Monday, October 29, 2007

My way and the highway

After my sour japes on the begging notice, which still bugs the Hades out of me, I'll be sweeter in this entry. A few posts back I mentioned my forays into highway articles on Wikipedia. The encyclopedia offers scads of articles about those things your car rumbles over. A typical example of my efforts in this little-known patch of WP territory is Alabama State Route 21.

I don't think I've ever travelled this Alabama thoroughfare. In fact, I can't remember spending a minute in the Sweet Home state. But I couldn't resist a road that passes near the Talladega Superspeedway. Down home with NASCAR is where I wanna be - on Wikipedia, anyway.

These articles have acquired a rigid set of Wikipedia conventions. They have to be written just so, with the correct infobox and title and road symbols. Otherwise, irritated messages start turning up on your talk page. There was actually an ArbCom case about the naming of these articles. Hilarious edit wars had erupted over whether "Route 21 (Alabama)" or AL Route 21" or "AL 21" or "Alabama State Highway 21" or "Fred Flintstone's favorite road" was the proper naming convention.

Once you understand such arcane technicalities, the articles are seductively easy to write. Just haul out a road atlas and start tracing the route through its various windings and intersections. There's usually some helpful material on the web, especially from state transportation departments. Those are the people who (very) eventually fix potholes.

It's also fun to find photos of the roads on the web. For some highways you can find an entire page of down-home pictures. I found a site for AL 21 that tracked the whole route in photos, right down to the Florida border. The web gallery honestly made me feel like I'd been there and done that.

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