Monday, April 27, 2015

Notes On the Underground

Call it a Metro, Underground, Tube, Light Rail, Rapid Transit or Metrolink. Color it purple, gold, blue or red. It’s coming to Santa Monica. By this time next year it will have changed not only the landscape but, as Gerald Manley Hopkins called it, the inscape of our lives.

Our car culture has been embedded in our psyche and now we shall see if we can take the off-ramp to public transportation. Our individuality may shift slowly towards that of a social creature. The psychic space of a car will need to adjust to a public one and our individuation become more inclusive.

When I moved here 61 years ago I rode the red car for about a week and then bought a ’48 De Soto for $100. Behind the wheel I was aligned with the physicality of Southern California. Los Angeles County is still far larger than Delaware and Rhode Island put together. But this place has changed from the open road of a sprawl to the Sig Alert inside a sardine can. 

Freeway construction tacitly encourages more cars. No widening can accommodate the traffic. I suspect there is an untold story in which big oil money plus Detroit lobbyists, in the fifties, persuaded Sacramento to direct funding away from public transportation and into the car culture.

A metro-to-the-sea should alleviate some of the crunch. However much will depend on the available parking and buses adjacent to the stops. It will be a long-term process to change the habits of an aging population.

For my first 21 years I accepted subway consciousness as a given. We lived one block from a stop and five stops to Manhattan. For a nickel I could travel, with several transfers, to Flatbush and watch the Dodgers. I always had a high regard for the man in the change booth who knew the feel of twenty nickels when presented with a dollar bill. Now the price of a ride is $2.75 and the magician in the booth has been replaced by a vending machine.

For a rider as opposed to a driver I could catch up on my reading or just stare into the great beyond and think great thoughts. People put on a certain subway face which revealed nothing. The fiction of unlived lives got polished in ruminations. Riders of public transportation cultivated a way of not noticing in close proximity.

Our lives behind the wheel have given us the illusion of control…even if we’ve been taken for a ride in a larger sense. Soon I can say I live on the other side of the tracks. I am getting ready to relinquish my atomized self for a communal one. As we give up that private space of a car, 20% occupied, we will discover we are part of a city. Bring it on.

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