Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Highway

I miss the highways.

Oh, don’t worry, they’re still there. They just don’t matter anymore. Ever since those superconductive electric engine cars—“fastcars,” they’re known as—were first produced, ever since the trains started using the same sort of engines, ever since the airplanes started breaching the bounds of earth with quiet, safe electric engines based on superconducting materials, there’s no need for lengthy stretches of terrain. You’ve got point A, point B, and no need for anything in between.

Go ahead, look for Route 66. It’s barely there anymore, crumbling from the deserts and plains, struggling to survive. An ancient species on the brink of extinction, like everything else around it.

Nobody sees beauty in those sorts of things anymore. Nobody sees the hours of effort, the blood, sweat and tears poured into the smooth concrete blacktop pavement.

It’s hard to believe people actually cared about highways at one point.

“Before the widespread usage of superconductive materials, people essentially risked their lives,” the tour guides would explain to school groups at the American Museum of National History. “They used automobiles—a funny name, considering the slow pace they ran at. These machines could rarely go any faster than 140 miles an hour.” The museum guides would cheerfully smile at the sniggers their commentary elicited from the schoolchildren.

The children would chuckle at everything—machines that take time to compute, power plants actually close by to people’s homes; they especially found laptops to be funny, taking pictures of them in the museum with their compact PCs to quickly upload and send to their friends.

A few years ago, on a whim one lazy Sunday afternoon, I took a day trip to the Midwest. I hopped on a superbullet train to Chicago, grabbing a breakfast from the ultramicrowaves, which prepared my food in a matter of seconds. Nobody cooks anymore; it’s easier to wait a few seconds, rather than make something from scratch.

By the early morning hours, I was on the road. I rented as old a model fastcar as I could. The rental manager was confused by this.

“Why would you want this old piece of junk? Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this, but this thing can barely hit 500 miles an hour, tops. If I were you, I wouldn’t be renting it. I’d just go for the latest fusion-based model, over there, for the same price.”

“I don’t know, but I want this one,” I told him.

Of course I knew why. I pined for something close to my childhood. As much as we loathed it, my family and I packed yearly into our family van and trekked across America. We counted the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. We punched each other repeatedly, tired of being cooped up together for hours.

Family vacations are only to cities, to museums. It may be more educational, but there’s none of the excitement of the travel anymore.

I pulled off the main transport artery and, using my GPS, found out instantly where I was. Route 66 wasn’t even marked by default on the unit; I had to stop and play with it to get it to show the outdated roadways.

But I found it. I rolled on as slow as the car would allow, hoping to savor the moment. It just wasn’t the same going at 100 miles an hour. I pulled over to step out and take a look at the sunrise, and see if I could hear the long-gone drone of the engines. But all I heard was the quiet rush of air from the vehicles overhead and miles away from me. I couldn’t hear the engines, except for the ones in my memories of hours under starry skies, rolling down the highway listening to my dad’s Merle Haggard album collection. Oh, how I miss the noise.

How I miss it all. You only hear the quiet hum of electricity now. Everything’s fast. Your food is cooked. You’ve got your information. The car warns you instantly of any danger, beating your reaction time by miles. And I’m missing the good old days.

I got back in the car, turned around, and went back to Chicago. I got home that afternoon and went to bed.

The highways are gone. The rockets are gone. It’s all a mess, in the most organized fashion available to mankind.

I miss the highways.


Post a Comment

<< Home