Moving a City of Cars

I remember traveling on the Interstate when I was a kid. It had two lanes in each direction as it rolled through the Iowa countryside. The roads were fast and they seemed huge.

Now I live in Southern California and I travel on freeways. They have at least four lanes in each direction but they seem small, and they are slow.

Freeways create cities whose parts are dense yet distant. That density is felt the most on the road in the late afternoon. That’s when I fight my way to my parents’ house to get my daughter and then fight my way to her harp lesson.

Freeways also create mobile cities of people isolated in their cars. Over a couple miles of compressed traffic I imagine seeing the entire population of the small town I grew up in, even though this community isn’t as populated as it looks since one car typically has only one person.

Sometimes I see two or three people inside another car, and they’re talking to each other. They’re laughing and smiling despite the challenge of holding their place in a line of undulating speed. Otherwise I see solo drivers staring straight ahead. They cling to the hope that space will magically appear and give them a clear path to their destination.

But in a city like this your destination is the traffic jam. It’s a part of life. Doesn’t have to be, but it is. Maybe those people laughing and smiling understand that.

People wear the steel and glass of a car like a suit. But it’s also your house when you’re part of the mobile city, which moves in unison until parts break off to reach another place that people imagine is better.

But don’t think about that. Because you’re on the freeway now and it’s your slow road to the paradise we share.

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