"G" is for gridlock

by Bob Nanninga
., I confess.
I do it with countless other people, at least twice a day. I can't help it, I know it's completely selfish of me. Even while I'm doing it I feel cheap and debased. I might as well just come out and say it. I am a long distance, single occupant commuter.
Every morning I join all the other lemmings as we hurl ourselves south on overcrowded ribbons of asphalt. This mass migration gets more perilous every day. Not only are our numbers increasing, it also seems that the current train of thought is "everyone for themselves."
John Donne once said "No man is an island..." He obviously never did southbound 5 at eight in the morning. When will automobiles be seen for what they really are, SCREAMING METAL BOXES, that cost lots and lots of money.
Everywhere you look there are ads telling you to buy the latest and greatest automobile. Television uses sex to sell "sports" cars, prestige to sell luxury cars, and shots of vehicles tearing up the countryside, to sell you vehicles that tear up the countryside.
Now, the trend is to turn your vehicle into a rolling office. Excuse me, but isn't the woman applying mascara, or the man with coffee in one hand and a Egg McMuffinTM in the other bad enough? You know who I'm talking about - the person driving 55 mph in the fast lane, with a phone attached to their head, talking to goddess knows who, while you're trying to get to work in one piece. Call me a Luddite, but I see this as a dangerous development. Gridlock is bad enough, without these people checking out for a quick conference call.
I think this Car Culture thing has gotten way out of hand. It won't be long before everyone will have a car phone, car faxes, and all the rest of the professional paraphernalia that turn gridlock into a money-making venture. Has anyone given thought to what the long term costs are for these commuter comforts? As Southern California continues to grow, traffic continues to slow. The net result of this is more pollution. Idling cars produce carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and those ever pleasant complex hydrocarbons we like to call smog. So if cellular phones make gridlock more tolerable, does this mean we accept environmental destruction as a side effect of progress?
Instead of preparing for the long haul on standstill freeways, it seems to make more sense to progress past this mode of transportation that is literally choking our planet with "car farts." Auto emissions are just the icing on the cake. When we add in all the damage we do to the planet just to get a car on the road, one starts to realize that automobiles are far from convenient. Mining for metals, draining the biosphere for fossil fuels, oil spills, and the toxic production of plastics and other synthetics add up to a big eco-burden.
If you're wondering what the point is to all this, and what one person can do. The answer is simple: change. After commuting from Encinitas to Downtown San Diego for three months, I decided to abandon my fellow lemmings. In order to save myself time, money and stress, I have rented an apartment three blocks from work. Walking distance. This apartment is stategically located. All one has to do is walk to the nearby bus or trolley stop, and ta-da, there you are.
More important than the money saved, is the part I'll be doing to protect and restore the environment. By quitting the commute, I'm saying I won't accept holes in the ozone, disasterous oil policies that create Desert Storms and oil spills, or the destruction of wild space to ease congestion. Bumper stickers do not an environmentalist make. It is time we walked away from these destructive metal boxes, and demanded alternative forms of transportation. Or better yet, maybe we should just slow down, stay close to home and start to heal our planet.
Sooner or later Americans will have to decide if they are enjoying life in the fast lane (which now averages about 30 MPH). If by chance they decide they like the road to nowhere, then I say everybody get a cellular phone, so while we are sitting in gridlock we can reach out and touch someone. The Number? 911.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer and an active member of the Green and environmental community.