Friday, June 10, 2011

Westward Ho!

Bored with politics (and trying to avoid wiener jokes) so let's dive into history.
Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country. ~ Horace Greeley, 1865
Oregon Trail
The first cross country mass transit system was foot and wagon. More than 50,000 pioneers trekked west on the Oregon Trail from Missouri to the Pacific coast. The more wealthy could afford to stock their adventure with wagon and oxen (pulling wagons with horses was extravagant), figure a minimum of $600 ($15,500 in 2010 dollars).  Others traveled the 2,000 miles pulling handcarts. The Mormon Trail to Salt Lake and Southern California and the California Trail to Sacramento were branches of the Oregon Trail.

Union Pacific Railroad
The first transcontinental railroad was the linking of the Central and Union Pacific lines at Promontory Summit Utah  in 1869. The construction route east to west mostly used Irish labor; the west to east route used Chinese workers. Like today's economy, the government paid private companies to build the rail lines and corruption was rife. Some of the great Robber Barons, like Leland Sanford, grew rich scamming the government. It cost $97.50 in coin or $130 in paper money to travel first class from Chicago to Sacramento in 1869.

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe
Included entirely because they had the coolest engine design in American history. In the first half of the 20th century, this was the way west. An Academy Award winning song was written about it. It was the inspiration for Ayn Rand's opus to boredom, Atlas Shrugged. For the better part of the 20th century the AT&SF was the ultimate in luxury travel.

Route 66
If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.
~ Route 66 by Bobby Troupe
A classic song, a classic road, and a classic TV show. Something vibrant was lost by America when highways that traveled through towns and cities were replaced by soulless interstates that passed them by. From Michigan Ave. in Chicago to Santa Monica Blvd. in LA, Route 66 brought people into the center of life in western America. Then there were the motels. Unique, even quirky.
What kid wouldn't thrill to stay at the Wigwam Motel in San Bernadino.

Interstates 10 and 80
With interstates, you can drive from Teaneck to San Francisco (I-80) or from Jacksonville to Santa Monica (I-10) without ever having to interact with any of your fellow citizens. Something lost.

Of course, you can still fly and run the risk of way too much interaction with your overly friendly TSA agent.

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