Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I'm definitely getting my workout each day. I walk to the Metro station near my apartment each morning, take the train downtown, transfer trains (and because I'm picking it up downtown, often end up standing for a few stops), ride the new train out to the suburbs, then walk several blocks to my office. In the morning, I'm also carrying my lunch for the day, as well as whatever reading material I have for the day.

Last night, my husband read me an article that someone recently wrote about the difficulties of walking in some of the suburban neighborhoods in Northern Virginia. Luckily, I don't have it that bad. My own neighborhood is urban and walkable, with sidewalks everywhere, including next to the major through-road (which has a pedestrian bridge over it, as well as several marked crosswalks and lights). Unfortunately, the sidewalks deteriorate to dirt tracks on the road edge as you move toward my favorite Indian restaurant (Mmmm. Little dhosa on Sunday morning...), and it's safer to take the bus than to walk.

My office, on the other hand... while people do walk and bike, especially on the side roads, and while there is a tunnel under the worst road, the speeds are higher, and there seems to be less awareness of the needs of non-drivers. Underscoring this, as I climb the hill from my office to the station, I pass at least 3 car dealerships spread along 1 block. Each has a distinctive architecture, from the curved front of the Saab dealership, to the glossy black Jaguar building, to the stately white Cadillac facade. Between the Cadillac and Jaguar buildings, there's a smaller shop devoted to car accessories and a smaller, humbler building marked "Used" which I suspect belongs to the Cadillac dealership, but which might be its own mini-temple.

That's what they put me in mind of: temples. I was inside the Saab dealership last week, dealing with the car rental folks before deciding I'd rather walk than deal with the only cars the rental agency seemed to have. (I know I couldn't expect a hybrid, but was it really too much to expect a well kept up smaller car? I didn't want an SUV or a large car, and the only small car on offer was a total mess.) The cars for sale were displayed in light filled bays, with plaques hung on the walls, detailing the various engineering marvels to be found in each car or showing historic models posed next to jets to remind the viewer of the fighter plane geneology of each model. On a wall near one such bay, there was a case filled with stylized car models, each a different shade of glossy or metallic. The atmosphere was hushed and reverent, with cream stone-look tile for the cars and dark grey carpeting for the people. No muzak, just the quiet whoosh of cars from the road outside.

I found myself wondering what some future archaeologist, coming upon the ruins of such a structure, would make of it. I felt uncomfortable, out of place. I wasn't there to worship or to buy, was, in fact, waiting for a car that would feature none of the engineering marvels promised on the walls. (I was not to know then that it would not even feature some of the engineering marvels of the older sedan I had driven before the hybrid...)

And I find myself thinking about the weight of the automobile in our culture. Part of it is convenience - I normally use the car to go back and forth to work - which takes half the time that public transit does. (Though admittedly, public transit does have benefits: yesterday, while waiting for the afternoon train, I watched a groundhog who had a burrow next to the train tunnel climb out and eat some vegetation, then retreat back before the next train arrived.) But then I look at how our communities are structured and realize that the neighborhood I work in is structured to encourage driving, and also is so expensive as to discourage most workers from living nearby.

I think we need to start thinking about how to leave the temple of the car...


Blogger Rae Trigg said...

I think we need to start thinking about how to leave the temple of the car...

Hear, hear. As you probably know, inconvenient/lack of properly planned public transit around here is a pet peeve of mine. I would love to ride a bus/the Metro to work, but the current set-up means a 2 to 2-1/2 hour one-way commute (meaning leaving the house at something like 6 AM). I'd also like to be able to walk to the store, but the nearest one to us takes something like 45 minutes to walk to. Feh.

10/02/2007 10:53 AM  
Blogger ef (Pam) said...

Amen, sister!

It's hard to work around.

And I admit, I drive to work 3-4 days a week, even though it's not hard to bike, and not terribly hard to take public transit (ok, it's not easy, and would involve walking around a lake, I think, which is nice, but would add a LOT of time to the commute)

It's hard to think about changing when a car is so much a part of your identity. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm proud of my car, even though I value partly how old it is, but also that it's an import and a wagon. It's a way we have of identifying each other in this culture, and that's a little scary.

10/02/2007 11:02 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Oh, Rae, I hear you. I'm still aching from all the walking and shamefully admit how much I'm looking forward to getting my car back. *sigh*

Pam, yes, exactly. I, also, find myself proud of my car. And society in general applauds this, because I have a "high status" car, something brought home to me when I went to rent a car. Not only was the first car disgustingly dirty (I don't want to know what some of those stains were), and gas inefficient (I went through in 1 day nearly as much gas as my car uses in a week), but it was also not nearly as *nice*. The level of trim was lower than even the lowest Honda trim, never mind their showboat model (the hybrids).

After I decided I wouldn't drive the rental, and would rather go with the car sharing arrangement, I discovered the other advantage to the car share program: they had higher status cars. Not just better maintained, though they were, but hybrids, zippy little imports, and even luxury makes like Cooper Minis. (Oh, bad me, I really want to rent a Mini *and* a Prius, even though there aren't any in my neighborhood, just to check them out...)

So, yeah, I've got it too. And tonight, I'm driving an import wagon. (Tomorrow, it's a zippy little Mazda.)

10/02/2007 11:31 AM  
Blogger Lorcan said...

This calls for some gurilla theater... find oh, some ten friends... get the corgie version of the car displayed, and hang one around the neck of each person with a gold chain... all show up at the dealership - women in simple black dresses, men in black pants, white shirt and black ties... all kneal before the display in question, singing hymns to the car and knealing and such... make sure there is someone with a video camera who just happens on the event...
that is what Utube is for...

10/04/2007 3:39 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Grin. My husband was involved in something similar, once. He and some friends did a funeral for a sculpture that had been placed in the middle of a popular open park, ruining what had been a perfect space for running around in. Someone else had knocked the (human) form over, so it was lying down. My husband and his friends showed up dressed in black robes with the hoods up, chanting in Latin, placed a grave marker (made of wood salvaged from nearby), and decamped. Sadly, this was before YouTube.

10/05/2007 6:07 AM  

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