OPINION: Travel Notes: My love affair with America

Buddy Gomez -- CYBERBUDDY*

Posted at Aug 10 2018 09:31 PM | Updated as of Aug 11 2018 09:48 AM

Over four decades ago, when I first hopped on to an Interstate Freeway, driving an automobile responding to my unobstructed, unimpeded desired and controlled speed, I have been hooked! 
For half of my life, I have been incorrigibly romantic about America’s Interstate Highway System, and likely to remain so, hopefully up until my nineties, my reflexes permitting. And of course my children permitting, too, who all think I am a lousy motorcar driver! (They are a bunch of “unlicensed backseat drivers!” and have threatened to soon deprive me of my license!) But it has always been sheer and simple pleasure navigating through vistas, sceneries at various elevations and terrains over hundreds of miles, interrupted only by urban areas and cities opening up its central business districts, or even skirting from them, for elevated expressways to cut through or bypass! 

Yet, always, I am hung up on an intermittently lingering frustrating sentiment. Why could we not have had such transportation amenities and facilities back home in the Philippines? Our North and South Express Tollways do not qualify as comparatives. Although the Clark to Subic highway is almost like “stateside,” so I have been told. I must therefore experience that drive soon.

At various interrupted stretches of times, beginning with an involuntary Martial Law exile in the early 1970s, having resided in California, Florida and Texas (after 8 years in Hong Kong) , I have traversed the sky wide open terrain in between those great States. Thus, much of my romance with America’s land transport ways have been with Interstate Highway 10.

Image courtesy of Google Maps

Fondly called “I-10,” this interstate freeway cuts across the southern half of continental USA, from Jacksonville, Florida fronting the Atlantic all the way westward to the Pacific Ocean, ending in Santa Monica, California cutting across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. That is a distance of 2,460 miles or almost 4,000 kilometers. Although I have driven through much of its entire length only twice, I have many more times negotiated the stretch between Texas and California. 

From Texas to California, some three fourths of the way are scenic deserts, limestone hill and mountain vistas, brush and scrublands with picturesque mesas and canyons, dotted with towering Saguaro cactus. The I-10 portion within California, from the eastern border town of Blyth towards Indio and Coachella Valley (famous for its Music and Arts Festival), however, is unfortunately a boring desert.
Interstate Highway 8, from Phoenix to San Diego is zig-zagging and mountainous desert. 

In 2002 I drove over I-10 and I-8, without relief, a loaded 26-feet U-Haul truck. My son, Jose, who was then barely fifteen, was with me. That was the longest stretch I have ever done solo in one day. For sure, no encore! Over 800+ miles, 1,300 kilometers in one day! (Slightly more than the distance from Aparri to Jolo!) From El Paso, Texas to San Diego, dawn to near midnight, interrupted by a broken fan-belt at Yuma, California with the temperature at 116 degrees F. under the shade! But UHaul on-call roadside assistance was very reliable. 

On that particular trip Jose and I left San Antonio after lunch and arrived in El Paso after 10 pm, a 500-mile drive for some ten hours including gas up stops. I drove through the same stretch again, alone, in 2008 to ferry a friend’s Mazda from San Antonio to San Diego.

Also in 2008, with younger son Joey (Edward Joseph) as companion, I drove a loaded 20 ft.+ PENSKE truck (UHaul competitor) from Poway (near San Diego) north through Interstate 15 and eastward on “I-10” all the way to San Antonio, Texas. Two days, solo driving for some 19 to 20 hours, a distance of 1270 miles!

It is along I-10, within New Mexico at an elevation of 4585 ft. above sea level where one passes through what is known as the “Continental Divide.” As best as I can recall, it is not midway within North America referencing neither elevation nor East-West distance. Instead, it is the point about where rivers flow towards the Pacific and towards the Atlantic. There must be other Continental Divides in other elevations located along some other Interstate highways.

The longest ‘Interstate,’ however is not “I-10” but Interstate Highway 90. I-90 runs from Seattle to Boston, Massachusetts. The distance between is 3,020 miles or 4,862 kms. I have not driven through I-90’s entire length but in 1984 I did 3/4s of the way, from Seattle to the Mid-West (Iowa and Illinois areas) and from there, south to Mobile, Alabama along Interstate-65 driving a 27-ft. recreational vehicle. And through “I-10” again through the Florida panhandle, destination De Funiak Springs!
 
There, too, is Interstate 5, running south-north, from San Ysidro (at the Tijuana border in Mexico) all the way to Blaine in Washington State (at the Canadian border). “I-5” is the US’s Pacific Coast Highway. It is 1381 miles (2222 kms) long. While I have never driven through its entire length, I have traversed “I-5” many times between San Diego through Los Angeles to San Francisco, as well as portions in Oregon and Seattle going north to Vancouver.

ROMANCING I-10 AGAIN 

Over the last weekend (August 4 & 5), I was ‘on the road again.’ Romancing “I-10” one more time! 

My son, Jose Ma., now married, and wife Tiffany Cardenas relocated to Irvine, California from San Antonio, Texas. I helped them move, taking turns at the wheel every couple hundred miles. We covered 1,350 miles, (2,170 + kms) of I-10, for a total of 19 hours actual driving time, over those two days. A loaded 15-feet UHaul truck pulling an open trailer securely laden with Tiffany’s car, together, all of 36-feet long. Estimated total gross weight of 25000 lbs. Tiffany followed in Jose’s car, alternating with her friend, Cindy.

Alongside Interstate 10 and for hundreds of miles, from San Antonio to Arizona, the transcontinental railway runs almost parallel. Between the railroad tracks and the freeway is a two-lane paved ‘frontage road’ for local and non-interstate commuting. Throughout our drive, there must have been some 7 or 8 sets of locomotives, each pulling at least a mile long of about 250 railway cars. Some hauling 40-ft containers loaded double-decked in open cars, some enclosed with cattle, others with liquids and/or minerals and/or construction aggregates. And but of course, the ubiquitous 18-wheeler road behemoths (trailer-trucks) whose average length is about 23 meters long. All these, the vibrant pulse of American commerce, on the move!

(Incidental information: Thousands of truckers are retiring. Not enough replacements. The industry estimates a shortfall of 900,000 truckdrivers in the coming decade. Today’s average annual salary is around US$ 75,000.00+.)

The Interstate Highway System is a legacy of the Eisenhower presidency. Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower (a Manila resident in the mid-1930s) championed its formation in 1956. (Please do some ‘googling’ and consult Wikipedia, for more usefully broadening information and points of view.) And as we speak, highly populated metropolitan areas along our “I-10” route (San Antonio, El Paso, Tucson and Phoenix) are continuously improving and expanding with more interchanges (convergence points from all directions of highways and freeways), more widening of east and west approaches for miles in ever awe-inspiring civil works magnitudes. 

ROADS EVEN WHERE THERE ARE NO PEOPLE

Let me throw in a critical observation, the discovery of which I cannot claim exclusivity. American transportation infrastructure, roads and railways, were launched and extended to where there is no population, initially. Incentivized commerce, people and payroll followed. In the Philippines, such infrastructure enters government consideration, much and only when palpable human congestion has already taken its toll. Near insurmountable constraints attended by myriad skullduggeries imaginable become par!

The American Highway System is a personal marvelous fascination for me. Perhaps, it is because I am unable to take it for granted! For as long as I can, I will partake of the joys of ‘romancing’ the American express roadways. Inevitably, I will always be drawn towards the state of public civil works in the country of my birth, the Philippines. And I am crushed with sentimental frustration. 

Obviously, not with the same physical magnitude, but relatively, of course! Why could we not, in the Philippines, have had such quality and utility of transportation amenities and facilities?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj  in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then-Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary. 

During the Ramos administration, he was Chairman and President of state-owned IBC-13 Network. 

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’  in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a Hotel.  He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist. 

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas..

His e-mail is: t.gomez@live.com

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.