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Taqueria – 13915 Highway 99 – Everett, WA

Stretching from Canada to Mexico, Highway 99 was the north to south version of Route 66 from the mid-1920s until the early 1960s. One of the key characteristics of these highways were they ran smack through the middle of towns and cities all along their respective routes. These were roads that were up close and personal, that linked together places and people, a chain of natural pearls seeded from that unique American DNA that decorated the throat of America, all different in their details with some perfect, some deformed and on occasion some sinful ones. This is unlike the modern highways that today only seem to go from one utterly anonymous and nearly identical collection of fast food restaurants, gas stations, truck stops, and motels.

And like Route 66, Highway 99 fell into disuse when the Interstate Highway System rolled out across the continent in earnest in the 1960s. Characterizing its fate as disuse is a mischaracterization; rather it got all busted up and fragmented. Even that still misses the mark. The soul of what got destroyed were those pure strands of that particular DNA whose chromosomes were the motels with neon arrows pointing to a few hours of rest, drive-ins, gas stations, liquor stores, road houses selling liquor and pale lagers by the glass, used car dealerships with strands of pennants, auto parts stores, small grocery stores that seemed to specialize in wilted produce and tomato soups, cheap furniture stores, real estate offices, insurance offices, palm readers, prostitutes – a city’s worth of commerce laid out in a row that had everything you might want but nothing you really needed.

Today Highway 99, in Washington State, still has significant stretches intact, in particular through the urban areas. What is remarkable is how resilient this road has been to change though the crush of time is now erasing its former identity of individual entrepreneurs that pursed the American Dreams of economic freedom and prosperity with big box chain stores that leave the vast majority of its employees dreaming of simply being middle class. Standing in stark contrast to this new reality are those small strands of pearls that still exist in the form of business that cater to recent immigrants and are often run by the same. Because this road, in many places is far off the map of highly desirable locations, often has relatively affordable rents and high volumes of people going by each day. Take these factors and add in staying open 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, a low margin business can survive and prosper if well attend too. This may not be an ideal equation, especially to those that have been here a few generations, but to people who are used to pushing in all their chips just to survive, it must look pretty good. In that equation is hope for something better down the road.

Copyright 2012 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved