I’ll bet you didn’t know there were dental implants available for $350. I’d been quoted around $1,500 per implant, but a billboard on Interstate 5 near Downey suggested I might be overpaying should I pay that much. I didn’t know if the implants were made of Halloween wax or PVC but $350 seemed like a killer deal.

If you live in California, you are destined to spend a certain amount of time on I-5, which I have done recently going both north to the Bay Area and south to San Diego.

If you could ascribe a gender to freeways, like people do boats, 5 seems male in the same way that 405 feels female. While the 405 has allure and mystery, 5 tends toward no nonsense, not always attractive and not everyone is having fun.

What 5 lacks in romance, it makes up in cosmetic opportunities. The same implants would probably cost you $1,500 on the 405.

A couple of days ago, we were driving home from the Bay Area. Thomas, our youngest, was ahead of us driving separately, having left an hour earlier. He was both scout and prophet telling us what our future might hold.

“Dad, please tell me why 5 only has two lanes?” he asked. “It’s in the middle of nowhere, there is plenty of land and there are a million people using it.”

I shifted into Dad mode. Dad-knows-these-things mode. Dad-has-the-answers mode.

The thing was, Dad didn’t know. Dad had wondered the same thing. Dad thought if you added one more lane on either side, 5 becomes a more eligible bachelor and capable of wooing the 405.

Thomas wasn’t done:

“Tell me this, too. Why don’t people pick a lane? When it’s this busy, no one is going anywhere and changing lanes makes things more dangerous.”

These are good questions. These are tough questions. These are questions that Dad can’t always answer but don’t give up on Dad because surely there is a question Dad can answer.

I looked into my rearview mirror. A blue Subaru Outback was following us, keeping a respectful distance. I appreciated respectful and it made me feel like we were freeway friends.

The Outback was happy with our pace. The Outback did not insist that we move into the right lane.

The Outback was like a cyclist in a peloton who had picked a wheel he could trust. What he was saying was, “I know you will take care of me and alert me to potential danger ahead.”

Our relationship became a source of joy. I felt like waving. Remonstrating to the world that we were on the same team as the Outback, a team that made up in steady what it lacked in flash.

We kept up the car dance until a fire truck went by, weaving his way both on the dirt and in our lane. I looked back and the Outback was gone. I wanted to tell him that I was grateful for what we had had and would never forget him.

Traffic slowed to 10 mph as we approached the accident toward which the fire truck had been moving. Ten miles per hour was not an optimal speed for getting somewhere but perfect for Candi Staton’s stately version of “Blessed Assurance.”

Dad doesn’t know much, but he knows 10 mph is good for some things and Candi Staton is one of them.

If you live in California, you are destined to spend a certain amount of time on I-5. How you spend it is up to you. You can dream about affordable implants or take note of where 5 and 405 meet and say hello, kiss goodbye and later on merge and make things permanent.

Beautiful in its own way. Two lanes or four. "This is our story, this is our song."

Contact Californian columnist Herb Benham at 661-395-7279 or hbenham@bakersfield.com. His work appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.

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