Beautiful Place, Everyone Hates It

Parking parallelism

In a world that suddenly lost all its racism, the racists would simply have lost a tool for sounding like morons, and would indeed likely find a great deal more success than ever, suddenly lacking the worldview that had previously been so staunchly resisted by mainstream society. It would be a net gain for them. But not for the activists. Not for the journalists and the professors and the sign wavers and the marchers. Not for the authors and poets and painters, not for the actors and filmmakers. For them, the end of racism would be the end of nearly everything. The end of racism would turn their world upside down and dump them out the bottom, naked, poor, and ashamed. Their jobs would vanish, their paychecks would dry up, their book deals would be meaningless, their degrees, doctorates, PhD’s, all of it would be gone.

So of course they’re complicit in keeping it alive. They’re causing as many train wrecks as they can so that they’ll never have to wake up without someone to save. But meanwhile, man, the bodies are really piling up.

Those paragraphs are clipped from a long, rambling missive I have been putting together since my 4th of July weekend in Idaho. It was about definitions (again)(always). I kept adding to it and sculpting it and deleting things and shuffling paragraphs around. Eventually I decided it was just so much more of the same pissing and moaning, so I just looked at it and said “no.”


I’m at a car dealership. My car apparently had a couple of safety recalls that needed to be addressed. Remember the way Anton Yelchin died? I have a Jeep like his with the same odd transmission that somehow resulted in him getting out of his car while it was still in gear, or in neutral, so it rolled down a hill and crushed him against a pillar, I think at the end of his driveway. It really is a bit of an interesting situation with the gear lever, in that doesn’t lock positively in place to indicate that you’ve put it in drive. Or in park, as was the obvious issue for our young Pavel Chekov. You just bump it forward or backwards and it returns itself to the starting position. My car before that was a manual transmission, so it really took me some getting used to. But cars now are doing all kinds of odd things with their transmissions. The Italian’s car, for instance, is some kind of a throwback to the old three-on-the-tree:

Three on a tree" learning to drive a stick shift! | Learning to drive,  Shift pattern, Transmission

Her car has a right-hand shift lever on the steering column, but the similarities end there. It’s a matter of pushing a button on the end for park, tap the lever upwards with a finger for ‘go,’ downwards for ‘go back.’ It’s simple, but the biggest problem is the lack of uniformity. Every car runs different now. When I get back into my car, I have to remember that the shifting happens at the center console, and that I have to engage/disengage the parking brake myself. The Italian’s German car puts the brake on as soon as you put it in park. Takes the brake off once you hit ‘go.’

This of course opens a can of particularly slimy worms concerning technological advancements in automobiles, and whether we’re collectively worse at driving because of it. I do know that when I think of all the safety measures – beeps and warnings that light up in the side mirrors when a car is in your blindspot, cars that actually brake for you in whatever the car deems is an emergency, cars that literally drive for stretches without you at all. – when I think of these things I recall Mike Rowe’s talk about how an excess of emphasis on safety often results in more accidents. Risk compensation.

But prudence and compliance are not the same thing, and we should look with deep suspicion upon self-proclaimed experts and professionals who tell us that safety is first, or worse, that ‘our safety is their responsibility.’ Those people are either selling something or running for office.

Mike Rowe, Safety Third

I haven’t heard much from Mr. Rowe lately, but maybe he’s just all worn out from the world proving him right at every turn. Also I think he does a lot of his work via Facebook, and I’m not there anymore. I’m not much of anywhere anymore.

Anyway, cars: The one real issue I’ve had with both of our cars stems from the fact that you don’t put a key in the ignition anymore. The obvious other end of that situation is that you don’t have to remove a key when you are finished driving. Removing the key was always the way you knew – without having to think about it – that the damn car was all the way off and you could get out. Whether you put it in park – or in 1st for manual transmissions – before you turned it off was up to you. But now the key never leaves the pocket, and there have been a couple of times that I left the car running for a while. Once was at a kid’s soccer practice – over an hour of hanging out at an indoor arena while my car was running outside in the parking lot. Not the best situation.

Slightly better, though, than the time I left our daughter (it was our first baby! I wasn’t used to it yet!) in the infant seat in the car for a good 20 minutes while I was in the grocery store. She was under a year old. I remembered just as the cashier was ringing me up. I can’t imagine the look on my face.

That wasn’t the key’s fault.

Anyway, I’m still at the dealership, and it’s just reached the limit of the time they said it would take “at the longest.” I expect these things to go worse than expected, so I expect to not be leaving soon. But I did just experience the one thing that can unsettle the most patient temperament: Someone who came into the waiting room 30 minutes after I did has just been told her car is ready. It doesn’t matter how different her services probably were, that one stings a little. My patience wanes. But at least my beard is sweating under a face mask in a warm room that smells like incense and car air fresheners.


One more paragraph from that other essay:

If an alien stumbled upon Earth, having no prior knowledge of us, and spent a month or two observing the USA, the cognitive dissonance would leave it utterly confused. It would write in its journal: “Nation incapable of distinguishing between victory and defeat. Loudest voices have total control, insist they are oppressed. Progress towards future rendered nearly impossible by obsession with past. Beautiful place, everyone hates it.”

Maybe I’ll keep working on it and post at some point after all.

-Is it in gear, Comrade Citizen?-

6 thoughts on “Beautiful Place, Everyone Hates It”

  1. There’s a chapter in Sagan’s *Pale Blue Do* titled “Is there intelligent life on earth.” Aliens zooming in at finer and finer grain from space. Conclusion? Yes. Automobiles are the dominant intelligent life form on earth.

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      1. Nope. Just cars with little parasites. Truth be told, it’s an excellent chapter explaining how unique (?) earth is in a very readable way. Girls read it in high school and liked it.

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  2. Racism at its core is of course removed from race, in whatever nebulous sense one defines race to begin with. From such a nonsensical and arbitrary origin it follows that racism, in some continuing form (again, a misnomer since it is so rarely based on race and race itself is based on, well, nothing really) will continue no matter what.

    An early sci-fi story, Black No More (George Schuyler), explores, ironically, the continuation of racism in a post-race world (essentially a machine lets people freely lighten their skin color, making it rather hard to target people with dark skin since they’ve all swapped into lighter colors). But, of course, racism, uh, finds a way, and while much changes the desire to discriminate based on visual cues continues unabated.

    And that’s sort of the crux, isn’t it? That the desire for that exists?

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    1. t – thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Of course you’re right. Most things we do are really about something else, racism is no different. We’ll always fixate on things that distinguish group from group, and use that for leverage. And our skill with minutiae means we’ll never run out of differences to exploit. The kid on the playground with big ears will never be safe from scorn.

      For me, whatever racism may or may not be, what it actually is, isn’t very relevant. It’s not really what anyone’s talking about anyway, no matter what they think. It’s all leverage of a kind, and it’s persistence comes from its importance in building identities and careers. The people who fight it (however much bullshit that almost always is) need it the most.

      If sickness vanished from the world, it would be the doctors who re-invent disease.

      Did I catch a super subtle Jurassic Park reference in there?

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