Abnormal Street

Geography or Judgment?

Strange road sign saying right turn from left only

I was on my way to a client out of state. My eyes feasted on the scenery as we rode. Rolling hills and trees for miles on end. NYC has lots to see, but I love the change of scenery when I work out of town.

We passed through a charming, Americana-looking hamlet when I noticed something about the intersection.

There are certain streets you expect to see in just about any town in the US: Main Street. Front Street, Oak Street, Pine Street, Washington Street, 1st Street (actually 2nd street is even more popular). These names evoke a sense of continuity and belonging to the same group. “Ah yes, we are in an American city: there’s Washington Street.”

As we drove through this slice out of Normal Rockwell’s America, I read the cross street’s sign.


Apparently, Normal Street, was just around the corner.

If only that were true, I thought.

Back in my hometown, there was a street with the same name as my sister’s fifth grade teacher. Turns out, that teacher’s family was large and several generations lived in homes all up and down the street, so years ago they went through the process of having the street named for their family.

It seems unlikely that someone long, long ago named Normal would request a street in his/her name. So what happened? What led these villagers to say, “Yes, by George, we ought to name this street 'Normal!'”

I started imagining: rolling back the clock to when Normal Street got its name. What would we see? Who would suggest the name? And why that particular street? Was there an asylum on a nearby road or were the people on the soon-to-be Normal Street just a neighborhood full of people who never evoked a raised eyebrow from their fellow man? *

With so many questions swirling in my head, it took a moment to find the one truly meaningful question to ask:

Why do we need a “Normal” street?

Perhaps “Illusion of Normal” is too long to fit on a street sign.

Kidding aside, I don’t contest the idea that we do need a Normal Street, literal and figurative, somewhere in our lives. But unlike a Normal Street in a physical town, our personal Normal Street looks and is located somewhere different in each of us.

Why have one at all? Normal Street reassures us. It sounds and feels dependable. Having it gives us a sense of inner orientation. Things only get confusing when we expect others to have a Normal Street just like ours. When we don’t find the people we know on our Normal Street, we are the ones who wind up feeling lost.

* I actually contacted the Historical Society of the town and was told how Normal Street got its name. If you want to know the story (which is the same way a lot of Normal streets and schools got their name too), comment at the bottom of this page and I’ll tell you the story and the country that inspired it. :)