To All the Californians In the Room

Allow me to let you in on something: we are weird and apparently the rest of the country hasn't adopted our weirdness. Shocking, I know. We were told, "As California goes, so goes the country." I'm afraid it's just not always true (thank goodness), or everyone else in the country would be just as busy, stressed out, and jobless. I'm happy to report that Oklahoma is a much less stressful place with much less unemployment and much lower cost of living. So, move here, people I love!

But I digress.

I am writing to tell you about a California colloquialism that has sadly not caught on out here in Big Sky Country. Yes, I'm talking about the "the" we use before the number of any and all freeways and highways, as in "the 5" or "the 91" or "the 15." Here, people would say "Interstate 5" or maybe "I-5" or even just "5." They certainly would never refer to it as a freeway. They call them "highways" here, a designation with a different meaning in California. If you didn't know from his accent that John Mark McMillan isn't from California, the fact that he calls the 5 "highway 5" in the song "Carbon Ribs" should've been a major giveaway. Who in California would ever call it that? No one.

I like our colloquialism, which I think may stem from some combination of the number of freeways and highways California has and the importance of them to a population that does a huge amount of driving. It's not that uncommon for a Californian (especially a southern Californian) to have an hour or two hour commute to work. In Oklahoma, it's unheard of. Here, a half hour or forty-five minute commute would be cause to move closer to work. Maybe that's one of the reasons people aren't so stressed out here. Maybe: less driving = less dealing with traffic = less irritability = less cussing and flipping people off = less stress = a friendlier atmosphere.


It feels weird if I try to blend in and use the words "highway" and "interstate." The "the" is one aspect of my California roots I don't want to entirely cut off. There are some things I don't like about about Cali, but this I do. It's weird that I'm sentimental about the word "the."

Of course, I would be sentimental about a word.

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