Where The Highways End

Way back, in the way back of the late, late 1800s, the first automobiles rolled down the dirt roads. The age of the combustion engine that took us places had been birthed. 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 did envy them; those that weren’t laughing. There was the old cartoon where the wagon drawn by the horse pulled up to the broken down automobile and said, “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 for their horseless carriages, the beasts with the horses under the hood; the beast that never shit but farted into the atmosphere non-stop.

A hundred years might seem like a long time to the average human being, who lives less than that, unless they are lucky or kissed by genetic qualities that grant them longevity. But just one century later, our country was filled with roadways and everyone, but a few, had an automobile, or maybe two or three per family.

When I was in Livingston High School back in 1962, the school even had a student parking lot and everyone, barring a few, yearned to turn 17 years of age 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 transmission, 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. Down the road I raced, popping the neutral button when I wanted to slow down, and it was the engine that blew instead.

I used to call myself, when it came to cars, “a final owner”, because when I possessed it, I was the last one to have it before it went to the junkyard. Gasoline was 29 cents a gallon, not much more than the price of a pack of cigarettes from the smoke machine; put a quarter in and you get a pack of Lucky Strikes with two pennies taped to the pack for change. Life was different then.

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 12 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 thousand horses let out an occasional fart before they dropped a load, 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 radio, the cars, trucks and buses never stop farting carbon exhaust 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? I’ll bet you’ll have trouble visualizing it, because, as smart as we think we have become, our minds have certain limitations. 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? And they only stop farting when they’re shut down, and there are always cars, buses, and trucks that are running.

I don’t know how many combustion vehicles there are but it appears that there are enough running that our atmosphere is changing and the Earth is being altered. 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, during a hurricane Sandy, were flooded with water.

The New Jersey shoreline has retreated as the ocean is creeping 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 that 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 Disney World 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 that I live in there are three cars in the driveway, one per person. But I’d rather ride my bicycle and I hope that, as I age into my late 60s, I am able to continue doing that.

The one thing I don’t know, well among many things I don’t know really, is, in the near future, where will the highways end? Only the “Duckboats” 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.

–Marc D. Goldfinger





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