist in a Chevy.

   At the summit of the Grapevine, some 4000 feet higher than Los Angeles or Bakersfield on either end, was a sort of community called CastaicCastaic was mostly gas stations and motels, and was a good spot to stop along the way. It had a nice restaurant and a couple of fast food places too. 

   I remember one trip when I had just departed Castaic and joined the flow of traffic on the highway, things came to an abrupt halt.  Far, far ahead, a tank truck had run away down the grade and jack knifed across the highway.  The highway had become a miles and miles long parking lot.  We could not go forward, nor even back to Castaic for a Big Mac. We, my dog and I, sat. 

   People got out of their cars and walked back and forth visiting from car to car.  I had a portable keyboard of sorts and I sat playing simple one finger tunes.  The music attracted and charming young lady.  She complimented my on my tune and we made small talk and got acquainted. She was an actual musician and she took the silly little keyboard and played real music on it.  I was wowed, and charmed.

   She liked me and my dog, but as we got interested in one another, the traffic began to move.  She looked at the line of cars that was beginning to inch ahead, sighed, and said, "Well, I guess that's it." Of course we never saw one another again.

   I remember the Grapevine fondly. I hope it goes as well for motorists who are stuck this next week.


garnett109 said...

great saturday morning story.
Any tornado's yet?

valphish said...

Very intersting.  I hope everyone is safe there.  Blocked for five days, wow.  Hope you are having a good Saturday, Chuck!  Love, Val xox

kateh2ocolorart said...

and what about the time most of the family got stuck coming back from a xmas trip to tahoe?  I was glad THAT time that I was safe at home waiting for you all.

jmorancoyle said...

    How cool is that? It could never happen today. I could never imagine pulling over on today's Dangerous Dan (the Dan Ryan Expressway here in Chicago) and making friends. Wouldn't and couldn't happen.