Thursday, January 29, 2009

Commutation

People are afraid to merge...
--Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis

There is not room enough. Not for everyone. The passage is insufficient for the mass of humanity bearing down upon it. Audacity and nerve will determine who passes ahead and who languishes behind; an instant hierarchy of the quick and the rude. Deference risks humiliation. Small gestures of civility punctuate the tedium of cautious distrust, hopelessly, heroically outnumbered like the last dwindling acts of defiance thinning away in the ascent of a new tyranny. This is a chaotic system of jangled nerves and bruised pride, man and machinery, forming and dissolving for a time here at this narrow pass. My commute begins in earnest. I enter the scrum. Time to merge.

Everyone is converging on the bottleneck, all manner of automobile, reflecting distorted fun house mirror images of each other on their shiny hard-beetle shells. Their headlamps sweep the dim before them like insect feelers. Out ahead the freeway is split into two neon rivers of white and red, streams of molten light. My head hurts.

The cars declare status and defiance. Contradictory ethos and aesthetics vie for supremacy; there goes one trumpeting his moral superiority and a higher social awareness; this one declares his ironic detachment; an insurance salesman/outdoorsman slides jauntily alongside; a celebration of pure aggression howls along on oversized tires; over there an affected bohemian cuts off a conspicuous rebel. Each is off to toil in a cubicle. Here and there are the gaudy candy-chrome rolling stock of an entire generational demographic's bad taste, celebrating the dull greed they cannot know for their immersion in it. I love them all; I would be lost without them. Some bear slogans; the embarrassing, gauche inelegance of the literal-minded and too familiar. One squeezes in front of me rudely. What Would Jesus Do? He asks. Well, he wouldn't have cut me off, I'm sure. Above it all are those with the smug certainty of instantly discernible superior dollar value; greater wealth demonstrated, higher status accrued, evolutionary primacy earned. Game, set, match.

Cars buck nose-down as they brake suddenly, rear up again in acceleration, baring their prowess. Some speed up to screen out others who pull alongside, an impromptu game of chicken for the receding gap; everyone is jealously defending his rolling realm of personal space. Leaving room for another to pass finds one soon overwhelmed with interlopers crowding into the open space. There is an unspoken system of rules that we're all compelled to test endlessly. Still, somehow, the horn's blare is only resorted to as the last break with civility and order. An impotent insult and pathetic lament. This gives me hope. The brake lights, flaring irregularly and collecting in masses, tap out our frustration like some sort of Morse code.

Within the comfortable cells of the cars are people, immobilized in their mobility. Within the people are dwindling stores of calm, alkaline slowly being consumed by the crackling acid of frustration and resignation; an energy producing chemical reaction gradually rendering them inert. Radio waves are beamed into these darkened compartments; the shrill and braying tones of affected cynicism, emitted by the most desperate and craven examples yet of humanity's endless permutations--drive-time disc jockeys.

But I am not there yet. Should I rise on time for once? Must I lay here, waiting for the last-chance urgency of no more time to finally compel me to movement? What, after all, is appealing about the ten minutes of first-waking dread spent staring at the mystery spot on the ceiling? How I love my cell! How I love the walls that keep me in and keep you out! Ten minutes sooner, ten minutes of gumption and resolve, a mere ten minutes, and I can pass ahead of the critical mass that turns a routine merge into a predawn bloodsport of mangled vanity. It must be that I love the ten minutes of self-pity, of immobility, the futile attempt to will away reality. As for that spot, I swear it's moved, just barely, since yesterday; what if it's shifting, imperceptibly, like one of those boulders that creep across the plain, leaving a slug-trail behind? Does it matter? Close the eyes and open them repeatedly, vainly trying to prompt a new reality. Let's try that. Russian roulette for a suspect consciousness.

Or just go back to sleep. And dream again.

...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Traffic is a microcosim of society. We are seemingly insulated in our shiney metal boxes. We become our souls.

Ever drive in say, Mexico, or Brazil? Every man for himself. Rules are for rubes and losers. It's not just retrograde societies, try Boston, or NYC, or New Jersey. Every man for himself.

I'm not as literary as yourself to express it as entertainingly, but I can read the writing on the wall.

Remember the National Lampoon "European Vacation" movie? While in England, the Chevy Chase charachter slams into a bicycalist played by a famous Monty Python cast member.

He peels himself off of the pavement and his mangled bicycle, bleeding and physicaly distressed to assure Chevy "No bother, no harm done! Sorry to get in your way!"

The West meets the East. Sure, the West, in the past, met this "all about me" attitude with disdain and brutal suppression. We had our past, too, and could draw upon it when needed to. But, once beyond this, we tried to introduce civility.

It seems the barbarians have won. If you are civil, forthright, and considerate, you are a fool.