Those Ribbons of Highway
Today is the 50th anniversary of the federal law that created the interstate highway system. I know what you're thinking: "Are interstates really pop culture?" Of course they are.
First of all, without interstates would we have such masterpieces as National Lampoon's Vacation and "Freeway of Love"? Probably not. But, more importantly, interstates fostered the growth of the car culture and the development of suburbia. I think it's fair to say that a reaction to what is perceived as the bland conformity of suburbia is one of the major themes of late 20th century music, literature, film, and TV.
What is less obvious is the role that the building of interstates played in the creation of the urban planning movement and -- in turn -- the modern environmental movement.
I have always been fascinated by maps, and in particular by roads and thinking about where they go and how they came to be where they were. In this respect, the older U.S. highway system is much more interesting, because a lot of those roads date back to the colonial period, and even earlier to Native American trading routes. They also respect the natural landscape more and go through a lot of older towns. Indeed, in most cases, the towns were built around the roads, rather than vice versa. I remember when I was little coming across an explanation of the numbering of the highway system and feeling like I had stumbled across the Rosetta Stone or something. (Yeah, I was sort of nerdy that way.)
Anyway, Happy Birthday interstate highways!