I came across an unusual neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina where many of the streets were named for different genres of dance. Why yes, it was a mobile home park. How did you guess?
Schenley Square, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
It further confirmed my theory that trailer parks have the best street names, using labels that everyone would love to have if society didn’t constrain them with highfalutin notions. Waltz, Minuet and Polonaise sounded almost normal. Modern and Folk were pretty lame, though — get it, Modern Dance, Folk Dance, really? Cha Cha, Swing and Twist started getting more adventurous. Break Dance and Hip Hop definitely took some guts. At a main entrance to the community though, visible to the entire outside world (Street View), a road named Disco Lane? Exceptional.
That transported me mentally to a carefree time in musical history when Disco ruled the planet, sandwiched firmly between the activism of Hippies and the anger of Punks. Did the denizens of discotheques, mirror balls and polyester leisure suits leave any physical marks upon the geographic landscape other than a random trailer park in North Carolina? Not particularly. Disco may have become a pop cultural phenomenon briefly during the 1970′s, however most partakers denied knowledge afterwards. Nonetheless I found plenty of places with coincidental naming.
Disco Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The U.S. Geographic Names Information System listed four populated Discos, one found in Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin respectively. None of them was larger than a flyspeck. The occurrence in Tennessee may have been the most significant. It even included the wonderfully-named Disco Loop Road (map).
I’m not letting Canada off-the-hook either. The Canadian 12MC audience can always visit Disco Road in Toronto. They can dump their garbage at the Disco. I’m not kidding. The city maintains a drop-off depot for household hazardous waste and electronics at 120 Disco Road. I’m sure Toronto wasn’t trashing Disco intentionally. I’m also sure that Toronto West Detention Centre at 111 Disco Road wasn’t intended as a slight either. All coincidental, I assure you. Or was it? Why did all the Disco fans disappear suddenly after Disco Demolition Night?
Do the Hustle
Hustle, Virginia, USA
The Hustle may have been Disco’s defining dance. It exploded in popularity after Van McCoy & the Soul City Symphony released their song of the same name in 1975. This will be the one and only time Van McCoy & the Soul City Symphony will ever be mentioned in Twelve Mile Circle so mark it down and remember the date.
I found Hustle in Virginia. It wasn’t a town proper, just a crossroads, although it did have its own Zip Code – 22476. Conceivably, disco aficionados could carry an envelope to the post office and go home with a coveted Hustle postmark if they so desired.
Saturday Night Fever
Saturday Night Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
If Disco had a defining dance it also had a defining movie, Saturday Night Fever, a theatrical pandemic from 1977. IMDB summarized it with few words, "a Brooklyn youth feels his only chance to get somewhere is as the king of the disco floor." That was the extent of any meaningful plot. It launched the career of John Travolta in the title role.(¹) The soundtrack released by the Bee Gees also became phenomenally successful.
I found Saturday Night Lake in Alberta (map above) and Saturday Night Hill in Montana (map) along with several other much smaller features with similar names.
Travolta St., Stafford Heights, Queensland, Australia
With respect to Mr. Travolta once again, I discovered him amongst several other era-appropriate actors, singers and entertainers in the streets of a development in Stafford Heights, Queensland, Australia. The same development also contained, I believe, the only street in the world named for Ernest Borgnine. Personally, I’d love to live at the corner of (Dolly) Parton and (Elvis) Presley Streets.
McBurney YMCA, New York City, New York, USA
It would be difficult to assign a signature song to the Disco era because it had so many iconic contenders. Y.M.C.A. by the Village People certainly qualified for elite status because of its sheer staying power. New York City’s Greenwich Village was the village of the Village People so I’d nominate the McBurney YMCA for special attention. Technically I guess it’s on the wrong side of W. 14th Street which puts it just north of the Village. Close enough for me.
And now I can’t get The Hustle out of my head. This will be a long, agonizing day.
(¹) Let’s not even pretend he can afford a home with its own jumbo jet hanger because of his earlier "groundbreaking" work in Welcome Back, Kotter where his primary claim involved coining the catchphrase "up your nose with a rubber hose."
I’ve been collecting a bunch of oddly shaped and unusually themed neighborhoods and didn’t know what to do with them. They didn’t have any similarity amongst them, even appearing in completely different parts of the world, although I wondered if perhaps I could force them into a set anyway. The first notion that came to mind was that maybe these were examples of urban planners getting bored and playing around with some designs. That was the hope. As often happens, the more probable stories behind the instances I’d uncovered were considerably more complicated and entirely more interesting.
Catch Some Z’s
Surrey Downs, South Australa
What was the reasoning behind all of the streets beginning with Z in the Surrey Downs neighborhood in suburban Adelaide, South Australia? Zanoni, Zealand, Zed, Zoe, Zephyr, Zenith, Zuleika, and Zariba. That was impressive. Then I noticed a concentration of Y streets immediately to the northwest. Aha! An alphabet theme! Actually, no.
The pattern broke as I spotted the wines to the west. Zinfandel, Shiraz, Riesling, Tokay, Trebbiano, Malaga. Then I understood. The planners worked backwards starting with Z, then Y, then they got drunk and gave up, switching to wines instead. More likely, they named streets for the grapes that went into wines rather than the actual wines themselves. The neighborhood replaced an agricultural area that included viticulture. The old adage of suburbs named for what they destroyed apparently held true here.
And no, I never did figure out the Z thing.
Like a Bloodshot Eye
Pitman Grove, New Jersey, USA
What a great shape I thought when I spotted the bloodshot eye on a map from afar and drilled-in to take a closer look. It was like a cartographer decided to doodle absentmindedly in the margins of a page and happened to sketch an eye, or a wagon wheel or a whatchamacallit.
This seemed like a well-populated area with a high probability of Street View coverage. I zoomed in even farther and I couldn’t find anything at ground level. It took me a few breaths to figure out the reason: cars can’t use these "streets." They’re more akin to sidewalks.
More tight spaces in Pitman Grove by Will Sexton in Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
What was going on? Who would build such an odd neighborhood without any automobile access?
The Borough of Pitman provided an explanation. I’d discovered an historical location known as Pitman Grove.
It developed from a summer camp meeting at the turn of the century. In the center of the Grove area is the Camp Meeting Auditorium… the center of Methodist worship. People came from far away for revival meetings… There are 12 “avenues”, representing the disciples of Christ, that are joined to the auditorium as spokes on the hub of a wheel. There is a spot in the tabernacle where you can stand and look down all 12 avenues. Eventually small cottages were built on these avenues and this was the origin of the town.
The page went on to explain that Pitman remains a dry town even to this day. Thus, Ptman and Surrey Downs probably wouldn’t be very good Sister City matches.
The Ultimate Alphabet Grid
Kwazakele, Ibhayi, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Kwazakele took me aback with its intense street layout and naming convention. It was part of Ibhayi, an African township formed outside of Port Elizabeth, South Africa during the Apartheid era. I discovered remarkably little information about this township on the Intertubes in spite of a population exceeding 250 thousand residents.
This unusual road grid, I imagine, was probably imposed upon the inhabitants by Apartheid powers rather than arising as an organic contrivance of their own doing. The regimentation of three-letter streets beginning with A, and an offshoot section with B seemed entirely too bureaucratic. Most of the letter combinations lacked any meaning beyond a designation of geographic placement. Other streets, by coincidence, spelled words. People could end-up on roads such as Ant, Ape, Ale, Arf and even Any Road. Living on AOK would be, well, A-OK. Over at letter B, an address on Bad Road would be bad although not the worst choice possible.
Ass Road, Ibhayi, South Africa
via Google Street View, September 2009
Somebody had to live on Ass Road, a most unfortunate three-letter combination. Even the guy on Street View was begging for someone to take him away.
The trails and breadcrumbs left behind by random one-time electronic visitors sometimes remind me of interesting things I’ve discussed previously and forgotten. Witness the recent query "boomerang" that led one anonymous reader to Fraser Island in Australia, the world’s largest sand island, and its amazing perched dune lakes. As I noted when I drafted the article back in the earliest days of 12MC,
A perched dune lake forms when wind blows an indentation in the sand that then gradually fills with decaying vegetation. Over time the decaying organic matter creates a watertight mat that eventually permeates the sand to form something similar to concrete, almost like a swimming pool… on Frasier Island can be found Boomerang Lake, the world’s highest perched dune lake at 130m above sea level.
The person wanted a boomerang and 12MC delivered a boomerang. Now it was time for a bit of fun and a little boomerang overkill. Were there other boomerangs, I wondered?
In Australia, yes of course, there was a stupendous overindulgence of boomerang hills, streams, islands, lagoons, lakes and anything else geographic that one could possibly imagine. The device was a hunting tool and weapon for many Australian Aboriginal groups so of course occurrences there should be expected. The most significant, or at least most populous example, might very well be Boomerang Beach in the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. Even one of its primary roads, Boomerang Drive, displayed a roughly boomerang shape.
Boomerang Beach, New South Wales, Australia
Boomerang Beach bordered on Booti Booti, an Australian national park. So many awful puns came to mind at that moment although I promised myself that I would behave. It became even more difficult when I learned that the "name comes from ‘butibuti,’ the local Worimi Aboriginal word meaning ‘plenty of honey.’" Must… resist… Booty… jokes.
Setting aside Australia — where boomerangs were entirely too pedestrian — I focused my attention farther away in order to see if the theme had spread elsewhere. Well of course it had or I would have stopped typing right here.
Some Reasons Were Obvious
Boomerang Lake, Runnymede, Saskatchewan, Canada
Plenty of features actually resembled boomerangs. I spotted this great example, Boomerang Lake, on the far eastern edge of Saskatchewan. Actually I was hoping the provincial border might split through the lake as I zoomed-in. That was not the case once I looked closer. Nonetheless, it was a nicely representative instance of boomerang-shaped geography.
Other Reasons Were Enigmatic
Hotel Boomerang, Bagni di Tabiano, Parma, Italy
via Google Street View, November 2010
I scratched my head as I pondered Hotel Boomerang in Parma, Italy. They certainly seemed enamored of their boomerangs. I figured maybe they hoped to focus attention on the physics of a properly-thrown boomerang. Perhaps, using that logic, guests would enjoy their lodging and someday "return" to the hotel?
And I Filled In a Hole
Boomerang Run, Red Lodge Mountain, Montana, USA
I saw plenty of boomerangs in the United States. This one was a little different, a black diamond ski run at the Red Lodge Mountain Resort and roughly boomerang-shaped I guess although maybe they were talking about bouncing off trees or something. I didn’t realize Google Maps included ski trails. That reminded me — I also noticed traffic lights on one map I saw recently (for example). Maybe they’re rolling out some new features?
The primary reason for including this boomerang instead of other instnaces in the United States was to fill an empty space on my Complete Index map. There, I admit it. I need to spread the geo-oddity love around.