This weekend, I attended a bat mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno. This meant that I got to drive a fair portion of what used to be US 99 (now CA 99 and I-5) in both direction. Doing so reminds me of all the wonderful history on that road, if you just know where to look.
Let’s start with the pavement. If you know where to look you can find original concrete slabs that were lain down in the 1920s. We saw some of that pavement in front of the newly opened KK’s Restaurant, which just opened. KK’s is on Golden State, just S of 7th Standard Road in Bakersfield. You can also look for reflectorized medians, as you’ll see along the business route in Bakersfield, as well as along Blackstone in Fresno, which used to be Route 41.
Then there are the businesses. Many years ago, a co-worker of mine told me to look for the hotels. They are often a dead giveaway you are on the old road. Don’t look for the new chains. Look for the old motor courts, often U-shaped. Very often, you’ll see them of on a side road paralleling the freeway. That, my friend, is the “old road”. Take it. It is much more fun.
Look for the old restaurants, the old auto-dealers. Don’t eat at the chains. Go find the local joints and patronize them.
Alas, they don’t mark the old business routes like they used to. The only one I recall seeing marked as business was Union/Golden State through Greenfield and Bakersfield. But the old road is clear, especially S-bound, where you keep seeing it veering off the freeway to the side, without a parallel N-Bound onramp (often, the N-bound side loops when it hits 99). Drive through the old towns. See what real small town life is: a few markets, a few restaurants, a few chain stores here and there. Look for the signs of the old road: old gas station architecture, old signs.
Watch out for faux old road. You see these stores everywhere, with newly printed signs designed to ekoke nostalgia for what was, but when you look closely, isn’t. We saw a good example of that in Traver at Bravo Farms. This was supposed to be antique and old, but it was newly printed replicas, and loads of farm goods shipped in from elsewhere (I’m willing to accept the Olives from Lindsay and the Garlic from Porterville, but Maine? C’mon?).
As you come over the Tejon Pass, watch for the real old road. You can’t see much of the original Ridge Route anymore, but much of the 2nd or 3rd roads are visible down by Pyramid Lake. One of these days, I’ll have to go down there and explore.
This is the true state of California — the beautiful state you miss when you fly or just take the interstate. Savor it when you can.