Saturday, January 5, 2013


Avenue, street, lane….those were the three addresses of my childhood. Metropolitan Ave. was a major thoroughfare with trolley tracks. Talbot Street less traveled and Forest Lane hardly trafficked at all. It was as it should be. The last 13 years of my growing up happened on that tree-shaded, two-block long, idyllic lane. A short stretch of real estate yet it reaches all the way from Queens, NYC to Los Angeles, undisturbed for lo these many years in my mind. Every kid should have a lane to remember himself by.

All this got me thinking about those designations we give to lanes, long and short. It must have started with a Path which became trampled enough to become a Trail. When quadrupeds gave way to cars they became Roads and Streets. Arguably the most famous in the world is Wall St. yet it remains a mere street. In the usual order of things busy ones earn the right to those two French words, Boulevard and Avenue. Both have their origin in the military. A Boulevard was a promenade laid out on top of demolished city wall. An Avenue was first a way of approach for armies which evolved to a broad, tree-lined roadway.

In the hierarchy of nomenclature I’ve always ranked Avenues ahead of mere Streets yet I live on the intersection of two avenues and I know of nothing they’ve done to deserve the title. It all makes me wonder who designates these tags. Highways must fit in here somewhere or else we wouldn’t have had highwaymen who plied their trade while the moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas and the road a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.

Forest Lane would do well enough for me to imagine a world of piracy and pennant-winning home runs. It emptied at one end into an even mightier signifier called a Turnpike. I don’t see that word much anymore. The borough of the Bronx borrowed another French word for their mightiest street, The Grand Concourse.  

Now I seem to have gotten myself into a mess straining to give every road its due. Let me not forget the Pass as in Sepulveda or Donner and the Drive such as Riverside to say nothing of the Way necessary for Dodger fans to get on Stadium Way or readers of Proust to travel the Guermantes Way. I might also mention the Walk (Cheney’s Walk along the Themes), the Alley as in Flask’s Alley in Hempstead Heath and finally the Court as in something but I forget what.

As a street kid we had no use for busy, wide roads which had ceded their space and right-of-way to cars. We cursed them for interrupting our stickball or touch football games. How dare they! Stoop and sidewalk were not quite enough as the action often spilled over onto the street. All this must sound alien to the suburban mind. Block after block are un-peopled in Southern California.

The passage from NYC to L.A. has been the move from pedestrian to driver. With my feet on the ground I saw the world close-up. I knew the sidewalk the way I now know potholes. I heard shop-keepers hawking and buyers haggling. I felt the rain and smelled its vapor rising from hot concrete. Sidewalks were chalked. Patches of earth were perfect for marbles or mumbly-peg. I stepped in poop. I knew trees if their elbows were good for climbing.

As a driver I resent speed-bumps. Ocean Park Blvd. has recently been beautified with an island of trees in the middle at the expense of a second lane of traffic. Harrumph!  Take away my car and you’ll deprive me of my psychic space, a form of wrap-around privacy unknown to pedestrians or riders of public transportation.   

I can take the beaten path down that Lonesome Trail to the fork of Memory or Lover’s Lane, hang a right on Easy Street to the Road of No Return and be last seen on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Or I could just stay home in my rocker, move around a lot but go nowhere.

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