Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Driving in Someone Else's Paradise

Tonight I decided to borrow my mom's car to attend a lecture on the need for a renewed commitment to public health in urban planning (revel with me in the pile of irony) at UC Irvine. It was about 6:30 pm as I made my way north on the 5 and then the 405 freeways. The first thing I noticed as I accelerated up to freeway speed was a giant SUV of domestic make hiked up on massive tires. The second thing I noticed was the sweat gathering between my palms and the steering wheel.
People kept jerking around in their cars, maybe distracted by cell phones? I could see a clear connection between bodies and machines as the cars veered across lines and then jerked back into place. Sadly it was a connection that further alienated those bodies from their environments, and I tried to remember that I've been driving this stretch of highway since I came of age. That didn't really make me feel safer.
On the way back from the lecture I saw a large, matte black SUV changing lanes willy nilly, and it made me think of fixie riders who dart between other road users like they're fixed objects. Here was a street, scaled up in size and speed, with similar dynamics enabled by our culture's belief in dominating rather than sharing roads.
I know South Orange County seems desirable to millions. Do they overlook the time spent dodging others on freeways, or is that part of what they love?