I drove from Portland to Richmond last week.
In a 17-year old Toyota LandCruiser.
Unsafely at times.
I’ve driven across the country 4 or 5 times.
NY LA twice.
I used to make the trip in fewer days.
Of course the list of things done quicker in youth is long for most people and I am not excepted.
Neither is my LandCruiser.
This sign used to excite it:
A drive across the country turns a solitary driver against much he’s held dear.
As the intercourse with the country moved beyond gas stations and rest areas to motels and restaurants, it moved my mind to hatred of hamburgers.
Or what passes for a hamburger at McDonalds/BurgerKing/Wendys.
Chain hotels & chain fast food make money near the interstates.
Apparently not much else.
Get off at an exit, drive half a mile, and you can hear life being squeezed out of the way to make room for another chain location.
The ground is squeezed up into berms to deflect the sound of 70-mph tires, the people’s faces are squeezed into grimaces at having no better choice than to work at chain locations, the trees are squeezed into corners waiting to be bulldozed when numbers say the market will allow a new chain location to come in, the hamburger is squeezed into flat squares, frozen & stacked.
What happens to a hamburger is what happens to the people.
Sit at the bar at the Lounge at a Holiday Inn next to the interstate and you will believe me.
There is a look that comes on a person’s face whose life is laid out before them in a step by step diagram that when they turn their head to look at you, if you stare at it a minute, will make you both grateful to God and at the same time sadder than you’ve been for some time.
At first, it felt good to be out amongst the trees & the mountains & the rain.
Then it occurs to you how come I don’t come out here more often?
How did I become so disassociated from the land I live in?
How have I gone so far down the road Thoreau (whose thinking I admire for much more than its environmental positions) warned of :
“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day,
he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends
his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and
making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an
industrious and enterprising citizen.” (Life without Principle)
I’m thinking we don’t go to nature because there’s no money in it.
I’m not suggesting nobody’s in the woods.
There are plenty of people out there testing sleeping bags & tents & lanterns for Outside magazine articles.
What there aren’t much of is people taking walks irrespective of schedule.
A people unawed by the miracle ball we stand on, breathe from, eat off & drink up isn’t likely to have anything to say to their neighbors beyond simple bickering.
Too much Starbucks, not enough looking at stars.
Is stepping in line with a smoothly churning economic machine all we hope to spend our lives at?
It may seem a small evil.
It’s when evils are small that we lose the fight to them.
I saw my favorite means of transportation everywhere.
But never one with passengers.
The interstate highway system is the exact worst way to cross the country, but the fastest.
And you have an incredible amount of control if you’re not in a hurry.
Coast-to-coast on a train (I’ve gone 3/4ths of the way twice) the lack of control you have would make me kill myself out of frustration.
Amtrak is a perfect example of how Capitalism keeps greatness from appearing amongst us.
In parts of Colorado I’ve passed through places so quiet and sweet you can almost hear people humming Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies as the train slips through the scene.
Problem is those spots are 10 minutes long and at best you miss only half of them during the night.
It’s a cheap shot to blame Capitalism for how bad Amtrak is but Amtrak is so bad it deserves every kick that can be got in.
However, it’s the maturing of Capitalism & the market economy in America that has left no room for Amtrak to do the things that make train travel so ramblingly good in Europe.
The fault does not belong to the people of Amtrak.
Capitalism leaves no place for values that can’t be measured in dollars.
Trains, as wonderful as they are, make no economic sense in America right now.
Increasingly we are accepting lives filled less with things of value and more with only those things whose value can be measured.
These trees I drove past were standing there beautifully.
Ok, sure, maybe they were planted in rows because Capitalist profit/loss ratios demanded a pattern of harvest that was most cost-effective.
But, what about leaving them there to be beautiful? No chance.
What about there being forests planted by plan to express thought & vision, not just the maximizing of profit?
I know, ridiculous.
I was driving across the country when I could have flown.
Don’t ask this to make the normal amount of sense.
The smartest people I know think about death constantly.
I don’t see much point in not considering it the only issue that matters.
So when I see a signpost for Deadman’s Pass, I shoot it.
By luck–and it is by luck that all good work is done–the wide angle of the camera lens caught the reflection in the rear view, which, to me, shows such a contrast with the blue sky of the moment that it nearly appears death is following behind and the signpost for the turn ahead is not far.
I know what you’re thinking.
What does this have to do with advertising?
Everything you do becomes a part of the creative machine your brain is.
Keep feeding it experiences and it won’t stall.
(to be continued)