I’ll Take Naive
April 22, 2013 § 10 Comments
On Friday, I drove 8 hours in a southwesterly direction, on my way to a talk in PA. Of course, this was the day of out-sized drama in Boston, and while I would like to claim that I was not captivated by the unfolding narrative, that would be a lie. So I plowed down I95 in our old Subaru, alternating between NPR’s ceaseless coverage of the lockdown and whatever classic rock station offered the best reception and the fewest Peter Frampton ballads. Not that there’s anything wrong with Frampton, of course. But a guy can take only so much.
I don’t leave northern Vermont terribly often, and every time I do, I’m struck by just how far I’ve drifted from the mainstream American experience. Or, at least, the mainstream American experience as exemplified by Interstate travel through ceaseless sprawling miles of industry and commerce. A few random observations: How the hell do folks afford the vehicles they drive? Everywhere I went, the cars shiny and new, 30 and 40 thousand-dollar contraptions coming up fast to fill my rear view mirror with the menacing grilles and muscular sheet metal that have become the status quo over the past decade. Not every single one, of course, but the sheer volume of large and loutish automobiles seemed to increase in disproportion to the sort of conditions in which one might actually use one of these vehicles to its advertised potential.
Along the Jersey Turnpike, at one of those dispiriting Interstate Service Centers (Gas! Diesel! Cinnibon!) I stopped for a coffee and a pee break, tucking our mud-splattered Subie between the gleaming flanks of twin SUVs. Yukons, I think they were, or perhaps Envoys. For a moment, I fretted over the fact that our door locking mechanism has long since given up the ghost, and then cast my glance around the car: What, really, could I not do without? The rusty pair of vice grips on the passenger floor? The half-quart of motor oil? Anyone who might brave the mud and manure-stained innards of our rig to lift these items would surely need them at least as much – if not more – than I. Feeling thus liberated, I was even so bold as to leave the keys hanging from the ignition before slipping into the surreal, narcoticizing world of Turnpike commerce.
There was something about the confluence of factors during my drive that made me realize just how naive I am. Along the Turnpike, I flew past the Linden Cogeneration Plant, dozens of acres or more of belching smokestack and outlandishly complicated and tubular infrastructure, a sci-fi novel come to life. Across the interstate (how many lanes in total? Six? Eight?) from the plant, a shipping port, with row upon row of cranes and stackable steel cargo trailers, a display of ingenuity, industry, and the rigid lines of manufactured exactitude to rival anything I’ve seen in a good long time. And the whole while, one terrorism expert after another droning through the radio, as the good people of Boston and the surrounding communities sheltered in place. Shelter in place. It has an almost cozy ring to it.
I often wonder how my world view might shift if only for a single factor. For instance, what if that were my daily commute? Not the endless soundtrack to the tragic goings on in Boston, of course, but everything else: The fancy, flashing, angry cars, the over lit, hollow prosperity of interstate service centers, the gleaming, fantastical infrastructure of power generation and intercontinental commerce. These things are novelties to me, so strange as to appear almost otherworldly, but of course to millions of my fellow countrymen and women, they offer the quotidian sights, sounds, and smells of daily life. Of course, I cannot say with certainty how such experiences might influence my emotional state, but it’s hard to imagine that my emotions and perceptions would not begin to embody the cold, human-over-nature ambience of the surrounding landscape.
So, yes, I see now that perhaps I am naive to think that we, as a species, might overcome the tragic force of our own ingenuity and ambition, when so many of us are immersed in lives offer little else but evidence of these things. I see that, and I think to myself, ah, but what is the alternative to my naiveté? Hopelessness? Acquiescence? Cynicism?
And then I think, you know what? I’ll take naive.