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Returning from a corporate engagement in Boston recently I stopped at the Hampton toll booths to make my contribution - 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 (too many to count) I had to wonder just how much of this fine velvety highway that stretched out before me my "voluntary" contributions had helped fund over the years.
After the New Hampshire highway experience, I was almost embarrassed when back in Maine, driving on our state’s three meager, narrow and much less velvety lanes. I know it’s been asked many times and many ways before, but how come we have only three modest lanes on our most impressive highway and our New Hampshire neighbors have many times more? Why can’t we have eight or 10 lanes like they do across the river?
As I counted Maine’s lanes I was reminded of something I read in “The Old Farmer’s Almanac.” The article told 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 throngs of fair visitors what lay ahead, down the road a piece, 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 51 years ago and from what I saw out on the highway recently we’re nowhere near achieving his vision of the future.
But some of Maine’s highway officials and legislators must have attended that famous fair and they must have been impressed by GM’s futuristic exhibit because two years later – in 1941 - the Maine Turnpike Authority was created and given the mission of building and operating a four-lane highway from some point at or near Kittery to someplace at our near Fort Kent. Sure, it was only four lanes to start but everyone knew that the other ten lanes would soon follow.
Some of Bel Giddes’ futuristic predictions have come true, sort of. For example, he predicted that cars would travel on futuristic 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 selected Massachusetts drivers as they weaved in and out of crowded travel lanes while commuting to work on Boston’s outer beltway – 495. As we now know, however, 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, 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.
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 twelve, it just seems like twenty-four hours – just as the futurist Bel Geddes predicted it would.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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