I find it easier to take the temperature of the world (or my version of the world) when I’m moving around than when I’m at home, which at this point means moving through the air. I would love to ride the train and do occasionally but now we are threatened with losing the Southwest Chief that for generations has linked New Mexico (and Colorado and Kansas) with the East and the West coast, due to the intransigence of our Republican governor, Susanna Martinez (I hope the Republican Party does decide to run her nationally so that we are relieved of her), and so I am trying to habituate myself again to the planes.
It’s not all bad news. In the huge Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, I saw a number of people reading books and a number of other people talking to each other or simply waiting. There were long lines due to weather problems but we have become so habituated to waiting that there are seldom the outbursts of bad temper we used to see years ago. And although the roller bags present problems—no one recognizing, tripping up the people following them, especially in crowded areas, there are examples of human kindness that delight my heart: the man hooked into his machinery who waved me ahead of him in the food line; the two men, from another culture, who moved aside to let me pass them in the crowd (why is it that in what we consider regressive cultures, men seem to learn manners?), the man working in the coffee shop who was so beamingly willing to make my coffee that I felt indebted to him for my smile.
The planes, of course, are still the same: the stuffed overhead compartments that make me wonder why we have to haul so much with us even on what at least at times must be short trips; the new way to avoid baggage claims by taking luggage too big for the overheads up to the plane, where it is claimed by attendants and returned plane-side at the end of the trip—aren’t the airlines aware of this evasion?—but cell phone use is still not allowed, devices have to be cut off at a certain moment and, according to my informal survey, the number of people reading real books seemed about equal to the number of people reading on the screen.
My objection to the screen books is not merely stubbornness. No one seems perturbed by the way these cheap versions will cut into the already tiny profits of agents and publishers and therefore into the even tinier profits of writers; as a professional writer for decades, my thirteen published books made me an average of two-three thousand a year, an income that makes even the miserly amount we pay teachers seem generous.
It’s hard, I think, for human beings to absorb that what we view our private individual choices, governed by taste, convenience, and cost, actually effect the world around us. Entrenched in individualism, we seem blind to the effect our choices have beyond the limits of our own lives: how patronizing the big box stores supports their miserable treatment of their employees which results in us tax payers subsidizing their minimum wages with food stamps, and the disastrous long term effect on U.S. manufacturing—and there are many other causes—of our buying cheap clothes manufactured in the world-wide system of sweat shops.
Well, enough of that. As I sit in this suburban Barnes & Noble, the pleasant chatter of the two women behind me reminds me of the bonds that keep us going, and I also know if I drove ten miles in this thick rush hour traffic I would find that the thriving independent bookstore down town is full of people under twenty.
Maybe they will lead the way. Already the car manufacturers are impacted by the fact that many of those who are newly licensed don’t want to own cars.
Could public transportation be on the horizon? But then what to do with these endlessly circling and growing suburbs which no public transportation could ever serve?
Our solution so far is more highways, more bridges, like the long-contested super bridge that is destroying neighborhoods near here as it links the anthill Louisville suburbs to the cornfields of Indiana, on the other side of the Ohio River, for the benefit of builders who hope to extend the ant hill into another state.
Wolf Pen Farms which I have owned for decades is a bulwark of green in the midst of this madness, pierced now by the whine and thunder of heavy traffic on the major North-South throughway. But the birds don’t care, or the yearlings and heavily pregnant doe I saw a twilight yesterday, browsing the lush wild wheat on the other side of my pond.
Photo of Ohio River Project construction by SpeedDemon2 Photography