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Entries in car culture (16)

Sunday
Jun262011

That's My Name Too!

BMW car with license plate JJJJJJS.There is a possibility that this guy's name is J.J. But let's not rule out that it could also be John Joseph Jackson Julius Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.

And whenever he goes out, the people always shout, "there goes John Joseph Jackson Julius Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!"

Friday
Oct012010

Mileage, Through 3rd Quarter

Time sure flies when you're staying parked for the most part.

  • January 1: 211,401
  • July 1: 212,694
  • October 1: 213,267

That makes 573 miles for the the 3rd quarter and 1,866 miles for three quarters of 2010. Okay, I passed the 2009 tally already, by about 320 miles, and I still have a quarter to go. But I think this year will be wrapped up at about 2,300 miles, which I hope all of you will be satisfied with. A bit of lazy driving has crept in, but was perhaps offset by a summer of reduced activity outside the house. I skipped a lot of church related stuff during an intense two months of web work and other such stuff. Some of these summer days were either just too hot, or, in a couple cases, I drove to work in order to prepare for picking up a bit of gear that I expected would come to my audio retailer, but was delivered a week late, therefore my driving was rendered needless. Ditto on the days around when I was expecting my computer delivery. Oh well. Kelli and I made one senseless drive for a scenic tour up to Orange County and back down, using some of the rural roads that we ordinarily wouldn't have occasion to use. It got me from the computer, her out of her chaplain's mind, and us on a small day of togetherness on our anniversary.

Saturday
Feb272010

Critical Mass!

critical mass storms fashion valley on bikes on black friday!Critical Mass storms Fashion Valley Mall on Buy Nothing DayLast night I went on the Critical Mass ride, the fourth such ride I've taken part in. Each has been a lot of fun, with the opening part, leaving Balboa Park and maneuvering through Hillcrest or Downtown being an adventure, never knowing for sure where things are going. Last night's ride was an adventure and while some of it was a review of some of the things we've done already in the three previous rides, the one new adventure for me was that finally I was swept up into riding Texas St. out of Mission Valley and into University Heights. Yup, rode up Texas St.! Texas St. was near the end of the 25 mile path the Mass took around town. But I've been working up to it for a while now, riding hills extensively in my various commutes. I fancy it a job well done because with just my fixed gear Globe bike, I was passing all the geared-bike riders who chickened out after exploiting their granny gears for a while and then resorting to walking up the hill, and a few other fixed gear riders who had to do the same because they brought their 52x14 geared race bikes. Oh, they look impressive going DOWN hills that way but a versatile gear it is not. (I'm sort of glad I didn't take the Torelli bike with its steeper gear (46x18), else I would have walked too. Usually that bike is my go-to bike for this type of ride.) I just chugged along at my low 38x16 ratio and then took Texas in one shot! I ROCK!!! It was quite a heavy breather though.

Also, a few weeks ago, I was doing a trackstand at a stop light on the way to work (before 6 am, in the dark, fortunately) and with my shoes still clipped into the still-newish SPD clipless pedals on the Globe bike, I finally fell to the ground from a standstill! D'oh! Fortunately it was not a crowded intersection at that hour and I didn't make too much of a scene. I was told this would happen. I just took five months since I got that type of pedal. I have since relaxed the spring tension as far as it would go so I can get in and out easily! With Critical Mass rides there are enough times when there is a good need to not be clipped in, or to evasively unclip, hence not wanting to ride this bike to such events, lest some stupid topple incident happens in the midst of it all. And I saw several of those last night!

critical mass in the driveway/entry to fashion valley, with a cop. shot from the upper level.CM in Fashion Valley Mall with copsBelow are a few shots of some totally delightfully scandalous moments during the four Critical Mass rides I have taken part in in recent months. These aren't even as outrageous as they come. (The most notorious ride was last summer when the Mass was headed by a few who decided to ride the Coronado Bridge. These are a bit tame by comparison but a lot of fun.)

Halloween Critical Mass at Mission Beach, just before everyone lifts up their bikes with revolutionary fervor. Halloween 2008 is when I heard about the Mass but it wasn't until 2009 that I finally took part. Kelli and our friend Nancy were originally the voices to say 'no, don't ever do that' because they experienced it the wrong way first: in their cars without even knowing what it was, and I think it scared them shitless. Okay, it's 1500 bikes that go for a ride all at once in more or less the same direction for about 30 miles around town. The whole thing fills the streets, and some people do really idiotic things, but many hold firm to the mass and it all chugs along (maybe taking up a mile of roadway at once, I just don't know how long it stretches on for) as if one big vehicle with no driver but for the most fervent riders who get up front and pull it where they want to go.

critical mass bombs the target store in mission valleyCM cuts THROUGH the Target storeFebruary Critical Mass bombs through the Target store in Mission Valley! Yes, we rode through the Target store. The customers were less welcoming than in the rest of the mall. Hmmm. I hope we do Wal Mart someday.

Last November Critical Mass rampaged past the security goons at Mission Valley Mall on the high holy days of the consumer economy: Black Friday! I couldn't resist this shot of a lone goon (on a bike no less) being utterly helpless in the face of all this, just outside their little security office outpost. He'd have more fun if he joined in. Heck, the SDPD rides in the mass too, but more so they can get a feel for the flow of things and radio for patrol car support if needed as the Mass does its winding path through town, often down one way streets and through malls and hotel or airport driveways and such.

The cops have typically functioned as escorts of the Mass but once in a while, the Mass takes them over too! I've been in two Mass rides that have hit Fashion Valley and Mission Valley straight through the heart. Culturejamming and biking are fun when mixed together! I think you have to be there to believe it. Pictures don't do this stuff justice because it all becomes a circus with people yelling and hooting and honking their horns or whatever noisemakers they have. Most of the Mass is still on the upper level with me, not on the ground yet. Others are storming down via the parking garage driveways. I was thinking it might be like the Goths storming Rome.

Fun.

Friday
Jan012010

Mileage for December/Final!

  • January 1, 2009: 209,855
  • February 7: 210,000
  • March 1: 210,120
  • April 1: 210,203
  • May 1: 210,309
  • June 1: 210,367
  • July 1: 210,532
  • August 1: 210,675
  • September 1: 210,873
  • October 1: 210,919
  • November 1: 211,038
  • December 1: 211,246
  • January 1, 2010: 211,401

Here is the first post of 2010, and the moment all the fine readers of TAPKAE dot com have been waiting for with bated breath. Finally, we get to see how many personal miles I was able to reduce my driving to for one year while adopting biking as my main mode of transportation, augmented by carpooling (planned and opportunistic), walking, and the occasional use of public transportation. It was a year ago when I started this thing, and back in July I called it as a 1,700 mile year. I'm quite pleased to announce that the final tally is 1,546 miles. By comparison, mileage for 2008 was over twice that much at 3,688. Year 2007 was more than that, so each year for a while now I have seen the record fall.

I don't expect I shall be able to repeat this in 2010. I have one planned trip to Arizona that, if I drive it, will pretty much make this kind of thing impossible. Still, I am committed to keeping off the road in my truck as much as I can. Still, I feel that this progressive reduction has been a good display of what I knew needed to happen back in 2004-2005 when peak oil was my concern. I've not bothered to keep up to date on peak oil issues in any depth, but I know enough to know that this effort is required still more than ever. Furthermore, I have been an advocate of biking enough lately, and maybe have done a part to provoke others into increasing their biking and decreasing their car use.

All this has made me rather resourceful. Combining trips is still a leading way to keep the mileage low. I opt to do errands when I can cruise with Kelli on her planned runs. (We're looking at bikes for her.) There are some days when I utilize a few options to get around. I bused to work one day, which was pleasant but took vastly longer than biking, which itself is about as fast as driving anyway. I often draft people from church or work into the occasional ride home or to the bike shop if maybe I had a flat or planned service and took it in before work. Some quick errands can be done while on the clock since most of my work is in highly urban areas. (But you didn't read that here. Actually a couple have been okayed by the powers that be.)

The point I like to emphasize is that even though most of my life is lived within a far smaller radius than ever, my quality of life is no worse, and I have to say that I think it is far better than ever, particularly if we're just comparing modes of transportation. A lot of pushback comes from people who are convinced their lives will be parochial and boring if they can't exercise their automotive "freedom." I beg to differ. My experience has been that I feel more freedom while biking or carpooling. Most of my day at work I am behind the wheel and in traffic with that suffocating feeling of being trapped. The last thing I want to do is spend another minute in at the wheel. By contrast, other modes offer freedom, and even real, fresh air. Some of them draw upon my own power and are for solo travel, but some upon another person's car, but even those trips offer a bit of community time that add a quality you don't get while sequestered in your own two ton mobile sardine can. I find that there is an interesting dimension to biking in particular in that two things happen at once. In one way the trip can be slower than with a car if car travel was not regulated by so many lights and signs and the presence of long lines of other cars. But cars are slaves to all that and—just watch—a bike can move from light to light faster with less interruption and so the biker's trip is more unbroken. What that feels like is that time passes faster on a bike because it flows more consistently than the stop and go of car travel, often a few feet at a time. Yet, despite the feeling that things move faster, it is at a pace where you can enjoy the surroundings and maybe even greet people. One of the guys from the bike shop commutes in the opposite direction from me, and from across the boulevard we greet each other as we pass each other at about the same spot most mornings. There are some other chance meetings like that too that sweeten the deal as I pass other bikers I may know from the social rides, or even some people from church or work. The quality of life does seem to be greater when you can travel and sort of feel not totally disconnected from your surroundings.

Church and related groups, work, grocery runs, ATM, bike shops, going to friends', riding for the sake of riding, eating out—the options seem greater now. All kinds of things that used to be fun to do when I was a kid or teen are available to me again in some form. I felt it was like being in exile from a lot of things while thinking that driving was the only viable option; that it took a ton or two of metal to move me around. Most of the time, you see, that just isn't the case. I've delighted myself in not only getting on the bike back in 2008, but moving to (freewheel) single speed riding and its inherent "limits" to one gear, to fixed gear riding, which paradoxically feels less limited despite one gear in constant rotation. My city isn't flat and I wasn't fit to begin with, but somehow this has all worked out. There are plenty of you fence-sitters out there. Park that car and bike it some!

Saturday
Oct312009

Mileage Through October

  • January 1: 209,855
  • February 7: 210,000
  • March 1: 210,120
  • April 1: 210,203
  • May 1: 210,309
  • June 1: 210,367
  • July 1: 210,532
  • August 1: 210,675
  • September 1: 210,873
  • October 1: 210,919
  • November 1: 211,038

In list form, here are the tallies I have recorded for the month starts this year. We're getting close to the end of the year now and I'm well within the 1,700 mile year I predicted a while ago. Right now I see the October mileage is only 119 miles—just short of 1,200 miles for the year—and I have no particular plans to do anything radically different. But, maybe a couple five day holiday breaks from work might lead me to splurge a bit since Kelli and I have been talking about some getaway options.

In the past couple of weeks I have taken two big rides for some social fun. Each was about 32 miles or so and involved biking around parts of my hometown where I have never biked before. I've been riding my fixed gear bike almost exclusively now, and am getting my other singlespeed converted into a fixed gear so I can have two gears! It is quite empowering to know that I can pedal most of this town in one gear, and not a granny gear at that. Going on these rides helps me try to keep pace with others even when it hurts. The first of the rides was probably with 15-20 people, some of which I knew from the bike shop circle. But, after one year of knowing about it and several months of missed opportunities to catch up with it, I finally did one of the Critical Mass rides.

I had heard about CM from a friend of ours who got stuck in traffic during last year's October ride (on Halloween no less!). She came down hard on the experience and talked about the fear she felt from being swarmed. Kelli got stuck in a Mass ride while in her car, so she didn't like the idea either. I had never seen such a thing so it was my goal to go on bike and spin around town with something like 1,200 riders or so. Yes, you read right—over a thousand bikes. It was quite something. Chaotic at times, like doing laps around the blocks in the center of the Gaslamp on an already-crowded party/holiday weekend, or like riding through the airport terminals to the surprise of many, or like crowing out the Prado area of Balboa Park, from fountain to Fifth Avenue full of bikes. There was police force out to help cork the oncoming traffic as we rode; before I knew they were looking after us bikers I thought they were gonna have some biker ass. Sort of like shooting fish in a barrel. They only got on the case to get some errant bikers into the proper flow of traffic. Some riders aren't content with having a full side of the road to travel on; they want more so they spill out into the opposite direction's flow. Pretty stupid. I favor a more conservative position, pretty close to where I ride anyway, just out of door's reach from parked cars.

Hah. One year of biking and I'm on my fixie and doing Critical Mass rides. What got into me? It has been one year now. My commuting effort got started just about the time of my birthday last year. I only planned to make my old bike work better, and to commute half the time. Now, I get into my truck and it feels foreign. It is the vehicle I drive least right now.

Wednesday
Sep172008

Viva la Toyota!

Today my truck has 209,092 miles on it. On the first of this year, it had 206,167 miles. By my math (hopefully not as fuzzy as the stuff that ruined our economy now), that makes 2,925 miles I have driven in nearly nine months. I guess by the end of September, it will be 3,000. I got my truck on this day in 1996. It came to me already two years and 78,768 miles old, but that never worked against it. By comparison, I drive it pretty sparingly, considering it began life as a delivery truck for the dealer, racking up 39,000 miles a year for those two years. Last year it slowed to about 6,000 miles and this year it looks like it might be just 4,000. I can chalk this up to a short commute and some reasonably close shops and church activities which I try to combine the best I can, but really, it's a lot of self restraint and some carpooling in Kelli's slightly more efficient Honda if possible. I biked to work some days earlier in the summer but every day at work is pretty physical so the added ride, coupled with the long summer days and heat, got to be too much. I think I shall bike more when it cools off in October, even if the days are shorter and it requires lights and stuff.

My truck just keeps delighting me. I've always thought it was the best purchase I've made. I give it care and feeding, but I don't baby it. I am not in love with it like some. I missed my bi-annual car wash this summer on account of being without a clear space at home to do so. So maybe in 2009 I will wash it if I can find a day that isn't too hot.

This summer the starter died and circumstances were such that I had to have it towed because I couldn't roll it from the uphill space where it was parked. The free tow from AAA was not generous enough to get it to my usual shop so I went to a different one and got a runaround as we slowly figured out the replacement starter was bad. But in the meantime, I thought the shop was a bit scheisty until finally they replaced it with another piece and it now seems to do fine. All the while during the handful of repeat visits to troubleshoot the first replacement, I was cursing myself for taking it to another shop. I've only had five shops touch the thing, and four of them got only one job apiece. Otherwise, all my work has been done by one shop.

Friday
May192006

Paradox

Today I was in my credit union which is only about a mile from my house. I drove there because the trip itself was my drive for the day and the credit union was the third stop on that trip. So it is from upon my high horse that I write this...

The teller I was greeted by was a small Filipino looking girl of maybe 22 at the most. She looked at my address and noticed that I lived not far from there, and then said, "oh, I live just over on So-and-so street about two blocks over. To which I say with a little chuckle as I egg her on, "oh, close enough you could walk!" And just as smoothly and almost in the same breath as mine, she chuckles and declares, "but of course I wouldn't do that!" I smile with that sort of smirk that you have to make when you realize that in this short exchange, we both were on totally opposite sides of the issue, and that this is a dead engagement. It just became I-it, in a big way.

In the course of this failed chit chat, I noticed a picture of a young Filipino looking Marine friend or husband or brother of hers. It was there among the other few things she was allowed to keep up to make her seem like more of a human being than a machine (part of her 15 pieces of flair, I guess). I wonder, was this Marine guy in Iraq? Is he embarking on some imperialist adventure in resource rich parts of the world? If so, would he and this girl ever stop to contemplate that they are sort of at cross odds with one another? Would there be anything that would lead them to that discussion? I've walked that distance from the Clairemont Square back home a few times, or biked it more often. It's the perfect distance for either mode. I wonder, if she knew that the wild addiction to driving even the shortest distances was causing us to have to expand empire into regions that don't like us much, would she persist in driving even such an easy distance? Does this kinsman of hers understand the connection between his profession and her leisure?

Friday
Feb102006

Driving In Hell-A

I happened to be doing a truck driving gig for Yahoo Music in Hollywood on the night of the Grammys. About 11 pm I went in search of some chow, having just been told that my gig was extended for something like three hours beyond the stated time on the gig sheet. Now, I was in the biggest vehicle I routinely drive for work, a 16' bobtail truck. It's called a "city van" and is among the more nimble of the trucking family. Still, it's a pig to drive. The hotel I was at during the gig was quite a challenge as it was (with a tremendously tight driveway on a busy street, leading into two narrow spaces side by side with one truck in the near space and a wall to the other side and cars behind it all once pulled in) and it was easy to decide that I would not drive any more than I needed to in Hollywood on that mad busy day. Good thing. By the end of the gig, I was frazzled enough.

Anyhow, after arriving at the venue at the appointed time of 11 pm and being told the gig was striking "after 2 am, but maybe later", I drove about looking for some grub. I turned into an In-N-Out nearby partially because there was what appeared to be ample space to park in an actual lot instead of hellish street parking. I was behind this slick SUV with the stereotypical boob-enhanced and fashion model wannabe Los Angelite on the cell phone who turned into a space and a half that I was going for since the parking was tight and one space would not do. There are some cars behind me too, backing up as I sit in an almost parked position about 3/4 into the space, with this SUV woman on the phone and making it just impossible to actually get into the space. So I honk and get no response. Honk again. No response. Honk once more and finally she got out and said she was reserving a space for her limo drivers. I'm sitting there in this fucking truck, blocking three cars now, and finding that I have to try to justify getting this space I am already in. Lady, my options are kinda limited here, you see?

Then just as this exchange starts to take off, some In-N-Out dweeb comes by and starts telling me I have to move, that these spaces are being held for someone (presumably some pompous asshole with a shiny big car). I exclaim, 'where the hell am I supposed to park this thing?' To which he pretty much shrugs his shoulders and just says I can't stay there.

So I say, 'Oh, so you don't want my money then? You don't need my money? WTF?'

I gave up without much more hassle because I decided I didn't really want a burger anyway, but I had a mind to just spite the guy and go across the lot where I could have parked across five spaces and really torqued his jaw. I ended up going across the street to the IHOP and had an overpriced breakfast—in the middle of the night.

Then once the gig did end, after 2 am or so, it took another four hours to get it struck, drive to the shop and finally get to bed. What fucking hell it is in Hollywood. The only star I saw was David Spayd. If only I actually cared about such shit.

Wednesday
May182005

Man, They Just Don't Fucking Get It, Do They?

jeep liberty. limited edition.Neurosis in America: Liberty, Limited edition (a Jeep SUV)I was watching Nightline tonight. No scratch that. I was watching the local news at 11 tonight and in the half hour or so, I saw ads for three popular consumer items that are in part to blame for terrorism of the September 11 sort. Yes, among all the other sports car ads, there were three SUV ads that snuck in only in the 20 minutes or so that I watched. There were Expeditions, Escalades, and Tahoes being pitched. In fact, Kelli and I watched the ads more closely and probably 3/4 of them were for cars. Okay, you've read my jabs at car culture before, so I won't bore you. But let's take it to the next stage.

On Nightline just following the SUV ads, er, the local news, the show was about loose nukes and the possible disaster they pose to America and the world. They were talking primarily about a movie partially underwritten by billionaire Warren Buffett. The movie was called Last Best Chance and was a low budget thing that went straight to DVD, because there was no damned commercial potential to it. It was a project spearheaded by Senator Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative group.

You gotta love it. There are car ads out the wazoo, and some of the worst offenders are being sold to the public as the most desirable and prestigious vehicles. Then we cut to a news show about the nuke threat that could be at work right now, with groups of the al Qaeda sort being the leading suspects of trying to get ahold of old Soviet nuke technology and materiel. The good senator was talking about doing great things to protect us, and that we should stave off the threat in any way. There was a question asked that reasoned that if this was supposedly public enemy number one, why was Iraq getting the hundreds of billions of dollars, and this is a topic that is almost off the map? Certainly. Why?

I just could not bear another minute of this ridiculous tug of war within about 40 minutes of TV viewing. Do we want to fight terrorism and rogue violence or don't we? Fucking stop sending mixed fucking messages already!!! We obviously can't have it both ways. Drive big wasteful cars. Use energy like fools. Make bad policy. Anger disenfranchised Arabs. Get attacked. Yes! Better believe it goes that way. So the fucking networks are so fucking greedy and clueless they will sell "arms" to both sides of the conflict. They will give us a legitimately important topic that is not nearly where it should be in the national dialogue, but they will literally turn around and give time to the very things that got us the terrorism in the first place! Fuck. Fuck! Fuck! What a bunch of soulless bastards. (Sorry to any bastards I may have offended.)

If this is not a clear message of how media is fucking us over, I don't know what is. Really. What side of the fence do they want to fall on? Their original raison de etre was to serve as a counterbalance to the government. Now they are arming both camps: giving us public service announcements of dire threats of apocalyptic significance, and also feeding the monster that will bring it on.

Wednesday
May042005

War On The Suburbs

Suburbia isn't what it used to beI've heard it said while doing my peak oil research that the only thing that would be as bad or worse than running out of oil for human consumption would be not running out of oil. The obvious response to that is usually the expected one: without oil, we'd be up shit creek, so how could someone say that unless they are some leftist radical out to destroy America? Well, you only need to contemplate that if the availability of oil continues on in the way we now know, all our problems with resource wars, global pollution and decay, corporate scandals, political funny business, and—worst of all—rush hour traffic and fighting to get the best parking space at the gym (an amusing but sad commentary on American life).

I am periodically reading a book called "Suburban Nation" by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. This is not the polemical James Kunstler (who has a blog that is quite a riot to read, and among my core sources for such commentary as I make now), but rather is a sober and studied and very human book from New Urbanist designers and architechs who have taken some detailed looks at what makes the suburban project such a disaster for the country, in so many ways. The book celebrates and urges the return to classic towns of the sort you would expect to see on the eastern seaboard, or in more modest earlier towns, or indeed where all this classic civic design was founded: most of Europe. The authors show how the suburban project was basically created by and for various industrial and professional sectors during a time when all things old were tossed out with the trash, mostly for the sake of doing so, and not because it really improved the lives of citizens. It is well documented how Standard Oil and other companies convinced urban planners that public mass transit was old hat and should be replaced with the automobile, which was to be the standard form of personal transportation. All during the 1950s, zoning and building codes were changed specifically to wipe out most everything that didn't fit within a car-centered design plan of wide lanes, treeless streets (and even sidewalkless streets!), and freeways with their huge ramps, et cetera. Basically, the pedestrian was on his own, because modern cities were constructed in ways that mostly relegated them to second-class citizen status. The 1982 song by Missing Persons ("Walking In LA") was not really a joke song though it may have seemed so—only a nobody walks in LA! Or Houston. Or San Diego. Or Atlanta.

The chapter in Suburban Nation that I am now reading is dedicated to the matter of the loss of meaningful community space, and reminded us that our right to assemble and speak freely does require there to be places where people can actually assemble, but with more urban designs that make it hard for everyday people to gather freely (no parking costs, no building rental costs, etc.), a core component of our governmental system is in jeopardy. If meaningful and functional public space has been made illegal or too expensive to use, and people can't get there anyway, who will do the free speech and community work necessary to keep a democracy going?

(I am unabashedly ripping off the book at this point.)

The suburban model, with its reliance on the car as transportation is actually a step backwards in human civilization because it turns us into sociopaths. First off, suburbs are NOT communities. The suburbs are places that were created for people to separate out from others. The entire suburban appeal is that you can have your own little kingdom where neighbors won't bug you, and traffic won't keep you up at night, blah, blah, blah. Suburban life is actually sociopathic, and particularly, as the book points out, is motorized life. There are some examples: lane cutting, pedestrian deaths due to reckless driving, parking space and filling station snatching, parking space "lag" (the phenomenon of departing drivers taking longer to leave while being waited upon than when no one is waiting), and the ultimate: road rage taken to the point of physical violence and death. I guess we could also add in carjacking and auto theft too. Our cars and our houses have become places where we retreat to, at the same time as our physical manmade landscape is becoming increasingly devoid of places that are even worth caring about. So really, our lives have become reduced to driving between places that don't amount to much, and doing so in one of the most antisocial devices ever created! (Now I am channeling Kunstler.)

People ask me when I get on my peak oil soapbox what the solution is to that whole dilemma. When I tell them I get sneers and comments about 'that will never happen.' Well, all my reading on the failures of American "civilization" and the oil issues (and all the various intersecting fields associated with these) points to the real failure at the core of other failures being our physical manmade landscape being a Frankenstein's monster that we need to reel in. There are so many failures of the suburban development plan that its stupid, but no part of our life or politics has been left alone. When classic town and urban designs were discarded in the 40s and 50s in favor of suburban development patterns and the various corporate entities that got the greatest benefits, so went our civic life, and even our human connections. And, perhaps worst of all, this entire disaster is one that celebrates the disposability of itself!

So my idea is that because the whole global mess of oil, wars, and global debt is one that arose in America's period of extreme suburban growth, the answer to that mess is to work backwards. Well, we may not have a lot of choice. What else can we do when energy prices make it a silly proposition to drive the 40 mile commute? The 25? The 10? The 5? What else can we do when the same energy costs make it unwise to live in oversized isolated single family homes that are filled with all manner of electronic and electric devices, all consuming willy nilly with no thought of the consequences? When we are less able to get in our car and drive, we might be faced with actually having to stay in a place for longer than the time it takes to run in and do our business. Our walking or biking trips will take on more meaning. We will have to talk to people in our daily lives, and hopefully, we might find that they aren't the evil people we think they are. We might have to meet in common places with people who live nearer to us, and talk to them in order to get along. We will need to deisolate. Some say it is a step backwards to think about ditching cars and single family houses (I don't call them "homes," as they are houses only). I say it is a step forward. I think there is a lot of humanity that we have dispensed with in our daily lives that can be reclaimed when we remove the antisocial elements from our lives. They are unfortunately the same items we associate with progress, but really?

If a car is significant of progress, then why do we curse paying high gas prices, insurance, and maintenence costs? If a car is significant of progress, then why do we curse sitting in traffic, consuming away days of our lives in a totally antisocial pursuit? Why do we fight in traffic to get the best space at the parking lot, and leave nasty notes on or key the cars of the people who stole "our" space? If a car is significant of progress, then why do we feel so good when we get to a place like DisneyWorld or some town in Europe where there are none, and things are scaled in such a way that we feel somehow more human? If the car is significant of progress, then why do we allow gas hogs to be made still, something which is pressing us into ever more hostile geopolitical relations and war?

Similarly, if we live in a civilized society, what do we make of the fact that the very young and the elderly are marginalized because they can't drive, and any places of genuine socially redeeming worth are out of their reach without cars? Or what do we make of our economy which is founded basically on turning petroleum into garbage at ever increasing rates, so we can show economic "growth"? Or similarly, what is civilized about a population that feels so damned nihilistic, turning to antisocial behavior such as drugs and violence, even against family? What is civil about the fact that a friend of Kelli and I died in a murderous drug deal gone bad (he never carried arms of any sort)? What is it about our society that makes people demand to be sedated so much that people have to die for it? Why was that line of work so damned lucrative that our friend chose it over a "more respectable" professional job? (He didn't even need to; his family was supportive and his prospects were good as a college grad, but he liked adventure—could it be that he saw a day job as meaningless, making or selling widgets that no one needs?) Why is the black market for drugs so powerful? Could it be that life has gone to shit, and that is one way to recover a sense of self-determination because everything else is so canned? We say we are fighting a "war on drugs" but we put vastly more capital into creating a system of civic life and infrastructure that actually increases the demand for the stuff? I have to wonder how much the budgets for drug rehab programs are compared to the programs that build useless and culturally devoid cities, launch wars on distant nations, and the various mechanisms that drive companies to outsource and close American factories and shops, leaving more and more people without hope, leaving them to turn to whatever comfort they can eek out of life, be it drugs, or nihilistic behavior.

The War on Terror and the War on Drugs should be won by launching a war on failed civic planning and corporation malfeasance and short sightedness. We go to war for oil because we drive too damned much, partly out of genuine need, and partly out of being sold a lifestyle we don't need (a judgment arrived at based on my great grandparents' not needing this sort of life about a hundred years ago. We go to war on drugs because there is a demand. There is a demand because people are aching for their humanity back, but it is a hard slog. It is a hard slog because our lives have been handed over to corporations who make decisions for people without their consent or even knowledge. Democracy is nearly dead in America now, and the only way to get it back is to take it back, and that might mean doing some daring social experiments like trusting people again, and maybe talking to them, eating among them, and so forth. Being sociopaths is an optional thing. Being oil and drug dependent is an optional thing. But I think people need to be reminded of the alternatives to what we do now, and that is wasn't always so. The air wasn't always polluted; the nation was not always racked with fear of neighbors; the corporations did not always govern what we eat, learn, and amuse ourselves with; the single family house was not the only living arrangement available.

There has been some talk in the recent years about America being a Christian nation. No doubt that is not true and never was true, despite a Christian majority population. Be that as it may, if we are to be a Christian nation, it will have to be defined by whether we love our neighbor, which in my studies, is the core of all of Jesus' teachings. Do you think we are up to the task? (Not to worry, my non-Christian readers, because every religion worth its salt puts selflessness above all other virtues. The golden rule is universal among world faiths. I just feel obligated as a Christian to remind everyone that Jesus' leading directive is to love your neighbor—something I think is lost these days when Jesus is directing people to be close-minded bigots, exploitative, and to make war.)

So if any war needs to be launched in America, it needs to be a war on the suburban life, which for all its virtues and idealized traits, is really the root cause of so many problems and so much despair, and in a certain way, is fortunately doomed to such failure that it will never be revisited as a living arrangement.