Thursday, October 1, 2009

Auto-Americans

My daughter is back among the living-in the high life, in the fast lane ,whatever we call one another (without ever saying it out loud) when we have a car. We travelled to Derby last night to put the paper (license) plates on the car after she got the insurance and her temporary registration on Tuesday and she drove her (old) new car back to school and we closed the chapter on the Great Snatched Mitsubishi Caper. All's well that ends, well (perhaps).

What's always fascinated me is how for the first five plus years of our marriage, my wife and I didn't own a car. We lived in a medium sized city in West Germany (albeit a city that, by itself, in the middle Seventies had as many people as all of New London County, Connecticut had when I showed up here eighteen years ago) with a bus, streetcar and train network that made 'getting a car of our own' one of those 'nice to do' but not 'need to have' situations.

Migrate across the ocean and fast forward and we live in a medium sized city in Southeastern Connecticut with a whimsical, at best, local bus service and NO ferries, jitneys, trams or trains of any kind (though all too soon, perhaps, we'll have a twenty-something million dollar Regional Intermodal Transportation Center, conveniently located near absolutely nothing. I wonder if we can see the Goodwill Store from there-that might make it all worthwhile. Yepper), so privately-owned vehicles move up the list almost to 'required appendages.'

The capital of the State of Connecticut, Hartford, is about an hour's drive from Norwich. I have no idea, if you were to attempt a journey by 'mass transit', how you would do it-but I daresay it'd take more than an hour and perhaps more than a day. I've read some interesting articles on the impact of the automobile on the American Way of Life (the right to keep and bear cars should have been included in the Bill of Rights, seriously). When you look at our older cities and neighborhoods anywhere across the nation, you can see from the center to the outskirts, like the rings of a tree, how the internal combustion engine became the infernal comedic device in so many instances, with us as the punchline.

If you don't think God has a keen sense of humor and a delightful sense of irony, why else would he have installed every insurance company known to man (and a couple to the beasts of the field, according to their logo) in and around our capital city making Hartford Ground Zero for the insurance industry? What a crack-up He is! Can I get an Amen (with a collision waiver? Alleluia!)

Ours is not a state, and this side of the Connecticut River most especially, not a region where relying on buses and trains gets you anything more than frostbite and long hours of travel. Sort of helps you get a better understanding of how people get addicted to a variety of controlled and uncontrolled substances--and you can make a short movie of mobility junkies, getting a hit off the gas pump--taking a deep drag off the high octane bong and snorting a line of Ultra 93. Talk about Mercury Blues.

In Connecticut, our idea of addressing issues like soaring energy costs and greenhouse gases is to build MORE roads, with more lanes so people can get to where they're going even faster. As for arguments that an investment in mass transit will yield economic development benefits as well as improve our urban and suburban quality of life, we can't you hear you-we've turned the radio up. All the way to Eleven.
-bill kenny

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