The Great American Traffic Jam

Back to posting on September 5. If you can’t take Labor Day off, when can you?

One more thing about the Great American Solar Eclipse. It was followed by the Great American Traffic Jam. Or, to hark back to an increasingly distant bit of history, the Mother of All Traffic Jams.

We left Paducah, Kentucky, at about 2 p.m. on August 21. It took us about 12 hours to get home. Twice as long as under normal conditions.

Since not a lot of people jammed into Paducah to see the eclipse, I-24 north from the town wasn’t bad at all. Even I-57 wasn’t too crowded at first, until around Marion, Illinois. Then traffic stopped dead.

So much so that I could take a picture of the road ahead, at my leisure, while in the driver’s seat. No one was moving.
Traffic Jam August 21, 2017A lot of people had gone to Carbondale, west of Marion, to see the eclipse. The road from Carbondale, Illinois 13, meets I-57 at Marion. Google Traffic showed red and worse for miles and miles north of there.

After a long time of not moving at all, punctuated by exciting periods of slowly crawling along, we were able to get off I-57 and take to smaller roads, such as Illinois 1 and 130 and others. We should have done that from the get-go, but I mistakenly thought traffic would only be heavy on I-57, not molasses.

The alternate routes didn’t entirely get us away from traffic, and at times we encountered slowdowns, such as when hit by a lot of rain. That was the weather system that clouded over the partial eclipse in the Chicago area, and which would have obscured totality for us had it arrived further south a day earlier. Sometimes you, and thousands of others, get lucky.

Our onboard navigation system wasn’t a lot of use. No matter where you were, or what the traffic conditions were, its suggestions to get home amounted to get on the nearest Interstate. If it were programmed to nag, it would have said, “Why aren’t you on the Interstate? You know that’s the best way to go. Get on the Interstate!” Robert Moses isn’t dead.

My old friend Tom was in Madisonville, Tenn., for the eclipse, reporting flawless weather for the event, as seen from Kefauver Park (as in, Estes). He also said getting back to Atlanta involved sticky traffic and a succession of small roads.

Enough about the traffic. It was merely an unpleasant coda to an otherwise remarkable experience. When we finally got home, exhausted, I asked a rhetorical question: Was it worth it? Was it ever.

UP ’17

For someone who grew up in Texas, I’m unaccountably fond of the Upper Peninsula. A little, probably, since I first saw as a lad its fine ragged outline on a map, and a lot more since my first visit, solo, in 1989. Maybe my appreciation came into full flower on H-13, a two-lane road through Hiawatha National Forest, as I drove north a little faster than strictly necessary, my cassette player playing a little louder than usual, zipping between walls of pines. It was a Be Here Now moment.

Also, I’ve never grown tired of gazing out into the vastness of Lake Superior, as I first did that year and most recently on July 1 at the mouth of Presque Isle River.

Lake Superior, Presque Isle RiverThe shore was rocky at that point, with smooth white driftwood beached on the shore. Not only that, people had built small cairns there, mostly on the wood, something I didn’t notice until I did. Then I started seeing them all around. I built one too, though not this one.
Lake Superior, Presque Isle River
We left the northwest Chicago suburbs late in the afternoon on June 29, spending the first night in Madison. From there, it’s a straight shot north through central Wisconsin, for much of the way on I-39 and then the slower but more interesting US 51. On the last day of June, we made our way north to the western reaches of the UP.

As I wrote 14 years ago: “At the northern end of I-39, which runs like a spine through most of central Wisconsin, US 51 takes over, though for a time it’s a divided highway of four lanes, and thus exactly like the Interstate. Just north of the wee resort town of Tomahawk… the road narrows. By this time, the driving visuals were compelling anyway, and all the narrowing of the road did was bring the scenery that much closer.”

Near Hurley, Wis., US 51 meets US 2. Unlike the 2003 trip, this time we headed east on US 2 into Michigan, into new territory for all of us — me, Yuriko and Ann. Staying at a modest but charming non-chain hotel in Wakefield, Mich., on the nights of the 30th and the 1st, the focus of the 2017 trip was the western UP, especially the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. We also visited the Keweenaw Peninsula, but time didn’t allow a fuller look at Keweenaw.

Evenings were cool and days in the 70s F. and partly cloudy most of the time. Weather forecasts had spoken of rain, but the closer we got to the trip, such forecasts were revised, downplaying the chance of rain. In the event, only a little fell on us on July 1 as we drove back toward Wakefield in the late afternoon. On the evening before, just before sunset, patches of thick fog clung to the Black River Road near Potawatomi and Gorge waterfalls. Ann commented on its eerieness.

Walking was an important part of the trip. Essential, as far as I’m concerned. On the first day of July, Yuriko thought to check the app on her phone that counts steps. We took over 14,000 steps that day. Many of the steps were on forest paths like this.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Or this.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

A lot of the steps looked like this.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

I felt my age. I usually brought up the rear, and took more breaks than I might have 10 or 20 years ago, but I got through.

Since time was short and distances, while not great, did involve miles to cover, driving was important, too. Also an essential experience on the trip, in my opinion. Tracing a course around the southern edge of the state park, the utilitarian-named South Boundary Road snaked through the intense summertime UP greenery, made all the more flush by a rainy spring, up and over hills, encountering few other cars. Light traffic on a two-lane road like that is the difference between an enjoyable time and constant white-knuckle dread. It was car-commercial driving. I got a kick out of that road.

Other roads in that part of the UP, routes through Ottawa National Forest and up into Keweenaw, were more developed and traveled, but had their attractions as drives and for their roadside sites. Though I know they represent a backstory of hardship — the UP must be a difficult place to make a living for a fair number of people — the area’s abandoned buildings were strangely fascinating. Such as a derelict store with gas pumps near (in?) Silver City.

Silver City, Michigan 2017

Detroit has no monopoly on abandoned Michigan structures. I suspect no root beer has been served at this former Wakefield drive-in in some time.

Family Root Beer Drive In, Wakefield, Mich 2017

In Wakefield, I made a point of taking a picture of a couple of Lake Superior Circle Tour signs.
Lake Superior Circle Tour signs, Wakefield, MichThe Circle Tours are networks of roads that, as the name implies, go all the way around each Great Lake, and in this case Superior. The idea was obviously hatched to promote tourism, and not that long ago, in the 1980s. To that I say, so what? The signs sit there quietly, but make a grand suggestion to passersby all the same.

I saw Lake Michigan Circle Tour signs in the late ’80s, as far south as Illinois, and on a sunny September day in ’89, on M-28 headed west to Marquette, I first saw a Lake Superior Circle Tour sign, which I hadn’t known existed. To me, the sign said — still says — Drop Everything and Drive Around the Lake. I’ve managed to drive around Lake Michigan, clockwise and counterclockwise. Lake Superior, no.

GTT 2017

This month Lilly and I visited Texas for a couple of weeks, beginning when I picked her up on May 12 in Champaign, at the end of her exams at UIUC, and ending with our return to metro Chicago on May 26. Unlike last summer, we mostly took direct routes, there and back. All together, we drove just a shade over 2611 miles through only four states, but ranging from about 42 degrees North to 29 degrees North.

Mostly we spent time with family: her grandmother and uncles and cousins, in San Antonio and Dallas, most of whom she hasn’t seen recently. She also met little cousin Neil for the first time.

From Champaign, we headed to Effingham, where we passed the giant cross, visible from the highway, but did not stop for it, and then headed west to St. Louis. By evening, we’d made it to Lebanon, Mo., and the Munger Moss Motel, which has had a few more neon burnouts since Ann and I stopped there last year.

Munger Moss sign 2017The second day, we went to Dallas by way of Springfield, Mo., where we stopped to stroll in the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden, a part of the Springfield Botanical Gardens. Later that day, we stopped in Muskogee, Okla., and took a look at the USS Batfish, a WWII-vintage submarine incongruously perched on land and functioning as a museum.

On Sunday, May 14, we proceeded to San Antonio, with my brother Jay joining us. We stopped for a delightful lunch in Austin with Tom Jones that afternoon at Trudy’s, a local brand. Tom was already an old friend of mine when I was Lilly’s age.

Circumstances forced us to scrub our plans to drive to Big Bend National Park for a long weekend beginning on the 18th. While in San Antonio, Lilly went to North Star Mall one day by Uber, and on another day Jay and Lilly and my nephew Dees went to the Witte Museum and then the Sunken Gardens (formally, the Japanese Tea Garden). On Saturday, May 20, we to returned to Jay’s house Dallas via U.S. 281 until north of Austin, picking up I-35 near Killeen, because there’s no reason to go through Austin unless you’re going to Austin.

In West, Texas, — which is in Central Texas — we bought some kolaches at the Little Czech Bakery, which is next to the Czech Stop. Been there a number of times since I wrote this.
Czech Stop, West, Texas 2017The line wasn’t quite as long as usual. Good thing.
Czech Stop, West, Texas 2017Czech Stop, West, Texas 2017One day in Dallas we visited the Dallas Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, as lovely a garden as I’ve seen in quite a while. Despite its location on White Rock Lake, close to Jay’s house, I’d never been. Another day I dropped Lilly off at North Park Mall, known for its collection of artwork, and visited the next-door Sparkman-Hillcrest Cemetery, or in full, the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery. A first-rate bit of landscaping.

We headed back for home beginning on May 25, driving from Dallas back to the Munger Moss for one more night (getting room 67; the first time we got 66). The next day we passed through St. Louis en route to the Chicago area and home.

On the last leg of the trip I was determined to stop a few places. First, we saw the abandoned Gasconade River Bridge, which counts as a Route 66 sight, though it could have been along any old road and still be just as fine. In St. Louis we visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, one of my favorite churches in North America, and then the wooded, hilly Bellefontaine Cemetery north of downtown, which is in the same league as Green-Wood in Brooklyn or Woodland in Dayton. First rate, that is.

Thursday Residuum

No overnight freezes yet, though it can’t be long. Thus a lot of greenery is still hanging on. So are blood-red blooms in our back yards.

I don’t know the species, but the plant produces late-season flowers that are so heavy that the blossoms face the ground. Of course, that’s a human interpretation; no blossom is obliged to orient itself in any particular direction to please a human sense of aesthetics. Even so, I held it upward for the picture.

I discovered a giant cucumber on the ground recently.

It was hiding — again, a human perspective (it’s the only one I’ve got) — under the many leaves of the cucumber plants we’ve been growing near the deck since late spring. So we didn’t notice it when it was green. As you can see, it devolved into a yellow Hindenburg of a vegetable.

“Many people wonder, why are my cucumbers turning yellow?” asks Gardening Know How. “You shouldn’t allow cucumbers to turn yellow. If you encounter a yellow cucumber, it’s usually over ripe. When cucumbers become over ripe, their green coloring produced from chlorophyll begins to fade, resulting in a yellowing pigment. Cucumbers become bitter with size and yellow cucumbers are generally not fit for consumption.”

Ah, well. Guess I’m a failure when it comes to that cucumber, though the mother plant did produce small and tasty green cucumbers this year (as tasty as possible with cucumbers, anyway). The giant yellow cucumber was indeed unfit for human purposes. It’s been returned to nature to rot.

A couple of weeks ago I read about some seasonal haunted house in the western suburbs, and looked up its web site. Its advertising mascot is a zombie scarecrow or some such. It’s an ugly face, anyway.

I can’t count the number of times since then that I’ve seen that ugly face pop up on all kinds of other web sites. It’s an insane amount of digital advertising, an exercise in overkill, and I’m really tired of that face. I’d toyed with the idea of taking Ann to the place, but I’ll be damned if I will now.

Another little annoyance: about a week ago, I was driving along not far from home, and I heard what sounded like an aluminum plate rolling near the car. I thought I’d had a near-miss with some kind of round metal object in the street until about 15 minutes later, at home, when I noticed my car was missing a hubcap.

That’s what that sound was. I drove back to look for it. Gone. Hell’s bells. That’s never happened to me in any car I’ve ever driven, not over the course of many, many thousands of miles. Go figure.

Best to end with a more upbeat note. Somehow, our dog’s more photogenic on the stairs. She sits there often, but only when we’re nearby.

Maybe she likes to sit there to be more-or-less as tall as we, the rest of her pack, are. Just speculation.

The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Highway & Lundy Lundgren

If you have time, US 20 is the best way between metro Chicago and Rockford. I-90 is faster but not as interesting, and a toll road besides. We went to Rockford on the Interstate for speed, but returned at our leisure on the US highway, which is sometimes four lanes, sometimes two, along that stretch.

US 20 is also known as the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Highway in Illinois, honoring Gen. Grant, who spent some time in western Illinois. In fact, the highway runs by his house in Galena. (US 20 itself runs cross-country, from Boston to Newport, Ore., or vice versa.)

The honorary designation has been in place since 1955, but most of the original signs were lost or fell apart. In 2007, the Illinois DOT started replacing them with brown-lettered signs that include a portrait of Grant. The route passes very close to where I live in the northwest suburbs, and I remember starting to see the signs appear nearly 10 years ago. I thought the designation was new as well, but now I know better.

One of the places on US 20 between Rockford and the northwestern suburbs is Marengo, a burg of about 7,500 in McHenry County. Oddly, it seems to be named after the battle of that name, which did so much to solidify Napoleon’s top-dog status, at least until Waterloo. Maybe some of the town founders included Bonapartist sympathizers, but well after the fact, since it was established in the 1840s.

For years, I’ve been driving by a sign that points to a historical marker just off US 20 in Marengo. High time I took a look, I thought this time. The marker is a few blocks north of US 20 on N. East St. This is what I saw.

Lundy Lundgren, Marengo, ILCarl Leonard Lundgren (1880-1934) hailed from Marengo, and behind the sign is the very field where he perfected his pitching skills, at least according to the sign. As a young man, Lundy Lundgren pitched for the Cubs from 1902 to ’09, and in fact pitched for the team during its most recent appearances in the World Series — 1907 and ’08.

He’s buried in the Marengo City Cemetery across the street from the plaque.

Marengo City Cemetery April 2016I took a look at the place from the street, but didn’t venture in. Most of it’s modern-looking, or at least 20th century, but there’s a small section whose stones look very old, older even than Lundgren’s, wherever it is. That bears further investigation someday.

Thursday Tidbits

Cool air to begin October. Fitting.

I saw part of The Iron Giant on TV a few years after its 1999 release, coming away with the impression that I ought to see all of it someday. That day was Saturday: Yuriko, Ann and I watched it on DVD. Upon its theatrical release, apparently the studio dropped the ball in marketing it, so the movie didn’t do well, but it caught the attention of critics. I can see why. Not flawless, but high-quality animation and a fun story.

Occasionally we still discover another food that the dog will eat. This week it was refried beans. She was pretty enthusiastic about them, in fact.

NASA has just published remarkable images of Charon, moon of Pluto. Or are they considered twins these days? I haven’t kept up with those definitions. Anyway, how often do we see something that’s absolutely, for sure never been seen by humans before? Not often.

Around 30 years ago, when I bought my first car, I remember pricing some Volkswagens. As usual for a young man, I was looking for an inexpensive car. Volkswagens of the time weren’t as inexpensive as I thought they would be.

A decade earlier, when you wanted an inexpensive car, they would have been the thing. They were People’s Cars, after all. But somehow the brand had strayed away from the entry level by the early 1980s, and before long I owned an entry-level Toyota, a company that remembered to make models at a variety of price points. I’ve bought a number of other Toyotas since then, too, above entry level.

Now that Volkswagen’s been caught committing mass fraud, I imagine the talk a few years ago between two upper-level company managers (in cartoon German accents). After all, imagined conspiracy scenes can be fun.

Hans: Can we really get away with this?

Fritz: Ja, the Americans are too stupid to catch on.

Obviously they learned nothing from the history of the 20th century.

A Few Fine Portland Buildings

Drive into a large city for the first time, without the benefit of some GPS box advising you, and with few exceptions, it’ll be confusing for a while. The way the streets are connected seems to make little sense. They don’t match your maps, or rather, what you think you remember from looking at your maps. Signage isn’t what it should be (often just an impression, but objectively true in Boston). The route you want to go is under construction. There’s always someone right behind you when you need to make a critical decision about turning, but you’re never in the lane you need to be anyway.

It sounds like I’m complaining, but not really. Once the worst of the drive is over — because you do get where you’re going, usually — you’ve had the satisfaction of navigating through a strange place. You’ve also seen, even fleetingly, some things you wouldn’t have otherwise. GPS is fine if you have a meeting to attend or a plane to catch, but otherwise it obviates the need to guide yourself through new territory with maps, landmarks you know ahead of time, and your own sense of direction.

I plowed through parts all three cities — Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle — on different occasions last week, each causing me temporary location frustration. Each time when it was over, it was worth it. When I found a parking garage in downtown Portland early on the afternoon of August 22 and set out on foot, it was wonderful not to be in that car anymore, and taking in what the streets of Portland had to offer.

The first thing I took in was the air. Everywhere hung a light haze and the smell of a not-too-distant fire. It wasn’t a choking haze, or even one that made me cough, but it carried a distinct odor. Smelled like one’s clothes after grilling, especially the burned wood. The source was the vast complex of forest fires then raging in eastern Washington — still raging — and which only a few days before had killed three U.S. Forest Service firefighters near Twisp, Wash., all young men.

Portland is known for a number of things, such as trying to rival Austin for urban weird. More on that later. I want to point out that downtown Portland, and the nearby Pearl District, have some exceptionally fine buildings a century or more old that aren’t remotely weird. Such as the New Market Block (1872).

New Market, PortlandThe Blagen Block (1888).

Blagan Block, PortlandBlagan Block, PortlandThe Postal Building (1900).
Postal Building, PortlandAnd the Pittock Block (1914). Among a good many others, including more modern structures.
Pittock Block, PortlandI have a fondness for buildings with visible fire escapes.

Also worth noting: Portland’s a sizable industrial town. Not something you hear about much either. I spent the night at some distance from the city center at a motel on U.S. 30 near the Willametta River, a major tributary to the Columbia, both of which are working rivers. The motel was in an industrial zone, both for manufacturing and distribution, and I know there are other areas similarly industrial in greater Portland. It isn’t the largest industrial market even in the Northwest, but it’s large enough to have current and projected development of nearly 2 million square feet.

Pacific Northwest ’15

I left for the Pacific Northwest on August 21 and returned home late yesterday. Imagine an axis that connects Portland, Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver, which are all linked by I-5 (British Columbia 99 north of the border). That axis was the focus of the trip. I went to all of those cities and some points in between, some for a matter of hours, others for a few days. I spent time away from those cities as well, in hilly territory lorded over by towering pines and enchantingly quiet at night.

I drove a lot but also managed to spend a solid chunk of time walking and riding buses and light rail. The visit involved attending a conference, touring an exceptional building and seeing other fine ones, experiencing two large public markets, wandering through one of the largest book stores anywhere and a few other excellent ones, and seeing two museums and a Chinese garden very much like some of the wonderful ones in Suzhou. I ate food both awful and extraordinary, including things I’d never heard of before.

Going to another part of the country means doing new things, too. Or it should. Not necessarily life-changing experiences, but the sort of petite novelties that add up over time to make the fabric of one’s life better. Even before I got there, this was the first time I’d ever booked a rental car through Costco or a room through Airbnb. I attribute a less expensive trip, and a better one, to both. I visited a new city (Portland) in a new state (Oregon) and visited new parts of places I’d been (Vancouver in British Columbia, the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle). I witnessed a major forest fire from the air and smelled the result on the ground as the wind wafted west. Unexpectedly, according to the residents. I stood inside a building designed by Frank Gehry, rather than looking at its curious outside.

I saw a number of odd and interesting things, such as the street musician who’d modified a bagpipe and played it on stilts (Vancouver, just outside the Pacific Central Station). What to call it? Steampunk bagpiping?
Vancouver, August 25, 2015Or the Gum Wall (Seattle, next to the Pike Place Market). Each of the those bits of color is ABC gum, often used to attach cards and small posters to an alley wall. Why? As near as I can tell, just because.

Gum Wall, Seattle, AugOr the echo of a celebrity event I’d missed when it happened, the Bill Murray Party Crashing Tour of 2012 (this sign was in Portland).

Portland, August 22, 2015I can think of a lot worse people to show up at one’s party uninvited; maybe he’s still doing it occasionally.

Most importantly, I reconnected with two dear old friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen in 18 years, another I hadn’t seen in 30 years, since my last visit to Seattle. Our friendships have been maintained over the years mostly through paper correspondence, with a more recent electronic component. But there’s no substitute for being there.

Pacific Northwest Ephemera

Thirty years ago this month, I took a trip to Seattle and other parts of the Pacific Northwest. I hadn’t been there before and I haven’t been back, though I want to go. That was where I saw an enormous fallen tree in Mount Rainier NP and the excellent-in-every-way Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC.

WAferries85I took no camera. It was that kind of trip. I did return with a lot of ephemera, though. Such as a Washington State Ferries schedule. I was staying with a college friend of mine the first weekend I was there, and took the ferry with him and friends of his. From Seattle to Winslow, I think, but in any case across Puget Sound.

We were the last car in, shoehorned into the back of the ferry, and during the crossing mostly sat in the car listening to a tape of United States Live by Laurie Anderson, which was fairly new at the time. I distinctly remember her relating a story about an obscure Chinese dialect in which the word for “Heaven” and “Moon” are the same, and how it was reported in this part of China that American astronauts had traveled to Heaven. If I were feeling that kind of ambition, I’d listen to the five disks of United States Live to find out where this bit occurs. I don’t feel like it — I’d rather retain this odd amalgam of a memory, made up of her strange story and the trip across Puget Sound, unimpaired by hearing the story again.

That weekend we also spent some time under gray skies on one of the beaches on the sound, playing volleyball and hunting geoduck. Or at least one or two members of the party were looking for geoduck, which I’d never heard of before. From a hole in the sand, they managed to pull up the neck of one of those clams, which was long and gross, but not the body. “That’s one hurting geoduck,” said one of the fellows who pulled it up.

It’s pronounced “gooey duck,” incidentally, and later at the Seattle Aquarium, I saw an entire geoduck. They might be good eating (I didn’t eat one), but they’re also remarkably ugly.

It was also on that beach that I found a shell partly covered in barnacles. It’s a little hard to get an image of it, but here it is anyway, top and bottom.

shell1shell2I’ve had the shell ever since, though some years ago a child managed to break it. I glued it back together. There’s something about it.

BCferries85There was nothing much as memorable about crossing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay in British Columbia. That time I was in my own rental car, and drove to Victoria, a fine little city.

On this trip I covered a lot of ground in my car, admiring the forests, except where they’d been clear-cut, and fond of the fields of blooming Scotch broom, which I later learned is an invasive species in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe not quite in a league with kudzu, but bad enough.

One more item, which I kept because you don’t see this kind of thing inland so much: a tide table. It was a lagniappe from the handsome Kalaloch Lodge, which is on the Pacific coast, and actually within the boundaries of Olympic National Park. Kalaloch85I spent the night there. Lovely place, though most of the scenery was obscured by drizzly clouds. Still glad I went. If only to go to a place that gives out tide tables to its guests.

The Old Spanish Trail Zero Milestone (One of Them, Anyway)

From San Fernando Cathedral, I made my way past San Antonio City Hall, which is a handsome Italian Renaissance Revival structure dating from the 1880s.
San Antonio City Hall Feb 2015Among the other monuments and markers on the grounds is a boulder with a plaque stuck to it. I have to say I’m a sucker for boulders with plaques stuck to them. This one’s apparently been there over 90 years.

San Antonio City Hall Feb 2015ZERO MILESTONE

St. Augustine – Pensacola – Mobile – New Orleans – Houston – San Antonio – El Paso – Tucson – Yuma – San Diego

Dedicated by Governor Pat M. Neff
March 27, 1924

Erected by the San Antonio City Federation of Women’s Clubs
Mrs. J.K. Beretta, President

Zero milestone, eh? Odd, considering that San Antonio is roughly in the middle of the route described by the cities on the plaque. This Old Spanish Trail, incidentally, has nothing to do with Spanish colonialism in North America, except that it passed through territories that were at one time or another part of the Spanish Empire. The OST was a 20th-century invention. (Confusingly, OST also refers to an earlier, non-motorized trail between Santa Fe and Los Angeles that did involve actual Spaniards.)

As this excellent article published by the Texas Transportation Museum notes, “…a very grand vision arose for a continuous highway from the Atlantic at St. Augustine in Florida to the Pacific in San Diego California, a distance of 2,817 miles…. The route was given a picturesque name, “The Old Spanish Trail,” as a marketing tool, much as naming the first Northern transcontinental route from New York to San Francisco, “The Lincoln Highway,” first proposed in 1912. The names were designed to capture the imagination of cities and counties along the proposed routes and encourage participation in the construction of the route, as the OST organization could not even begin to pay for all the roads and bridges that would be required.”

But why is there a zero milestone in San Antonio? Google “zero milestone Old Spanish Trail” and you’ll also find information about a plaque on a sphere in St. Augustine — dating from 1928.

Back to the Texas Transportation Museum article: “Governor Neff dedicated an OST zero milestone outside San Antonio city hall in March 1924. It is still there today… The first ceremonial drive across the 2,817 miles of continuously improved road, lined with signs put up by each state, began in San Diego, California on April 4 1929. Their arrival in San Antonio was ceremoniously greeted with a dinner at, of course, the Gunter Hotel.”

That doesn’t really answer the question. Maybe the San Diego-San Antonio stretch was finished first. Or more likely, the San Antonio City Federation of Women’s Clubs really wanted a marker.