Invisible Cities 02 Oarlock: Galleys of San Araba
The Game of Commuting! Win no Prizes! How do you win the commute competition? The captives, pulling oars by the thousands in galleys that stretch from suburb to city. It is not a walk to work, it IS the work. What makes you find your remote colony where you define your safety through isolation? The galley is long, but your children are safe and plumb in the good school, demanding the latest iPad so they can further overcome their geographic isolation.
It is banality in its most destructive form, so when the patched-coat man on the road-side holds up a cardboard sign that reads: "Are you winning the commute?" you pause. Are you winning? Are you losing? Is anyone living? Is the only way to avoid losing is to not play the game? Are the miles between you and work paved in coins that your Mario Cart is gobbling up, working you way up to the next iPad? Or are you dragging a muffler and your royal seat in the galley leaching away your iPad dollars? Your time to read a book? Are you missing your children even as you transport them from one extracurricular event to another in a bid to give them access to an active lifestyle that the colony does not offer.
Would you shop at a store that offered only one product every week? Would you eat out at the same restaurant every time in exclusion to all other? Or is our obsession with diversity in third places a result of the monotony at home?
DAVE COVERLY's work at speedbump.com; outstanding
Dutifully, you moisturize your hands, lower you shades, crank the AC and radio as you reach for your oar. Conditions have improved, but a galley slave is still a slave. We will do to ourselves what we would rise up in frothing condemnation were it done to another. We genuinely believe that such conditions are dismal, but so many of us impose it upon ourselves.
What is the option??? The jobs are in rich part of town, the housing in the cheap part of town. So, must we pour money down the tank into the depreciating assets to save money on an appreciating asset? Such math is damning at best. The odd relationship to "home" among the neo-colonialists is fleeting. With the average household relocating every seven years, there is no grass growing underfoot. When more waking hours are spent in the car than the home, which is actually home?
Wasn't there a promise of freedom? Wasn't there an open road with natural wonders over the horizon? They are wholly different seas, out beyond the loop roads, with wide open spaces and even wider highway signs, but there is relief from monotony. Sad that we must work the oar to reach the remote wonders.
These centipede lines of galley slaves have come to the fore only in the last three generations. We can't dispute the logic: we needed new housing after WWII, and we had a love affair with the freedom of the car before the war. During the Great Depression Ma and Pa would load up the family Ford till it sat on the springs, and with all the young'ns flea to California seeking Grapes of Wrath where their agriculture hands could find employment. A great reversal of the migration began when California reached the bursting point in the last decade. The moderately well-to-do began an exodus from California seeking reasonable housing prices near jobs where their computer skills could find employment. The resulting income asymmetry has caused ripples of gentrification in states like Texas. The oarsmen of California now join the Texans and our combined progress is reduced logarithmically.
With mass-housing development and mass highway building coupled, it was guaranteed today's worker would be chained to an oar. Each of us does our best to make our bench as comfortable as possible. Given the diminishing efficiency of the system, some cities reward you if you have co-oarsmen; you get a lane with HOV (high occupancy vehicle) painted on the hot asphalt. Our traffic engineers are focused on moving more cars rather than more people. Over-sized the city gasps on the fumes of inter-county oarsmen. With each stroke, the oarsmen looses more income.
Couldn't we offer prizes? Most miles driven gets you a gold star, or a free tank of gas? How about a club: Lodge of the Oarsmen. Log your GPS miles with your local Metropolitan Planning Organization and get a free pod-cast subscription to a career improvement feed of your choice. Build skills while pulling that oar!
- Jason Winn is a registered architect with the State of Texas, certified planner with the American Institute of Certified Planners, and certified energy manager with the Association of Energy Engineers. He has practiced architecture and urban planning in San Antonio and Chicago for 13 years and is currently teaching design at the Eastern Mediterranean University. Read his research on storytelling and persistence in the built environment at Space Poetics