Where The Highways End

Way back in the late 1800s, the first automobiles rolled down the dirt roads. The age of the combustion engine that took us places was born. If we knew now what we didn’t know then, would we have proceeded to build the highways and byways of the rough beast?

At first, there were just byways, and when people saw an automobile, they all gathered around in wonder. Some laughed. Some envied and wanted one for themselves. After all, the question of exhaust didn’t exist. Exhaust was likened to a horse farting after it dropped a load on the dirt roadway.

Little by little, more and more people, mostly the rich, bought the horseless carriage, and the commoners envied them—at least, those who weren’t laughing. There’s an old cartoon in which a horse-drawn wagon pulls up to a broken-down automobile and says, “Get a horse.”

But the die was cast. Henry Ford, master of the production line, figured out a way to build cars so that even common working folk could buy them. Ford went forth and did this, and soon, people were clamoring for roads that would be worthy of their horseless carriages—those beasts with horses under the hood, the beast that never shit but farted into the atmosphere non-stop.

One century later, our country was covered in roads, and everyone except a few had an automobile, or maybe two or three per family.

When I was at Livingston High School back in 1962, the school even had a student parking lot, and everyone, barring a few, yearned to turn 17 years old so they could get the magic ticket that would allow them to drive. I went from bicycles to hitchhiking rides to owning my first car, which was a big eight-cylinder Plymouth Belvidere flip-top, with the unique gimmick of a push-button transmission.

That gimmick didn’t last too long. It was too easy to blow the tranny, and many folks did. I wasn’t one of them though. What happened to me was that the linkage from the gas pedal to the carburetor got stuck, and down the road I raced, popping the neutral button when I wanted to slow down, and it was the engine that blew instead.

When it came to cars, I used to call myself “a final owner,” because when I possessed it, I was the last one to have it before it went to the junkyard.

We even went cruising for fun—down the highways and the byways. Of course, the byways were rapidly turning into four-lane roads. In California, the roads were sometimes twelve lanes wide and filled with cars, from stem to stern. At rush hour, when people were going to work and back, the highways turned into giant parking lots because there were just too many cars.

Of course, humanity didn’t get the picture yet. If 100,000 horses let out an occasional fart before dropping their loads, it couldn’t compare to millions and millions of cars with exhaust pipes that never stopped pushing carbons. It’s not pleasant to stick your nose in an exhaust pipe, and only a few dumb kids used to do it for kicks and then they would fall to the ground with a bunch of dead brain cells. Humans are like that.

Now I want to paint a picture for you. Look around at all the cars in your city. Let’s take Boston, because I live in the Boston area, and we have a lot of highways that turn into parking lots during rush hour. While the cars are sitting still, with their passengers listening to music or talk-talk radio, the cars, trucks and buses never stop farting carbon into the air.

Imagine, if you will, if you could fuse all the exhaust pipes in the Boston area into one big pipe—how big would that pipe be? Now take that exhaust pipe, Boston’s pipe, and fuse it with all the exhaust pipes of all the cities in the world. That’s mind boggling, isn’t it?

I don’t know how many combustion vehicles there are, but it appears that there are enough to change our atmosphere and alter the Earth. Ice caps are melting, storms are increasing in intensity and the shorelines are being inundated with water. Why, even the subways of New York City were flooded with water during Hurricane Sandy.

The New Jersey shoreline has retreated as the ocean has crept up on us too. Who could have imagined that a few horseless carriages could have multiplied like rats in a city all over the world and changed our entire ecological structure? And it’s still coming folks.

There are those that say Miami, Florida, will be underwater by the year 2100, and, even if we changed our game plan, the ocean is already in motion, and it’s too late to stop it. Most of Florida could be underwater all the way to Orlando. That would make Disneyland the beach—is that advantageous?

Half of Boston could be underwater by the year 2100, according to a whole bunch of climatologists. If that’s the case for Boston, how about New Orleans? It’d be like Venice, I guess.

But we like to drive, even though it’s not fun anymore. It’s just a way of getting from one place to another. In the house I live in, there are three cars in the driveway, one per person. I’d rather ride my bicycle and hope that, as I enter my late 60s, I’m able to continue doing that.

The one thing I don’t know—well, one of the many things I don’t know—is where all the highways will end in the near future. Only the Duck Boats can drive off the end of the highways into the water. Our children’s children will stand where the highways run into the ocean, and they’ll wonder why we didn’t understand what we were doing. Then, they’ll get on their bicycles and ride back into what’s left.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.