I set off from Foster City, California at 7:30PM on the evening of Tuesday, June 12, 2013 for New York — because the week I spent with my aging mother in her Bronx co-op apartment in May convinced me that leaving her alone was the precisely wrong thing to do. Giving myself one month to set my affairs in order, a foolhardy road trip of 3000 miles suddenly lay before me like the rash promise I’d made to begin my relocation by June 13.
The sixteen year old car I drive, a 1997 Toyota Corolla CE, was overburdened with about a half ton of my most indispensible stuff. The remaining 2/3 of my property I’d crammed into boxes and stored semi-securely on the shelves of my employer’s warehouse. If there is a hero in this recitation, it’s the long-neglected car that never failed me in the course of my journey east.
This is the point at which I launch into the major rant that justifies the title of his post, while diverging from the actual, physical trip I took earlier this month. The tirade begins by highlighting user-unfriendly aspects of road travel on an interstate thoroughfare, and proceeds to key on similar inconveniences that riddle the information superhighway. It hinges on the premise I’ve long held, that the people who design and execute the ubiquitous, proprietary systems “we” all use don’t, themselves, actually ever use the systems they’ve created — or the systems wouldn’t stink like hell. I’d cite examples with which I’m familiar; the FedEx Online shipping system, the Mitel Online Store, DeviantART’s comments system…and bore the pants off anybody who happens to read these paragraphs and isn’t familiar with the organizations I cite. So fill in your own blanks.
The point being that broadcast-style (newsprint/radio/television) information systems have readied us to shut-the-fuck-up and get over our niggling dissatisfactions with official procedures and authorized systems that don’t work as well as they might if effective feedback loops (for customers) were built into them and intelligent modification (custom[er]iztion) were not reflexively-dismissed as cost-prohibitive. But the days of the age of broadcast-style information systems are numbered, aren’t they? Don’t the rise of the internet and interactive social media mark the tomb of the Mushroom Generation (kept in the dark to eat shit) with the deathless words; “I’m mad as hell and I’m not a consumer anymore!” No.
So, in the course of 62 years of living in California, I’d never dined at the Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Dixon, CA, until the evening of June 12, 2013. It was well worth the stop my parents never deemed necessary in all the years I traveled with them from San Francisco to Sacramento, and all the years in which I traveled solo, more fixedly intent on destination than journey, habitually. Forty-five minutes to dine and I was gratified, satisfied, and back on I-80 by 9PM, figuring to sleep for a few hours in the vicinity of Stateline. At a rest stop outside of Truckee, I pulled over to catch a few hours of sleep and realized that I had no intention of doing so — so I got back on the path to the Bronx, and never try to sleep again until Bloomberg, Pennsylvania.
Here’s where I complain about the modern inability to indent the first sentence of a paragraph.
I have very little to say (that interests me) about driving across California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska, except that the maximum speed limit was a merciful 75 miles/hour, mostly. I got the impression that Nebraska’s in the process of turnpiking, so infrastructural-improvement-construction-work zones crop up pretty frequently, dropping the maximum speed limit to 55, threatening doubled fines in work zones and narrowing two eastbound lanes to one. Fuck Nebraska, but double-fuck Omaha, where I-80 is marked sketchily through a 10 mile maze of aging freeway cloverleaf nonsense that culminated in a major pothole seemingly designed to destroy my rear axle.
It happens that the date I’d arbitrarily decided upon for the start of this trip fell in the dark of the moon, when the only lights on the road that prevented me from driving off the freeway were my own headlights, the taillights and headlights of other vehicles and reflective signs that seemed mostly to terrorize me with visions of colliding with deer in the darkness. You can also keep Des Moines, and the rest of Iowa where the moon don’t shine.
I stumbled into Chicago shortly after dawn, Thursday morning, expecting to get lost. I reasoned that if Omaha and Des Moines had barely failed to confuse my forward progress, Chicago must succeed. And my nerves had begun to fray into the complex delusion that long haul truck drivers have taken up the slack created by a sluggardly economy that’s cleansed the roads of state troopers and highway patrolmen; victims of thwarted collective bargaining agreements and sequestration. Although I got swept up into the truckers’ vigilante behavior of shutting down the fast lane to flagrant speeders, I found my situational awareness suffering from fixation on the speedometer needle. By Pennsylvania, I’d quit caring what the grassroots vigilantes were up to. Indiana and Ohio had greatly weakened my grip on reason with construction zones, accommodation/convenience exits and various forms of restraint of trade visited on commercial organizations that don’t have nationally-recognized logos emblazoned on the turnpike signs that funnel travelling dollars into deep, familiar pockets (McDonald’s, Shell, EconoLodge…).
Ah, but, Pennsylvania! — Rolling, sweeping, lovely turns, manicured roads and beautiful green scenery — an Eden-like roller coaster addicted to cosmic steroids for a couple of serpentine centuries. About 2/3 of the way through the state I asked a state trooper (or park ranger — one stupid hat looks much like another) how in the name of all that’s holy does a desperate driver get the hell off this amusement park ride they call the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He didn’t bat an eye, so this probably wasn’t the first time the question had been put to him. He indicated clearly that there is no other/better way to get from Youngstown to Patterson than this very interstate. That’s when I apologized for asking a silly question, adding that I’d been awake for about 96 hours and 2300 miles. He suggested a nap at the next rest stop (mile marker 221). I said something polite, yet incoherent, and drove on to Bloomberg, PA where I spent $91 on a motel shower, and 12 hours of deathlike sleep.
The toll on each of the major bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area is $5.00. Shortly before noon, Saturday, I crossed the Hudson River at the George Washington Bridge for $13.50. Welcome to New York, Sucker. My destination was the southwest corner of the Bronx, and the intersection of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. In the ensuing 2.5 hours, I would cross the Harlem River four times, intermittently poring over my Hagstrom’s 5 Borough Atlas of the City of New York and driving in perplexed, dead-ending circles. I’m no too proud to ask, but previous experience has taught me that the vast majority of New Yorkers can’t give coherent directions. Habit, intuition and experience don’t easily translate into words like left and right here in Spuyten Duyvil where the grid is a nice idea that doesn’t really apply all that well on the Manhattan side of the river, either.
I think the east is different from the west in one important way. The east has long been organized around ass-by-jawbone money grubbing, while the west is rooted in private, antisocial comfort. Money segregates in the east. Money congregates in the west. In 1876, Custer died on this date. In 1776, monarchy was in trouble. Fill in your own blanks, but be sure to level a few rounds at George Custer, George III and whoever else annoys you.