I drive down the road frequently now, on my way to the bank or to the Asian supermarket (which sells delicious frozen dumplings and at least a dozen varieties of bok choy — who knew?).

But the first time I made my way down Route 27, traveling the few miles from Highland Park, N.J., to Edison, N.J. (yes, Edison as in Thomas Edison, as in Wizard of Menlo Park, which is a section of Edison where the inventor had his famous lab), what I noticed at was first was the many businesses with Chinese lettering on their outdoor signs, everything from beauty parlors to auto-repair garages catering to the area’s thriving Asian population.

I was on my way, I confess, to the locally legendary Tastee Sub Shop, where President Obama actually made a stop back in July 2010 to promote a proposed small-business tax break.

Tastee Sub Shop in Edison, N.J.

I figured a sub that was good enough for the president was good enough for me. For the record, the tuna sub with onions, tomato and lettuce was really good.

As I left Tastee Sub Shop, I noticed signs designating Route 27 — which is actually the Main street of the town where I now live — as the Lincoln Highway. The famous Lincoln Highway! Decades older than Route 66! The first real cross-country road!

A winter scene in downtown Highland Park, N.J. The main street, visible at right, is part of the old cross-country incoln Highway

It was the brainchild of a man named Carl G. Fisher. It began in Times Square and ended in San Francisco, passing through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Later, the route was changed to bypass Colorado and include a sliver of West Virginia. It was dedicated in 1913.

Opening of the road led to economic prosperity for the hundreds of cities and towns along the route. In fact, the Lincoln Highway was dubbed the “Main Street of America.” Today, after many roads were assigned numbers in the 1950s, most of the route is designated as Route 30, with sections of it designated as Route 1 in the East and routes 40 and 50 in the West. Much of its runs roughly parallel to Interstate 80. When I traveled through Pennsylvania and Ohio a few months ago, I drove on a long stretch of I-80 and a section of the Lincoln Highway ran through the town I was visiting, Richmond, Indiana. And, of course, with tha advent of the Eisenhower era national system of interstate highways, which transformed this nation, many of those same Lincoln Highway towns encountered economic hard times as time — and hurrying motorists — passed them by.

So it’s a wistful but wonderful thing to watch cars roll through town on the old Lincoln Highway and to imagine that I could get into my car, take my sweet time, and drive on that one road straight across the country, from the New York island to the redwood forest, driving through the here and now right into America’s faded past.


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