California Signage

(Or lack thereof.)

I’ve only been to Berkeley twice. The first time I had Paul, my trusty navigator, with me. We still ended up getting lost a few times because signs weren’t where we expected them. The second time I was alone. On top of that, it was night and I had to get to the Murakami (exciting!) lecture on time. I duly followed Google’s instructions, but suddenly I was on a ramp that forked. Uh oh! The instructions didn’t account for that. Worse yet, neither did the highway signs. Wha?! There were none. I decided to go right. When in doubt, go right. So right I went. Only AFTER I had taken the fork did a sign appear. It confirmed I had gone the right way. Exactly what you want from a highway sign, hmm? At least it quelled my fears about ending up in the wrong part of Oakland.

On Paul’s and my roadtrip in December, I realized early on I didn’t have a clue what speed I was supposed to be driving. We drove long patches of time without seeing a posted speed-limit. Since I tend to have a heavy foot, I scoured the roads’ shoulders to find a sign. Nothing. Around every hour or so we saw one. Was it broadcasting the overall limit or the one for that area? We assumed the latter. It turns out you learn the speed limit by going for your California licence and, therefore, you study the handbook. (Learned that from a friend.) Or you also learn the speed limit if you have a passenger and an iPhone. On highways, it’s usually 65 miles an hour, or what the rest of the traffic is doing. Call me demanding, but I don’t think you should have to study or research the speed limit.

A few weeks ago I was driving on the I-80 east to go snowboarding. Because it was early and I pathetically have a Starbucks addiction, I dared to leave the highway to get a latte. As always, getting back on the road was a slight challenge. At first, I naively was impressed when I found myself in the left lane with my indicator on, staring at an I-80 sign with a left arrow on it. Success. Then I happened to actually look left and saw a sign indicating only the I-80 west on-ramp. The generic sign was not telling the whole truth! Indeed. I peered blocks ahead and saw the OTHER, sorely required on-ramp. No sign for it, whatsoever. I hurriedly joined the throng of cars passing on my right and that’s how I got going east again.

California signage sucks. And I’m at a loss as to why. Maybe they had a bad headstart because of the goldrush? Maybe they don’t want to litter the pretty landscape with ugly signs? Maybe there was a protest about signs harming furry woodland creatures? Maybe. Who knows. But no where else have I encountered such horrendous markings. I’ve driven in many other states. I drove all around lovely Ireland and even with some of its Gaelic signs I did not have the scope of problems I face here. In Japan, I decoded train signs to get across the country. Granted the Japanese are efficient, but given my lack of Japanese that says a lot to their sign-making impressiveness. And in Prague, I found my way back from New Town to a suburb—where I was staying with friends of friends—without the address! (Jetlag had caused me to leave the vital piece of paper in my suitcase.)

Next weekend Paul and I are making the most of the long Easter weekend, and heading north to check out lava beds and caves. I wonder where we’ll end up.

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About gwenamon

bookworm, confidante, creative director, cyclist, global wanderer, music lover, shutterbug, shoe shopper, snowboarder, writer, yoga geek. i'm also a very proud mama of a lil mister named james.
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