How The Mile 23 Got Its Name

Don't expect this to make any sense.

A mile is one minute of arc in latitude. That's the nautical mile, anyway. The other mile is about 200 meters shorter or so. But I prefer the definition of one minute of arc... It seems somehow less arbitrary. Only as arbitrary as the size of the earth and its speed of rotation, and the decision that there should be 360 degrees in a circle.

A knot, by the way, is one nautical mile an hour, which is a highly recursive definition.

But anyway. A mile is a large unit of measure. It's a semi-big distance. A motivated person could walk 23 miles in a day, couldn't they? So the distance isn't insurmountable.

Once upon a time, I wrote a story where you're in a car. You're in a car and you're driving down the lonely interstate, and you see a car approaching on the other side of the highway. For some reason you are transfixed by it; maybe the road's been empty for the past three hours, and this is the first car you've seen. Or maybe you're just impressed by it's inky black paint job and three layers of carnuba wax. But whatever reason, you're staring at it as it approaches.

As you draw nearer to it, and as it draws nearer to you, you can make out a little girl kneeling in the back seat. She's got her face pressed against the side window, and she's watching the center median go by. She's cute as a button, in her little girl clothes and curly black locks. As things get more distinct, however, she appears more troubled than a little girl should be. Maybe it's just a snap judgement you're making; she's barely visible, after all, and you might be reading too much into it. But nevertheless there's a melancholy in her face, her posture, her stare.

She looks up, and she turns her attention to your car, watching it approach. And there's a moment... A moment when you're passing by the car, and your eyes lock with hers for just a split second. And she has, by this point, raised her arm and is pointing across the road, pointing, gesturing, mouthing 'over there...' and pointing.

You turn your head the other direction, and you see a mile post. It says, 'Mile 23.'

I wrote that story a while back. It never actually happened to me, and I'm not even sure it means anything. It's just a moment.



sean's picture

good enough for me :-)