"Ain't no sense in trying to turn it around," said D. D. Harris, an engineer for the Virginia Highway Department. "Arlington County and Fairfax County agreed a year ago to call it the Custis Memorial Parkway. We've even ordered the signs for the entrances.
"The only thing that hasn't been done is for final approval to be granted. But that's just dotting I's and crossing T's. It's settled. This is no time to be drumming up business."
So what am I here to propose?
That we drum up business.
Interstate 66, the freeway that will connect Vienna and Rosslyn a year from now, is about to be named for an unworthy woman. And until the I's and T's are in their finished forms, there's still hope.
The Custis for whom I-66 is nearly named is Nellie, the adopted daughter of George Washington.
Nellie was a member of the famous Northern Virginia Custis family, which is already half-memorialized by the Custis-Lee Mansion that overlooks Arlington National Cemetery. Nellie was said to be a special favorite of the father of our country, and his wife, Martha.Nellie was said to be pretty and socially presentable. And she lived to be 73.
But what did she do to deserve a highway?
Well, she painted landscapes.
And once she painted silhouettes of George and Martha.
Another time, she learned to play the harpsichord.
And she helped run the Mount Vernon household in Martha's old age.
That's it, folks. History doesn't record another notable achievement in all of Nellie's 73 years. That's not because history forgot. It's because the cupboard suddenly got very bare.
Now, it's true that women weren't achievers in the same way as men in the 18th and 19th centuries. And it's not a matter of Virginia highways sounding better if they're named for men. Dolley Madison Boulevard in McLean has been rolling off my tongue -- and the tongues of others -- for ages.
It's simply this: other people deserve the honor more.
For example, John Tyler.
The 10th President of the United States was born in Virginia. Except for his four years in the White House, he spent his entire life in Virginia. He sired 14 children in Virginia. He died in Virginia. He is buried in Virginia.
He was a distinguished lawyer in Virginia. He was an honors graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. At the age of 37, he had represented Virginia as a member of the House of Delegates, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and as governor. At 37! For good measure, he was captain of a volunteer military company in Richmond, a delegate to the 1829 Virginia constitutional convention and chancellor of William and Mary.
And he doesn't have a highway named for him.
I can hear it now: Tippecanoe and Thruway Too.
We'd call it the Tylerway.
Or maybe the Tyler Turnpike.
Regardless, get on the horn to your state representatives immediately. Nellie Custis' name belongs in the Harpsichording Hall of Fame. John Tyler's belongs along the length and breadth of I-66.