FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Driving Mad

by LINH DINH

Driving her kids to school, a South Carolina woman, Amy Lynn Stewart, encountered a group of teens walking in the middle of the road. She honked but they would not get out of the way, so she plowed into them, hitting four. They were 12, 13, 13 and 14-years-old. “I wanted to knock some sense into them,” she would tell the police. Four victims were treated at the scene. One was taken to a hospital.

At that intersection, there are no sidewalks. All over America, there are many roads without sidewalks. Many communities are built just for the car. Lawns, often vast, encroach right to the curbs. 307 million Americans own about 150 million cars. Entire blocks are reserved for parking garages. Walking on a road shoulders, one can feel like a vagrant or a prowling criminal.

In South Carolina, one has to be 15 to get a driver’s license. (In most of America, the driving age is 16.) The kids struck were too young to drive. Unless one is living in selected, pedestrian friendly cities such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, for example, to be carless in America is to be confined to one’s living room and the nearest strip mall, and also school, if one is of school age. As a teenager growing up in suburban Virginia, my social orbit consisted of school and shopping mall. There was no town center, no square, no main street, no nearby park even, just Springfield Mall, where I went on the back of a friend’s scooter.

Encircled by a vast, nearly always packed parking lot, your typical American mall is of a scale seldom seen in Europe. One doesn’t just stumble into this shopping emporium, but has to make a decision get there, which often requires at least half an hour of sitting in an automobile. After several more minutes circling around to find parking, a kind of competitive endeavor requiring alertness, good eyesight, cunning and sometimes outright thuggery, one might as well spend several hours inside the air-conditioning, marching back and forth to sniff out a totally unnecessary bargain. Spousal disagreements over parking tactics are common, often resulting in full blown arguments. “You’re an idiot!” “You’re a control freak!” Divorce proceedings can begin even before a desirable spot can be pounced upon.

Americans often wish they were handicapped so they could be saved from the torments of long distance parking. Men have shot themselves on the foot so they could be a tad closer to JC Penney.

Flinging more propaganda mud at us yahoos, Yahoo just chirped that latte sales are up, meaning the economy is blinking and twitching its way back into life, but don’t you believe it. Across America, shuttered stores inside malls are hidden behind brightly painted, mural decorated plywood. Even stores that appear healthy maybe months behind in their rents. Many malls are so obviously dying, it’s no use pretending. In downtown Buffalo, I strolled through one that was so empty, each step echoed. In its forlorn food court, the homeless nursed cups of joe or dozed off. At my local shopping magnet, Philadelphia’s The Gallery, there’s much foot traffic thanks to adjacent train and subway stations, but each month, a couple more shops would go under. This week, death was literal. Early morning commuters were greeted with a suicide leaping from the mall’s third level. He wasn’t a merchant but likely a homeless man, according to the security guards. This death never made the news. We wouldn’t want to scare away the shoppers, would we?

Ignore that corpse, honey, let’s just go inside and buy. Shops inside shopping malls are remarkable homogeneous from sea to shining sea. It hardly matters if one is in San Diego or Portland, Maine, the same clothing stores and fast food joints appear. On a regular commercial street, the quirks of each store owner give his business a degree of uniqueness, but inside a mall, every little detail is regulated, from signage to decoration. Drinking establishments inside malls are like those at airports, cheerless, sterile and devoid of character. No matter how long they’ve been in business, they’re without history.

The minimum drinking age for most of the world is 18. In America, it’s 21, so one can start to drive at 16, join the army at 18, get killed at 19, and have one’s first taste of Miller High Life a couple of years later. Everything, though, starts with one’s first car. With this vehicle and symbol of maturity and freedom, one can run away from home daily, have drug and alcohol fueled something-like-sex in the front or back seat, beside or even under the car. I did it with my McDonald’s uniform still on. Ditto, she. We didn’t know what we were doing, or at least I didn’t. She never forgave me.

The woman who slammed into those teens was on, among other pills, Ativan, to calm her down, and Prozac, to nudge her up a bit. Judging from her mug shot, she may have cut her own hair at home, with a cracked mirror. There’s no shame in that, I haven’t visit a barber in ages. The authorities also revealed that she was driving without shoes, wearing only green sox with holes in them. Is green here an incriminating evidence?

Like many newspapers across America, the Charleston Post publishes photos of every local person arrested for anything, no matter how minor. Presumed to be innocent before conviction, these grim or grinning individuals are publicly shamed. A good chunk of them have been booked for drunken driving.

Officer, if there’s no pub near my house, like there is nearly everywhere else across the globe, how can I abstain from getting in a car before and after I juice up and socialize a bit. Would you prefer I drive to a shopping mall bar, then walk, or maybe crawl back? If I bought a six pack and stayed home, what would I see on television but beer after beer commercial of good looking folks having a great time?

Too young to drive and living in a town of pedestrian-free, lifeless streets, these teens staged a kind of impromptu protest against the automobile and had some sense knocked into them. Live and learn, fools. Soon, you will be old enough to enlist in yet another foreign war for oil. Before marching off, you can have I WILL KILL FOR UNLEADED GAS tattooed on your brain, and if you don’t get chunks blown off over there, you can come back and drive, drive and drive until this bloated and murderous jalopy finally breaks down, which will happen sooner than you expect. Bank on that.

Before Communist China became partner with Capitalist USA in a New World Order of union-free sweat shops, Americans used to laugh at all the bicycles on Chinese streets. Now, as the Chinese become more car dependent, as their cities become more clogged and polluted, many Americans are rediscovering the pleasures, healthiness and sanity of bicycling or walking. Suddenly, a street full of bikes seems positively idyllic. In a country (and empire) on a downward spiral, this will be one of the few changes for the better. Riding and walking through one’s community at a more human pace, one will also regain one’s sense of belonging. One will also discover that one has two legs, arms and a set of lungs. Sprung from the steel prison of the automobile, Americans will be glad to see other faces and limbs. They will realize that they actually have neighbors.

LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, and the recently published novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.

[A shorter version of this appears in The Guardian.]

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail