Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Overpass Love, or the Loneliness of Highway Declarations

I find it oddly comforting that people still pledge their love this way:

Don't ask why; I can't explain it. I see these scrawled declarations of devotion, and I feel a strange wistfulness, a sense of the universality of love making us all do strange things, regardless of age. This is out in an area where city gives way to country, where graffiti is scarce and becoming even less so. It stands out, and seems at once both bold and lonely to me. Some might see a defaced public work; others might see a sloppy tag; I see an attempt to grasp at immortalizing an emotion.

Many, many years ago, decades really, when I was a little kid and the world seemed huge and mysterious, I remember a similar tag on a railroad trestle. The trestle was black, and on it, in fat, puffy white letters, someone had painted CALIFORNIA BOUND. I would see it on occasion as my parents drove the stretch of minor state route the trestle spanned. It was near a convergence of major and minor highways, where traffic was chaotic at times, but farm country was also near. It always struck me as a sad, lonely place, a place that seemed as far from where anyone would want to be as you could get. But there, in bold, crude letters, was a declaration of intent, two words that held a hovering potential of something greater, a quest for a dream. Back then, of course, I couldn't articulate all this; I was a kid in the early 1970s, and CALIFORNIA BOUND was like some arcane invocation that meant everything, everything in the vaguest sense of what was good and exciting. As I grew older, the scrawl remained, until I was an adult.

As I became a teen and then an adult, I often passed under this trestle. I would wonder if the person who'd painted it had made it to California, and whether they would even remember painting this rally cry for a trip to a far-off land of wonder. It both inspired and saddened me. It inspired me because it became a small mental goad, urging me to follow my own path to California, a place that had come to haunt my dreams, and which I would, eventually, reach. It saddened me because it was part of a larger story I would never know anything else about. It hung there over that highway, tantalizing in its mystery. I hoped the person who'd painted it all those many years ago was happy, whether or not they'd reached the Golden State, but I feared that, like so many, that dream was dashed somewhere along the way, forgotten, the only evidence of it being painted across that desolate stretch of road.

Until, one day, unnoticed, it was painted over.

For so long, decades, it had been a landmark to me, both geographically and mentally. Why it loomed so large in my mind I can never explain, but it made me think about many things: mortality, dreams, the way we connect, how even the least of our actions can have unintended effects years and years after we do them. Now, tonight, after taking and looking at the picture above of a new bit of graffiti on a different overpass, it makes me think once again, about how all these blogs we write, here and elsewhere, are similar attempts to say something, to declare our existence, to state what we love. I can only hope that something I write, even the least bit of doggerel, has the kind of impact on someone out there that CALIFORNIA BOUND had upon me.


  1. You write really well, it is always nice to read your posts.

    Just a quick question mr J. Black and darkdimension, are you two one or two persons, might be that the late night is confounding me, but you seem to share the same profile image...

  2. Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it!

    That's a good question - the answer is that everything written here is by me, Jeff Black. darkdimension is a profile shared by my brother and me; he checks the stats occasionally, but I doubt he'll ever post anything. He likes to lurk and tell me what I'm doing wrong (just kidding).