I read your interesting article on the demise of Route 1 (“Lost Highway,” 9/27), since I arrived in the Alexandria area in January of 1961 at age 21. As a native of a small steel town in western Pa., the D.C. area seemed a little fast-paced and strange. Within two months, I got a job at the Fort Belvoir Post Office and would often use Route 1 or Telegraph Road to commute back and forth. During the early ’60s, I dined at the Dixie Pig quite a bit, since that restaurant was probably the best on that highway, constantly packed, with the best food and service around. I can also recall that McDonald’s had one of their first places on that highway.
During those years, Richmond Highway was a booming area, and all the businesses did very well there, whether they were clubs, restaurants, gas stations, or motels. However, the transient-type customers made it difficult to find friendly people, most of whom were either traveling or in the area for a temporary job. It was very strange to see that in the ’60s Route 1 was a progressive area, and the Old Town section of Alexandria was a slum area with drunks and homeless guys begging for money.
However, as you have noticed, during the past 20 years or so, Route 1 has become a trashy area, with ripoff clubs, restaurants, service stations, and folks who seemed to be Neanderthal types, most of whom were white-trash/redneck types. Without being too harsh on most of the folks that live or hang out on Route 1, it now appears to be un-
educated, blue-collar types, many of whom are in construction, most of whom are nice people, but probably don’t know who their congressman is.
Route 1 is a very dangerous road to travel, since there is no median strip, and drunks tend to wander into the oncoming lane. Many of the deaths from traffic in the area have occurred on Route 1 because of the dangerous road and the type of drivers (under-25 males).
As far back as 1961, I can always remember Route 1 as an area that hundreds of young males were looking for a fight on Friday and Saturday evenings, following their two beers at some bar, and inability to find women. Many of these males were servicemen stationed at Belvoir or Quantico, as is the case these days. Presently, if there is a dispute on the highway, a law-abiding citizen would be best to simply ignore it and drive away, or phone the police. If you try to challenge a young male in a road dispute these days, he is liable to shoot you or stab you. In one case, I noticed a young male become so angry he put his car in gear and smashed the other car to “get even,” then drove away. This kind of thing can happen in other areas, but Route 1 seems to be the worst regarding traffic disputes. During the ’60s, the worst that could happen would be a young male challenging you to a fistfight, but you seldom heard of shootings and stabbings. As you know, these days the rule book has been discarded.
Finally, there is the state and local police who patrol Route 1 more these days. Because of the increase in crime, traffic accidents, traffic violations, and other things, police patrol Route 1 these days as though there is martial law there now. Police seem to have little or no respect for the uneducated, low-income public in that area, and I am sure the feeling is mutual. The immigrants coming into that area are confused, and I hope they don’t consider that region a good example of the U.S. However, if you will look at Rockville Pike, you will see an example of Route 1 during the ’60s. Rockville Pike could end up becoming the same way if they are not careful. In fact, Route 1 could be a role model for all communities as to what not to do in the future. If you will look at Reston, Va., you can see an area that was very nice in the ’60s, but because of a massive public housing and welfare programs, Reston has become a high-crime area, with two classes of people: the rich and the poor. Social planners should consider what they do to an area in the long run, instead of quick and easy solutions.