Monday, November 16, 2009

Travels Along the Road of Life

The spike in gasoline prices over the past couple years has certainly put a spotlight on transportation costs. Those living in major metropolitan centers have long been accustomed to mass transportation. While some of the debate includes proposals of alternative energies and less individual automobile use, the reality is that some parts of the U.S. will simply cease to be inhabited if we have to cut back on automobile use (not to mention pickup and SUV use).

These places are just not walkable. Personally, I like to live in a walkable area. This is one of the things I love about Boston. Whether I would drive into Boston and park or take the commuter train, I would usually walk from place to place and take the T (subway) if I had to go very far. Once, when my cousin was visiting, we ended up walking most of the Freedom Trail, starting in Boston Common and walking to the North End and back, then to the South End and back. It was a great way to see the city and I never would have found one of my favorite bow ties if we hadn’t passed an out-of-the-way men’s store on foot.

I will confess, however, that my primary joy in walking is the discovery of odd stuff along the way. I’m not an outdoorsy person, so my walks do not typically involve any investigations of the wonders of nature. I prefer walking through urban areas where I can come across some of the strangest objects you can imagine.

This scavenging for trash started at an early age, much to the dismay of my parents. We lived two houses down from the elementary school where my mother taught. Once, just days after school let out for the summer, my sisters and I happened upon an overflowing dumpster at the school. I no longer recall what we brought home, but something beyond repair, which had once, no doubt, been in my mother’s classroom, was probably among the newfound treasures. It was matched the excitement of a trip to the candy store and toy store rolled into one.

In Florida, I have to wait until the winter months to go on these trash hikes. It is not as enjoyable to search for these items drenched in perspiration while developing a severe sun burn. I did manage to pick up a few items on a recent walk. I have been considering incorporating a mosaic made from the shattered remnants of taillights and turn signals. which tend to collect at intersections. I did find some bits for that on my five mile trek, but I need to clean up several accident sites before that project can go into production.

The best find on that journey was parts from a couple different cell phones. They are obviously a little beaten up, as one would expect with something found on the side of the road. I always imagine a scenario that accompanies roadside cell phones. It involves a teenage couple—or perhaps a very immature couple in their twenties—in a heated argument inside a car. Likely, one is jealous and when that one wrong person calls, the phone is apprehended by the jealous party and tossed through an open window of the moving vehicle. Maybe this is another indictment against our gasoline powered culture, but I think it has more to do with selfish people who can’t manage their relationships.

Cell phones are a nice convenience and I am grateful to have one on a long roadtrip, as insurance if anything goes wrong. However, cell phones are one of many elements that comprise the broken state of contemporary interpersonal communications. We do not connect deeply and effectively in our relationships. Quick, needless cell phone calls and many text messages often do more to erode our relationships than strengthen them. And I’m not even touching on the inherent problems of email.

Even the best advances of technology become mute hunks of plastic and metal when they end up under the tire of a car. Quick, short communications have become commonplace. These virtual conversations often take place in public settings and tend to cause the persons involved to momentarily abort their in-person communications. How often is a Twitter message more important than a business lunch or the one-on-one conversations people have on a date?
It seems that many in our contemporary society fear real intimacy. It takes time, effort, and concentration to really get to know another person. It takes the same effort to be known by another. Communications technologies provide the illusion that we are deeply communicating. However, quantity of communication should never be confused with quality. And the very private details of a life that are sometimes broadcast on Facebook and Twitter are a far cry from true intimacy.

Maybe all this is why I like to walk. These days walking is intentional. We often do it because we want to, not because we have to. We move at the pace of the natural world. Perhaps it is time to remember what a human pace really is. Living in our physical bodies is not convenient, but it is a life based on the parameters that we have been given.

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