Sunset on Route 1
In neon signs and hand-pained lettering, theme restaurants and impossibly busy strip malls built so close to the road the fear of accidentally skiing while pulling off into the parking lot was palpable, an anti-erudite conceit has reigned supreme for decades on the time-capsule of Route 1. Cabarets, psychics, and motor-inns with permanent residents share lots with three-stone cemeteries and empty pay-phone booths. For every Big Box which is opened, a Vacuum Cleaner Sales & Service is closed.
Route 1 is a thoroughfare, taken to get from one place to another but never a destination. To and from the airport, to and from Boston, always to and from. It must be hard to be a place which only exists in transit, as if, like the tree falling in the woods, when nobody's there to travel it, does the road cease to be? Where does it go when one isn't on the way somewhere?
Noticable change came around the time Ethan Allen relocated and their perfectly manicured boxwood hedges became wild and unruly. That building is now an Army/Navy Surplus store, and the landscaping is thankfully returned to its former specificity. The motel on the right just after the 95 on-ramp became a multi-use building which now includes a HoneyDew Donuts and a formalwear store which seems an unfortunate coincidence. Nestled in there is a cluster of gravestones under a rusted-out sign, the family plot of the Moultons of Danvers who must have been forgotten as evidenced by proximity to gas stations and weeds choking their plot. What is to become of them when the road is seized by eminent domain and widened - bones mix with highway and they become a part of every passing car? What now of Karla, whose iconic enigmatic shoe store still stands, vacant and degrading for more than fifteen years, and where have her shoes all gone, if not back into the earth along with the Moultons'?
Every small town in America, every small road once taken to get to a big road, immortalized by toy cameras by those who wish to feel something from the landscape. Nostalgia not of their own, surrogate strangeness, appropriated patina.
The tallest, brightest, most iconic sign now dimmed, the largest lot now patiently waiting for someone to reclaim – the Hilltop Steakhouse looms, darkened, quiet, a shell of its former glory. Thousands of things scattered all across who knows where, auctioned off with a quickness and ferocity, admired by curious collectors and hoarders who really just wanted to see inside. In the final weeks, some of the cows left out to pasture (plexiglass behemoths on the front strip of grass) stolen in the night, dishes, menus, flatware, anything not nailed down silently lifted. What now, is the identity of this place? Occupation gave it identification gave it a sense of place which has now disappeared, gone from Route 1, gone and what is it now? An empty place. A skeletal building-form. A body.
So Route 1 is always changing until it becomes unrecognizable and yet, every place will be occupied again as some new and still-same thing.
The Hilltop Steakhouse sign will remain.
“For both the archaeologist and the native dweller, the landscape tells – or rather is – a story. It enfolds the lives and times of predecessors who, over the generations, have moved around in it and played their part in its formation. To perceive the landscape is therefore to carry out an act of remembrance, and remembering is not so much a matter of calling up an internal image, stored in the mind, as of engaging perceptually with an environment that is itself pregnant with the past.”
-Tim Ingold, “The Temporality of the Landscape,” pp. 152–74 from World Archaeology 25:2 (1993).