Freeway, Come Home!

One of the least successful movies of 2012 is Darling Companion, featuring high-caliber actors and a pedestrian script centered around a dog. The dog is found, and then lost, and then found again. You can imagine the excitement.

At the start of the movie, the dog is spotted by Diane Keaton and Elizabeth Moss, as mother and daughter, as they drive along an interstate highway in Colorado. They stop and rescue it. And since they found it by the highway, they name it “Interstate.”

Oops! Rewind! They name it “Highway.”

Rewind again! In this movie, they actually name the dog “Freeway.”

Aside from everything else that’s wrong with the movie, which isn’t quite sure whether it’s a comedy, an action adventure, or a love story, “Freeway” is the wrong name. In Colorado, you’d be likely to name the dog “Interstate.”

Not that the word “freeway” is unknown in Colorado, or indeed in the rest of the country. We all know that “freeway” refers to a divided limited-access highway. But as a designation, as opposed to a definition, it’s pretty much restricted to greater Los Angeles. And just by chance, it happens that Hollywood, in L.A., is where they make movies.

A site like tells the names locals use to designate the main limited-access arteries around the country. Here’s what the main roads in L.A. are called: the Glendale Freeway, the Golden State Freeway, the Hollywood Freeway, the Santa Ana Freeway, the San Diego Freeway, the Garden Grove Freeway, just to name a few. Some are referred to by number rather than name, like the I-15 Freeway, the 47 Freeway, the 91 Freeway. (Yes, L.A. uses “the” even with numbers.)

But that’s just L.A. To the south, in San Diego, there are Interstates (for roads in the official U.S. Interstate system) and Highways (for those that are not): I-5, I-8, I-15, and (Calfornia) Highway 52, Highway 54, and so on.

A few hundred miles to the north, in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s (U.S.) Highway 101, (California) Highway 85, and I-80, I-680, and the like, with no named freeways. In nearby Sacramento, it’s much the same, with I-5 and I-80, Highway 50 and Highway 99, though there are also two freeways, the Capital City Freeway and the Crosstown Freeway. Farther north, in Portland, Ore., the main roads are Interstates, specifically I-5 or Highway 26. Seattle too has designations like I-90 and Highway 99.

What about the rest of the country? Freeways indeed there are, but designations as “freeway” are rare. Denver, for example, has Interstates, in particular I-25, I-70, and I-76. Salt Lake City in neighboring Utah has its I-15, I-80, and I-84, among others, as well as Bangerter Highway and Utah 201.

Chicago names some of its main roads expressways. There’s the Stevenson Expressway, the Kennedy Expressway, the Dan Ryan Expressway, the Eisenhower Expressway, and the Edens Expressway, among others. Since Chicago has several tollways, you might think that the ones that don’t require a toll might be designated freeways, but there’s only one, the Bishop Ford Freeway.

Many cities use the abbreviation “I” for roads in the official Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, saving “highway” for state or local roads. Dallas does, for example. Atlanta has mostly I-, along with Georgia 400 and SR-166 Langford Parkway.

The newly completed Dictionary of American Regional English shows the breadth and limitation of “freeway.” It’s “widespread, but especially West.” The West does include Colorado. But of the nine people in Colorado asked in the 1960s for the “name for a highway with two lanes on each side and a separation down the middle,” only three said “freeway.” And that was the definition, not the designation for particular roads.

In New York state and western New England, DARE notes, the predominant name is “throughway” (spelled “Thruway”) as in the New York State Thruway or the New England Thruway. New York City also has expressways and parkways, as well as turnpikes. Boston has I’s and also Routes: Route 1, Route 9.

But back to L.A. If Darling Companion so enthralls its makers that it sparks a sequel, maybe the new movie will have better success if the dog is renamed. I can hear the actors’ mournful cries now: “Interstate, where are you? Interstate, come home.”

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