• U.S.

Come Meet My Highway

3 minute read
Joel Stein

As a guy whose last charitable act was letting someone merge into my lane, I shouldn’t go criticizing other people’s good works. But the adopt-a-highway program may be the lamest charity I’ve ever heard of. What goes through these people’s minds? “Yeah, homelessness is a bummer, but, my God, have you seen what’s become of that westbound stretch of I-80?” Or “Honey, should we adopt a Somali orphan or a small section of road?”

I called Bette Midler, who has adopted roads in New York and Los Angeles and signed up Robin Williams and HBO and is close to inking Larry King. “It’s not curing cancer or anything, but it adds quality to people’s lives,” she said.

Bette was convincing enough to make me do some research. I concluded that the adopt-a-highway program is not only stupid; it’s not even very much fun. There’s no Sally Struthers sending you monthly letters and updated pictures to tell you how well your highway is doing. Instead, the program requires you and lots of your friends to show up four times a year for two years and pick up trash.

It turns out that most people–despite the prospect of playing with those pointy metal spears that, for reasons I can’t understand, they allow prisoners to use–aren’t too psyched on this picking-up-trash part. That’s why the Adopt-a-Highway Litter Removal Service of America lets you pay them to do the charity work for you. In return, your corporation gets to put up a sign saying you like highways more than Somali orphans.

Amy Molloy of AAHLRSA was initially taken aback by both my journalistic antagonism and my ease with unwieldy acronyms. She got especially nervous when I asked if AAHLRSA keeps the cool stuff it finds on the side of the adoptee’s highway. But then she interrupted me with a pitch: “I’m telling you, I have a location in L.A. that is phenomenal: where the 405 meets the 5 at Burbank airport. To me, that’s a location.”

My irritation quickly melted into a vision of a road I could call my own. I dreamed of a highway that would embarrass Bette Midler’s highway. I would set up lawn chairs and an aboveground pool and turn the shoulder into some kind of make-out spot. I would ride up and down on my motorcycle like Peter Fonda, only without Dennis Hopper, because he annoys me. Sammy Hagar would play on weekends.

Amy told me it would cost $400 a month for two years, with a $300 fee for my road sign. Quick calculations told me this would come to a number that would stick out on my expense report. So I e-mailed TIME’s president and asked him to buy it for the magazine. I used key sales terms like “unique opportunity” and “captive audience” and “Sammy Hagar.”

Here’s where it gets weird. I get an e-mail back telling me to go ahead. So I called AAHLRSA and adopted that big slice of Los Angeles I had been coveting. Bette was very excited. “Have you ever seen the 5? The 5 is such a pit.” She advised me to drive on my highway often. “You always visit your mile, and you complain, ‘I want more landscaping.'”

I know all this makes me sound like a big hypocrite. But is it better to be a person of integrity or a guy with a sweet, sweet stretch of superclean road?

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