[East of Gallup, NM/ 26 June 2018]Unless you travel America along the ground, you don't really get a sense of how large a place it is. Hopping airport to airport does give you a certain view of the size of things. People in transit make for some of the best people watching you can find -- and people watching is very nearly the best free entertainment there is. But crawling over the thin shell of the earth is really the only way to get a sense of size. People who have driven cross country will attest to this. Geography looks a lot less imposing on a map -- or on GPS to use the parlance of these digital times -- than it does in person.
I'm certain I've written somewhere, sometime before... probably on the old American Re:Visionary blog... about how our mode of transportation alters our perception of geography and changes how we look things. If you've ever tried to follow (what used to be) those blue lines on the map -- those two lane state routes that will take you everywhere the interstate does and more -- you begin to get a sense of how the interstate system forever altered not only how we look at this wide country we label The United States., but changed the actual geography... not only because of the landscape that was demolished, altered, or sliced up to make room for interstates, but the towns that cropped up or shriveled up and died because of the shift in traffic patterns. And if you think this is only a byproduct of the modern transportation age, I would encourage you to look at the long and storied history of the dirty, sacred river the title of this blog refers to: The Ohio River.
Traveling by train (I'm pretty sure I've written before, too) is still by far the most genteel way to travel. What I tend to observe when people have difficulty traveling by train … or mass transit in general, including the old grey dog... is that they bring faulty expectations to the experience. You end up cramped together with people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different biases, different languages. You have to share bathroom facilities. You have to share common areas like the café car, the dining car, the observation car, and the aisle. The rules are mostly etiquette and common sense -- though I have traveled enough back and forth across this turtle of a continent that I honestly question whether both etiquette and common sense have become so unfashionable as to be as mythical a concept as "truth, justice, and the American Way."
If you know me moderately well you know my thoughts on the use of laws. If you don't know me that well (and welcome, by the way!) then I will explain by paraphrasing Ammon Hennacy*:
Good people don't need them and bad people don't follow them, so what good are they?
I'll go one step further by quoting myself*:
Etiquette and Fine Art run the world.One of the things you learn traveling is that laws and statutes mean far less in maintaining a civilized community than simple etiquette. While there are people in world who are consequence driven, I find that eventually people who exist in a consequence-driven frame of mind buckle under the yoke and bit. On this particular train trip, for example, a guy is about to get tossed off the train in Albuquerque because in spite of all the signage and multiple warnings given, he simply can't wait for a fresh air break to smoke. I mean, I get it. As a smoker, I'm sympathetic to the nicotine urge. And yes, I'm sure it would be healthier to quit, but honestly people who tend to say that 1. have never smoked and 2. have never read any 12 step literature or understand the nature of addiction. In other words... yes, we're addicts. Move on.
That being said... I also understand there are reasons why smoking is prohibited on trains and buses. I also understand that the schedule takes priority over my nicotine addiction. This is something I signed on for when I bought my train ticket. It's part of the social contract. That's why, when we do get a fresh air break, I TAKE IT. Even in New Mexico, a state that has never been kind to me. Never. Ever.
We tend to overlook the importance of social contracts because we have decided that it is better to live in a country of prescribed laws than a community of shared understanding. That's because laws are easier. We mark our participation by whether we vote for the yahoos who are supposed to have our interests at heart, not really understanding the fact that the system, by its very nature, either burns out any evidence of actual altruism... if, in fact, politicians can feel something like altruism. We want laws to keep things fair... which is to say, we want laws to ensure that we keep whatever stuff we thing is ours. We want laws to maintain the peace while we stockpile guns for our own personal protection. We want law. But law is consequence driven. Which means, at some point, even the most law abiding citizen will break under the yoke and bit, causing those consequences to kick in.
Which is to say: if all we are is a nation of consequences and not conscious, it's no wonder we're in such trouble.
And we are in trouble. It doesn't take a long train ride to figure that one out.
[Continued in Part 2]