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Gary Horton: No rest for the weary

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: May 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Driving southbound on Interstate 5 from Bakersfield toward Valencia, one heads up the winding Grapevine through the Tejon Pass. Just south of the tiny mountain town of Lebec, you’ll cross the Caltrans Tejon Pass rest stops — those welcome oases for weary and pit-stop-needy drivers.

The Tejon Pass facilities are currently cordoned off and closed, and at first glance, it looked as though another valued public amenity has fallen victim to the continuous California budget-cutting ax.

Happily, it turns out they’re just closed for renovation and will reopen in 2012. What a relief!

But, 2012 relief aside, there’s a large roadside sign posted in front of the currently closed rest stop:
“Next Rest 200 Miles.”


You see, 200 miles is roughly three-and-a-half hours of kids screaming, anxious leg-crossing, and nervous odometer-watching.

With the Tejon Pass rest stop operational, it’s 200 long miles until the next Caltrans nod to human necessity. With Tejon Ranch out of order, and the next closest stop back at Buttonwillow, the great state of California is betting you’re good for nearly 300 miles between potty breaks.

Our politicians and planners must consider us a stoically plumbed driving population. Roadside fast-food joints must be “lovin’ it,” as desperate drivers buy burgers in trade for restroom breaks.

Older SCV residents recall Newhall once had its own rest stop on Interstate 5 until about 15 years ago.

At the summit between the SCV and the SFV, one could safely turn off and stop, enjoy the mountainous scenery and take care of nature’s demands. Proposition-13 cuts were already taking their toll, and our very own conveniently located rest stop ended up tilled under as the state scratched to make ends meet.

Today, drivers face a long, 200-mile trek from the Tejon Pass to the next public rest stop near Oceanside. One would hope the world’s eighth largest economy could provide public toilets at intervals closer than 200 miles.

My heart sincerely goes out to the pregnant, the elderly and the bladder-impaired among us. Is there no heart in our state budget for the most basic of human functions?

While all this might sound just a little base, “Next Rest 200 Miles” is a sign of our times, reflective of issues far greater than travel safety and restrooms.

Sadly, while we’ve got scarce funds for public loos, we’ve got funds for prisons aplenty, spaced out about every 50 miles along these same highways. A quick check shows Avenal, Wasco, Delano, Tehachapi, Lancaster, Wayside, the Los Angeles Prison towers, Norco — dozens of prisons and jails, up and down and far and wide.

At least folks riding prison buses get pit stops at reasonable intervals.

We read of Gov. Jerry Brown’s “balanced budget,” cutting schools, colleges, universities, public assistance, child care and Caltrans, too — cutting just about anything and everything that actually helps everyday, law-abiding, taxpaying Californians.

But Brown’s draconian cuts still won’t balance the books in our recession-wrought state, so he’s seeking to extend existing, but otherwise expiring taxes to hold service cuts at his bare-minimum levels rather than cascading deeper to freaking monster, insane-level cuts.

So far, he can’t shake loose the handful of tax-cut fetishist Republicans he needs to forestall further butchering of valued and important public services. And in a state where law and order wins elections, no one is suggesting rethinking the extremely costly corrections system dotting our state like our rest stops don’t.

So, as we drive our lives through the great state of California, politicians of both sides today slice and dice our collective futures.

They’re gutting the great and cherished universities that power our kids’ careers; cutting local schools that teach and nurture our kids; turning backs on poor kids needing health care; and suffering infrastructure and roads to decay until they’re more rubble than road.

Middle-class, real-life needs seem to carry less and less concern to those who say they lead us.

But shilling out more tax breaks for giant corporations? “Absolutely,” Republicans insist, “Business precedes people!”
Pander to our giant prison-industrial complex? “Of course!” Democrats gush, “That gets us elected!”

The millions of hardworking Californians driving past that “Next Rest 200 Miles” sign must shake their heads in disgusted wonder. With such misplaced, dysfunctional priorities in Sacramento, our next rest might as well be 2,000 miles away, as 200.

Between an aversion to taxes and our penchant for pricey prisons, our once-great state of California has hardly got a pot to pee in.

And that leaves us ordinary Californians nervously crossing our legs along our long California life journey, wondering if there’s ever to be rest for us weary again.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” runs Wednesdays in The Signal.


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