Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 21, 2011

PCH Scenes

A recurring theme in this blog is the notion that there are matters of interest everywhere, and that one need not be on an official vacation trip or expedition to find sights and sites of interest. This week, we had business in Long Beach, and, with an hour to spare, I walked along a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway, U.S. Route 1. When you’re here, just call it “PCH.” Everyone will know what you mean.

Long Beach is a large city — the 36th largest city in the U.S., nearly half a million people — about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. It’s large in extent as well as population, covering a variety of urban and suburban settings, from the beach, a struggling downtown, the massive container port, and a wide variety of residential areas that range from spiffy to scruffy.

At this point in its path along the California coast, PCH is not at the edge of the water; it’s a few miles inland. It’s a busy route, and lined with every type of business you can imagine, from large-scale commercial buildings to little strip malls. Included in this encyclopedia of modern highway culture are two of Under Western Skies’ favorite southern California icons: motels and car washes. I passed great example of each on my walk this week.

I recently wrote about Los Angeles-area car washes (click here). Here’s one more great example.

Long Beach car wash Brad Nixon 8250 (640x372)

In the early days of this blog I posted a series of articles about vintage motels that line PCH near my house, about ten miles west of my walk this week (find them in the “categories” list over on the right of this page). As the original major route for tourists visiting California in a day before interstate highways, PCH must have had hundreds, if not thousands, of motels. Many are still operating and flaunt at least some of the retro glory of the 50s and 60s. Here’s one I passed.

Dons motel Long Beach Brad Nixon 8246 (640x480)

In the old days, that marquee would have touted in-room TV or free phones. Now it’s wi-fi.

I also had to navigate around something that is not very common in this part of California: a traffic circle.

traffic circle Brad Nixon 8256 (640x426)

Of course, you readers in the former Commonwealth and on the Continent call this a roundabout. Wikipedia uses that term, too. In the Northeast of the U.S., they’re rotaries (thanks to faithful reader Jill for that note).

Traffic circles/roundabouts are extremely efficient means to move traffic through intersections. They’re not common in many parts of the U.S. My impression is that they’re more often found in the Northeast, but that’s not based on any particular fact, just my impression. Also, my observation is that American engineers use them in intersections more complex than a simple right-angle crossing of two roads. That’s the case there at the intersection of PCH, Lakewood and Los Coyotes.

traffic circle sign Brad Nixon 8252 (640x456)

I will say that traffic circles are not always pedestrian-friendly (even by the pedestrian-averse southern California street scene). I had to zig and zag around this one, which has no sidewalks or pedestrian crossings. But roundabouts do move traffic quite efficiently and with great dispatch. Many traffic planners advise the implementation of traffic circles as much as possible to eliminate traffic signals, stop signs, and to keep things moving. Properly planned roundabouts need not take up significantly more space than traditional intersections, although they’re difficult to insert into well-established built environments.

This also brought to mind the first time I ever encountered a traffic circle. It was the summer after my first year of college, so I’d been driving for a few years. On this particular summer day, the Tampa Scribe and I set out to see the Football Hall of Fame in Canton (he, of course, went on to his own brand of sports fame as an award-winning writer covering every sport except maybe 43-Man Squamish). We also drove north to Stow, to visit one of my roommates. We were doing fine, driving through Tallmadge when — kazango — there was a traffic circle. We’d never encountered one. I’m not certain that we actually knew of their existence — at least not in Ohio. We weren’t beginning drivers, but this was something new. Fortunately, I have nothing more adventurous than the mere fact of surprise to relate here, and we navigated it successfully. The Wikipedia listing for Tallmadge features an aerial photo of that famous roundabout, CLICK HERE.

Lots of keen stuff out there, kids. Keep your eyes peeled, and don’t forget to carry your camera.

© Brad Nixon 2011, 2017


  1. That “HANDWASH” car wash reminds me of the Autotopia ride at Disneyland.

    It’s been a while since Under Western Skies made it over here. Ask me about my roundabout:


    • Wow, I did not know that about your town. The International Conference. I guess since THEY say “roundabouts,” I should stop saying “traffic circle.”
      Also, The Counselor just pointed out that I omitted the motel photo. I’ve added it.


      • Dad mentioned to me before I read this blog that John posted the information about Carmel being the roundabout standout that it is. I thought he was making it all up.

        I should know better.


  2. You’re always there when I need you, Brad! I now have a new word for the holidays – kazango. Two years ago I started using bodacious in your honor, and now kazango. Keep ’em coming. And have a wonderful holiday celebration and happy trails in 2012, Please add Massachusetts rotaries to your list of must-see sites. By the way, there are those of us who would dispute that they speed up traffic. That’s only if every driver is brave enough to venture in without waiting for 50 feet of clearance.


    • Jill, several things to say. To my knowledge, credit for “kazango” goes to Johnny Hart, who created the “B.C.” comic strip. Picture lightning striking someone and “Kazango!” as the sound effect. Rotaries! Thanks, I forgot that term. It’s actually YOUR town that I associate most strongly with roundabouts in the U.S. Happy and bodacious holidays to you.


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