I had an interesting set of experiences coming into work this morning and they got me to thinking about two Ray Bradbury works that use very different transportation settings.
In "The Illustrated Man", published in a collection in 1951, the title character travels in a world where being on foot is normal. It is the ride in a car that is unusual. But that's slipping away. The story is partially about how it is the weird who get left out of progress. In Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, driving incredibly fast down the road is the goal. Roads predominate, but they are also insulated as hitting animals and people on the road is a kind of sport. It is not until the main character falls completely outside of modern life that he finds a world not dominated by the presence and danger of roads.
So, where are we 50 years on from the publication of the books (and 60 from the actual writing, and 70 from the experiences that seeded the writing)?
- This morning I walked to my local bus stop instead of driving to the park n' ride. I got to see the faces of people zooming by in their cars. They were looking at me, trying to figure out why I was there. Or whether the brown-skinned man next to me was a threat. Or why we were there together.
- The man, an Indian immigrant told me about his work, asked about my family, showed me his flip-flops and talked about his early-morning walk through the grass.
- When I arrived at my destination, where I change from riding to walking the last 1.5 miles to work, a woman stopped in the parking lot and asked if I needed a ride somewhere. I said "no" and "thanks" and headed on. At the major intersection on the corner, a car rolled into the cross walk after watching the stream of left-hand turns from the opposite side of the intersection go... but at least there weren't several cars in the crosswalk.
- In the construction section, the sidewalk is back to being all filled (it had two holes and no crossings in it last Friday), very pristine, white, and empty.
- At the next light, another lady stopped and asked if I wanted a ride.
- Then the section where I walk the shoulder because there's a half-mile span where the sidewalk hasn't been built. In general, people in this section give me some extra space, staying on the left side of their lane, which gives a good 10 feet between the edge of the road where I walk and the passenger side of their car. But one nervous older man cruised along the road with the right tire of his half-ton pickup on the shoulder line.
- A friend of mine who was out for a ride over the weekend got caught in a rain storm. She took shelter under an overpass, taking herself and her bike off the shoulder to wait it out. She was struck by a car that was that far out of its lane. During the day. (She's bruised and has some ligament damage but otherwise fine.)
I heard a car industry lobbiest on the radio yesterday whining that "many car manufacturers have had to pull their efficient models because people weren't buying them." Well, they're often ugly. My former roommate, a good guy who ate organic and recycled and biked and walked, would comment on how ugly the Prius was every time he saw one, and then go back to converting his truck to biodiesel.
I sent a note to my senator to encourage increased CAFE standards and got a reply yesterday. He doesn't want a fixed standard because it's important to let the industry to make advances in safety and comfort too.
I wanted to reply with the report out last week that shows that smaller cars are also safer than SUVs, but then I got my Real Age report, where I got told that I would add time to my life if I drove a bigger car. When a 5-star crash test rated for driver and passenger car isn't safe enough because it isn't big enough on a test that's being advertised on all media channels and even mentioned in a book I'm reading.... well, that's when the mountain looks too big.
But my dad taught me how to hike big mountains:
- Go with a friend.
- Take a map, some food, some clothing, and a way to call for help.
- Wear good shoes.
- Find a pace that keeps you from being breathless, but keeps you headed onward. Don't stop and start.
- Don't focus on the trail or how high the mountain is. Keep an eye on it, but spend most of your time enjoying where you are.