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Returning recently from an engagement in Boston, I stopped at the Hampton toll booths to contribute my dollar - as all Mainers must - to New Hampshire's overflowing highway slush fund.
Pulling away from the booth on one of the eight or 10 or 12 lanes (who can count them all?) I had to wonder how much of this fine velvety highway stretching out before me my voluntary contributions had helped pay for over the years.
After the New Hampshire highway experience I was a bit embarrassed to be back in Maine driving on our state's three puny, narrow and much less velvety lanes. I know it's been asked many times and in many ways before, but how come we have only three lanes on our most impressive highway and our neighbors across the river have a lot more?
I was reminded of something I read earlier this year in “The Old Farmer's 2006 Almanac” about a General Motors exhibit at New York's 1939 World's Fair. The seven-acre display, designed by Norman Bel Geddes, showed the gawking visitors what lay ahead - down the road apiece, so to speak - in the far-off 1960s.
NINETEEN-SIXTIES??? Let me take a minute to do the math for you. From his perch in 1939 Mr. Bel Geddes was looking 21 years into the future where he saw - among many other things - super-highways with no fewer than 14 lanes. That was 67 years ago, and the Maine Turnpike Authority was created 65 years ago, and from what I saw out on the highway recently we're nowhere near achieving Bel Geddes' vision of the future.
Sure, some of Mr. Bel Geddes' futuristic predictions have come true, sort of. For example, he predicted that cars would travel on those superhighways at speeds of 100 mph or more and would be equipped with “radio beams” to ensure that they wouldn't get too close to other vehicles. What he failed to mention was that such reckless speeds would be restricted to select Massachusetts drivers weaving in and out of crowded travel lanes while commuting to work on Boston's outer beltway - 495. And, as we now know, this is done without the benefit of safety features like radio beams. In fact, most of these numb drivers aren't even listening to a radio at all, but are listening instead to Howard Stern on satellite.
Mr. Bel Geddes also predicted back in 1939 that cars of the future - supposedly the one you drive now - could cross the country from New York to Los Angeles in 24 hours. After thinking about that for a minute I realized he was partly right, because it can sometimes take about two hours to drive from Manhattan to JFK and then you wait around the airport for two hours before boarding your plane for the six hour flight to Los Angeles. Once there you can take another hour or so to get to your destination. The whole trip ends up taking you about 12, it just seems like 24 hours - just as the futurist Bel Geddes predicted.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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