Saturday, September 15, 2007

Get Off at Any Exit!

After a doctor’s appointment in East Greenwich yesterday, I decided to drive up to Providence to have lunch with my husband. On most days, when faced with the choice, I will take any roundabout route to avoid I-95, but on this day nothing else made sense (except to forget it and go home). I took a deep breath as I chose the I-95 North entrance instead of South to retrace my steps to the hinterlands of Foster.

By the time I reached the Thurbers Avenue curve (that infamous commuter traffic barometer), forward progress had slowed to 4mph. The crawl continued to the State House exit. I could see the dome--- and as it turned out, I could have reached my destination more quickly if I had walked (or, the thought crossed my mind, jumped into a boat). Trapped in four lanes of shoulder to shoulder steel hulks spewing noxious gases, revving engines and throbbing rhythms, the tension heightened; a momentary urge to get off at any exit!

Freeways (Interstate Highways), though, are a way of life from which there appears to be no exit. In Jean Paul Sartre’s play of that title, i.e. “No Exit”, he traps three people in a room with no way out. From their misery in each others’ company arises his statement "l'enfer, c'est les autres" (Hell is other people). My sympathies were with that view yesterday. Yet, for a bedroom community like ours, highways are a lifeline to jobs and sustenance.

We can associate freeways with so many of the environmental woes plaguing us these days; (their entangled nature somewhat like the child’s rhyme, Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, remember?) energy needs, air pollution, climate change, sprawl, and now the expanding price of pasta in Italy ( less grain, of course); not to mention freedom as a way of life and all that it entails. We really can’t get off at any exit --- can we?

Thoreau said he could walk to his destination faster than his neighbors could work to earn their train fare. And he did. But he never got on the freeway to begin with I guess. He knew from day one about the logic of raising the price of pasta to lower the price of oil.

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse -
She's dead, of course.

“The construction of the U.S. interstate highway system was the largest public works project in human history, and has altered our landscape more than any other project.” Read more at this link for an interesting perspective on freeways.