Oh John Carroll

Category: travel

Steve Duncan and Andrew Wonder explore some of the hidden sights of New York. Worth it for the look at the abandoned City Hall subway station alone.

Something you probably don’t know about me: I love maps. If I lived alone, I’d cover my walls with them1.

I’m particularly fond of public transit maps and diagrams, so I was thrilled to find this 2012 New York Times story about Massimo Vignelli’s radical 1972 redesign of New York’s subway map. Alice Rawsthorn writes:

No sooner had the Metropolitan Transportation Authority introduced a new map of the New York subway system on Aug. 7, 1972, than complaints flooded in. Many stations seemed to be in the wrong places. The water surrounding the city was colored beige, not blue. As for Central Park, it appeared to be almost square, rather than an elongated rectangle, three times bigger than the map suggested, and was depicted in a dreary shade of gray.

The map was, indeed, riddled with anomalies, but that was the point. Its designer, Massimo Vignelli, had sacrificed geographical accuracy for clarity by reinterpreting New York’s tangled labyrinth of subway lines as a neat diagram. Each station was shown as a dot and linked to its neighbors by color-coded routes running at 45- or 90-degree angles. Mr. Vignelli had used his design skills to tidy up reality.

Yes, I’m making sure I have a print of this up at my next home.


  1. It’s a good thing I don’t live alone, huh?

An old-but-new-to-me story by Tad Friend in The New Yorker, about those who commit suicide (and those rare few who manage not to die) by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge:

There is a fatal grandeur to the place. Like Paul Alarab, who lived and worked in the East Bay, several people have crossed the Bay Bridge to jump from the Golden Gate; there is no record of anyone traversing the Golden Gate to leap from its unlovely sister bridge. Dr. Richard Seiden, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the leading researcher on suicide at the bridge, has written that studies reveal “a commonly held attitude that romanticizes suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge in such terms as aesthetically pleasing and beautiful, while regarding a Bay Bridge suicide as tacky.”

The piece is incredibly informative, and certainly describes the aura of the bridge well. When I was in San Francisco last month, we visited the area, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk across it.

Having just visited San Francisco, AT&T Part and Alcatraz, I’ll say this: I didn’t notice many seagulls at the Giants game I attended, but if the birds from Alcatraz are making their way over, that’s terrifying. Those were some intimidating and fearless gulls.

James Atlas writes about how class struggle is reflected in the air industry, for The New York Times:

This stark class division should come as no surprise: what’s happening in the clouds mirrors what’s happening on the ground. Statusization — to coin a useful term — is ubiquitous, no matter what your altitude. While you’re in your hospital bed spooning up red Jell-O, a patient in a private suite is enjoying strawberries and cream. On your way to a Chase A.T.M., you notice a silver plaque declaring the existence within of Private Client Services. This man has a box seat at a Yankees game; that man has a skybox. And the skybox isn’t the limit: high overhead, the 1 percent fly first class; the .1 percent fly Netjets; the .01 fly their own planes. Why should it be any different up above from down below?

This probably helps explain why I’ve sometimes opted to drive 20 hours back East rather than fly that same distance in 3.

State Flags & Arts Funding

I don’t like the state flag of Kansas.  This has been on my mind because, as a Kansan, I see it frequently these days.  What I find so ugly about it is the large font across the bottom, which says KANSAS.  It is the largest of its kind, perhaps only topped by the WISCONSIN on the, well, Wisconsin state flag.

Yes, that’s right, I care about this so much that I’ve been studying other state flags and comparing designs.  I find state flags emblazoned with the state’s name to be aesthetically unappealing: they may as well just write FLAG across the bottom.

Whining about state flags, however, seemed like a rather boring and short blog post.  I thought I might try to find out if there was any correlation between states with terrible (read: named) flags and how they operated.  My first thought was to try and link it to education, but that was a thorny issue: graduation rates seemed like a stretch, and other performance measures were simply too varied to choose from.  In short, I would have been opening up several cans of worms.

So, I found a ranking of states by art budgets (per capita in 2010) at ArtBistro and went to work.  Did a less abstract flag relate to a smaller art budget?  Below find every state with a state name on its flag, with its art budget ranking (from lowest to highest, per capita).  The District of Columbia is included.

Flag of California svg

51.  This is a pretty cool flag, and doesn’t simply say CALIFORNIA, but we’re not off to a great start.

Flag of Florida svg

50.  So tiny, but this is ugly and my theory is holding up immediately.

500px Flag of Washington svg

45.  Michigan, Arizona, Colorado and Georgia all derail my theory, but look past that and examine this flag.  This would be like my designing a flag, putting a flag in the middle of it, and then script around it that said “THE SEAL OF THE FLAG OF FLAGS.”

500px Flag of Iowa svg

43.  Maybe they were worried about being confused with the French.  Because the French love eagles.

Flag of Nevada svg

42.  I think I’d prefer a blue flag.  All blue.

Flag of Wisconsin svg

41.  I think this is the Michigan state flag?

Flag of Kansas svg

40.  Ah, the inspiration … for this post.  Also: the water and ship in the background is very deceptive.  I hope no one bases their tourism on state flag design.  (If you do, though, PLEASE CONTACT ME.)

Flag of New Hampshire svg

39.  LIVE FREE OR DIE.  C’mon, New Hampshire, your state flag should design itself.

Flag of Montana svg

38.  Congratulations on the awful kerning, which only draws more attention to the huge state name across your flag.

Flag of Indiana svg

37.  “This is cool yet classic.  I think our citizens will love it.  But shit, wait, where do we live again?”

Flag of Idaho svg

36.  State of Idaho, State of Idaho.  State of Idaho, State of Idaho.  State of Idaho, State of Idaho.  I have hives on my neck.

Flag of Maine svg

35.  I guess this flag is the most defensible so far, as those guys would fall off the flag if that banner wasn’t supporting them.

Flag of Oregon svg

34.  I find this charming, if only for the lack of rigidity.  I can tell I’m softening.  Also, there’s a beaver on the back of this flag:

500px Flag of Oregon reverse svg

Back to work:

Flag of Virginia svg

33.  Virginia is for stepping on people.

Flag of Illinois svg

30.  This strikes me as a font chosen by a student for the title page, about 15 minutes before the paper is due.

500px Flag of Arkansas svg

28.  “Red?  Check.  White?  Check.  Blue?  Check.  Stars?  Check.  Are we missing anything else?”

500px Flag of Kentucky svg

27.  I’ll award partial credit for a font/kerning combo that makes the state name nearly unreadable.

Flag of Vermont svg

26.  Just had to sneak it on there, didn’t you?

500px Flag of South Dakota svg

25.  Hey, it’s the first flag that doubles as a tourism ad.  At least they have a better arts budget than Idaho!

Flag of Nebraska svg

24.  I’d let this pass if you didn’t call it a “great” seal, Nebraska.

Flag of North Carolina svg

23.  I was going to let it off the hook for only featuring initials, but then I convinced myself that initials may actually be worse.  NC = Not Cool, North Carolina.

Flag of North Dakota svg

17.  Congrats, North Dakota.  We’re thrilled to see you here.

Flag of West Virginia svg

13.  Is this some flag-on-flag action?  A flag with a frame?  I’m barely noticing your state name, West Virginia!

Flag of Wyoming svg

7.  The buffalo tried to eat the state name, but I guess it glows or something.

Flag of Minnesota svg

2.  This is a lifebuoy, right?

More than 75% of the states that name themselves on their state flags sit in the bottom half of this 2010 art budget list, ranked by per capita spending.

I’m surprised but pleased by my “findings.”  I was hoping to just bust on some ugly flags for a bit, but I developed a very tenuous theory as well!

I-70 vs. I-64

When I was about to move to the Midwest, I went to Google with a simple search query: “I-70 vs. I-64.” Operating under the premise that “everyone has talked about everything on the Internet,” I assumed I’d find a direct comparison of the two routes at my disposal to head to my new home.

But I didn’t find much.  And now that I’ve had the opportunity to take both routes, I thought I’d write a bit about them for future travelers who run the same query on their search engine of choice.

When first heading West, my wife and I decided to take I-64.  The route was almost 100 miles longer for my particular trip (from Washington, DC to Kansas).  Despite the added length, I noticed what anyone will when comparing routes: I-64 simply travels through fewer large cities.

My wife and I had a great time on the drive.  The roads were remarkably clear, and almost toll-free (we paid for one toll in Topeka).  The only traffic we encountered came in an area under construction near St. Louis.  We had such a good time on the ride that we didn’t think twice about taking the same route when we headed back East last month.

But that second trip exposed some flaws that we overlooked on the ride out.  Specifically, we were exhausted after navigating the twisty roads of West Virginia.  The seasons had something to do with it, as did the timing: the scenery was beautiful in the summer, and we were in good spirits at the beginning of our drive.  By the time we had arrived back on the East Coast, though, we were both tired, and I was nauseous.

Naturally, we were ready to try a different route by the time we had to go home.  A snow storm had crossed both routes the night before we left, which made the decision even easier: we wanted no part of potentially snowy or icy roads in West Virginia.  

I-70 is certainly the more boring of the 2 routes: it offers none of the scenery of I-64, but you trade good looks for speed and reliability: the roads were clear and dry despite the storm, and our spirits (and stomachs!) never wavered.

A much shorter way to put it could be this: on our second trip along I-64, we finally felt all of those extra miles.  I-70 is certainly the better choice in uncertain weather, or if you’re exclusively interested in making the best time.  The major cities along the way don’t provide much of an impediment — the only traffic we hit was again due to construction in St. Louis, because apparently that town’s roads need a lot of work.

I-64 is certainly not a bad option, and if you’re traveling in dry and calm weather, it is arguably worth the extra time to travel its more beautiful and less populated areas.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I-70 is now my go-to choice for trips in either direction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to retire from the world of highway criticism.

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