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Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway: 07/13/16
Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway by Effie Price Gladding is among a handful of early modern-day road trip memoirs. Effie and her husband traveled first in a long circle of California and then across the continent on the Lincoln Highway, a road which is now taken up by a number of other routes including HWY 30, I80, I580 and others.
I read the book primarily for the Lincoln Highway connection as the first named intercontinental highway. Having a California tour as well gives an interesting view of road tripping from a California point of view.
Though none of the roads that have made California famous for its car centered culture are in this memoir, the standard stopping points are. Imagine if you will, an unnumbered dot-to-dot where the historical solution is something unrecognizable even if the dots are connected in the same order.
As a Californian, I found this Garden State resident's observations fascinating. She had things she liked: the informal practicality of the people she met, the organic farms, the all-night eateries, and the beautiful landscapes. She also had things she didn't like: green tea, the hills, and the heat.
Her comments on the Bay Area were especially fascinating, showing how little the area has changed (despite every generation bemoaning how much it has). Her observation of the post earthquake gentrification: "They have done all this on borrowed money and loaded themselves with heavy mortgages, trusting to the future and to fat years to pay off their indebtedness" sounds remarkably like the post Loma Prieta reconstruction and the current real estate madness. Meanwhile the East Bay she describes as the bedrooms of San Francisco.
Of all the major cities that one drives through to go from the Bay Area to Southern California, Los Angeles is the most notably different. Rather it is notable for its near absence. Gladding's road trip happened just as the east coast and midwest film studios were converging on Los Angeles as their new head quarters. Though Hollywood existed as a sleepy community in the hills separating Los Angeles from Burbank. The Hollywoodland sign was five years away from construction.
In the hilly incline from Ventura County to Los Angeles County along present day HWY 101, there is a constant push back and forth between Ventura and Los Angeles as metropolitan entities. Back in Gladding's day, there were numerous smaller (though still respectably sized) towns that are now only distant memories remembered by street names that traverse the areas where they once were.
Then down in San Diego my interest piqued again because Gladding describes a trip to Julian. Julian is the apple capital of California. It's a funny little town that is easy to miss with an obsession for apples and a reputation for being wickedly haunted. Sometimes I've even heard it described as Brigadoon, being a town that only materializes to the rest of the world when its apples are in season.
In Gladding's time, Julian was still apple obsessed and still hard to find but not haunted because it was too new.
On our way to Julian, a few miles from the little town, by mistake we turned left instead of right and had a long wandering through a great mountain country. The roads were narrow, twilight was coming on, and we found ourselves in a seemingly endless forest. (p. 69)
But most interestingly was her loving description of staying at the Robinson Hotel, aka the Gold Rush Hotel. Mr. Robinson, one of the two grudge ghosts of Julian doesn't sound like grudge ghost material the way the author describes him. Maybe he just doesn't like the fact that his hotel has been renamed?
I know I've rambled on about the California portion of Gladding's memoir, but it does take up half the book and is the part I am personally most familiar with. The remainder of the book then is the actual Lincoln Highway trip.
The Lincoln Highway as described in the book of the same title by Michael Wallis was never a straight forward, well defined highway. It had numerous detours and diversions especially in areas of dispute. It seems that it was matter of pride among Lincoln Highway travelers to take as many of the detours as possible.
This part of the book is mostly a gradient of things slowly transitioning from West Coast to East Coast, unfamiliar to familiar. It's also about the difficulties of driving cross country when both car and interstate highway were still new concepts. Gladding's original car lasted only to Denver, the remainder of the trip being done with an entirely new one.