Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Roadgeekery

One day when I was in high school, my brother asked me to go to the intersection of Beach Boulevard and Third Street in Jacksonville Beach, FL (not far from the high school), and take some pictures of road signs. Why? Because that intersection serves as the eastern end of U.S. Route 90, and there's a website that is looking for pictures of the end of every U.S. Route in the country. I think my reaction was something to the effect of, "This is a really dumb hobby of yours, but I'll do it." (Two of the pictures I took that day are still posted on that very website, by the way.)

Now, here I am 11 years later, taking a picture at the end of US 176 in Goose Creek, SC. Not for the same website - that site has long acquired all of the U.S. Route endpoints in the country, and has since moved on to historical endpoints - but for my own enjoyment.


And, from later that day, here is a picture of a sign for I-526 Business Spur in Charleston. The significance is that there are only a few three-digit interstate business spurs in the entire country. (So I was told. I'm having trouble finding a complete list.) Again, this is only for my own enjoyment.


When did this "dumb hobby" become something I embraced? Well, the general frame of mind of your average high school student - when "fitting in" is of utmost importance - is that quirky hobbies are, well, dumb. Then once you go to college, and eventually grad school, you start hanging out less with the general population and more with people who are just as quirky as you are. And if you're lucky, you find a woman (or man) who loves your quirky hobbies that you've always been afraid to embrace because they were "dumb". And now, here we are.

So...why? Hard to say, but some people out there - let's call them "road geeks" or "roadgeeks" (still not sure if it's one word or two) - share interests in the following:
- Maps. In the end, it all comes back to maps. What a better way to visualize where things are and where roads go! I like maps, you know.
- Roads (obviously). Where do roads start and end? Why are roads numbered the way they are? What is it like to follow a single road from point A to point B? How about when point B is 3,000 miles away?
- Road signs. Each state does highway signs and route markers a little bit differently. I think it's fun to go from state to state and notice the subtle differences. For example, the "exit tab" on North Carolina highway signs is flush to the right of the main sign (unless it's a left exit), but on South Carolina highway signs, it's slightly offset to the left. And if you can find a really old road sign, such as a colored U.S. route shield in Florida...you win!
- Road construction and design. Of the four, this is the topic I'm least interested in, but some brands of roadgeeks are more into the civil engineering side of things. Overpass design, different types of intersections, you name it.
Corollaries of these main interests are visiting as many counties as possible, "clinching" interstate highways, and so on.

Get a bunch of roadgeeks together (as happened over the weekend in Charleston), and what happens? Well, you go check out the latest construction projects (this wasn't here last time!!), look for old road signs (this sign is 30 years old!!) or remnants of old roads (this used to be US 17!!), trade maps (trade you my 1995 Oklahoma map for a 1979 Montana map! This one still has US 10 labeled on it all the way to Missoula!! Although there wasn't any map exchanging on Saturday), and so on. Good times.

God bless the internet. Now, it's easier than ever to embrace your subculture and find others who share your quirky interests! At least, once you get out of high school, it is.

1 comment:

Nick W said...

I'm more in the last category 'build-design-route selection' camp. Among other things, if I was in charge one highway I would build is an eastern Washington DC bypass (re upgrade US 301 to interstate). Another is a coastal interstate from Charleston SC to Norfolk and then up the Delmarva.