No passing an ongoing rant

Admit it. If you commute to work in your car and you drive through suburbs, you’ve been stuck behind a school bus at some point. And like me every once in a while, you may have found yourself cursing out loud at the behemoth in front of you, then feeling guilty for the cursing. Of course you should have to stop for a school bus. On both sides. Of course it’s a good idea. Even people who don’t have children of their own probably agree. I agreed with it before I had a son of my own. He doesn’t ride the bus (yet), but any law that objectively enhances the safety of children is valid in my book.

But that leads me to this: We shouldn’t need this law. Call it idealism, maybe, but if we had decent, well-designed roads with sidewalks and crosswalks, and drivers who were skilled and gave a shit, we wouldn’t. This brings me back to one of my long-standing peeves: sidewalks and bike paths, or the lack of ‘em. (Another reason I have affection for Rachel Maddow – she loves to get geeky about the unsexy subject of infrastructure.)

If we planned our communities instead of leaving them to the whims of developers concerned only about the almighty dollar, we might have schools and shopping centers and gathering places within walking and biking distances of homes, not this moronic and unsustainable sprawl. We’d have sidewalks and bike paths and playgrounds and all of that, and cut down on traffic, danger from traffic, use of fossil fuels, emissions from using those fuels, and use of energy in general. We’d increase fitness levels, and most important of all, provide the means for a sense of COMMUNITY. Oh shit, there’s that word, with the same root as that dreaded Stalin/Marx/Mao thing… what was it called?

I’m guilty of it, too. I live in a house far from any real cultural centers. Sure, there are carbon-copy strip malls everywhere, but how does that help in bringing a sense of community? I’ve noticed this since living here in the US: people can be so isolated from one another. I hardly see my neighbors, barely remember their names. I admittedly am far more interested in international news and issues than what happens locally – local issues hold no interest for me because I’m not involved. Sure, it’s partly my fault. But the way we do things is not conducive to people being involved. It’s not encouraging. When it’s dangerous to walk to a friend’s house a couple of streets away because there are no sidewalks, we drive. And no wonder we don’t have a sense of community, we never talk to each other because we’re always in OUR FUCKING CARS! I ride my bike a lot (for fitness, rarely for transportation), and to see the incoherent rage of the imbeciles whom I dare to slow down because of my meager human-powered perambulation is saddening. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been honked at for no good reason, and even run off the road on occasion because some frazzled mom was late getting her kids to soccer or just wasn’t paying attention (or whatever), wrapped up in her own world. Oops, I just used a woman for my example of bad drivers. Guys can be just as bad, usually in a different, more aggressive way.

Back to community. I have to bring up Germany again. Yes, I know it’s a tiny country compared to ours and the logistics just don’t compare. But there are bike and pedestrian paths everywhere, not to mention a stellar public transportation system. Sense of community? I used to see people sweeping the sidewalk in front of their home. The sidewalk – not part of their property. (OK, knowing the Germans, it’s probably a law.) But there was always more of a sense of community there to me.

Besides there not being any real connectedness between us, I guess my sense of community, or rather the lack of it, stems from no sense of history and culture. Rather than grand stone buildings with admirable design, we have cookie-cutter housing developments, the houses built out of wood and drywall I can put my foot through. Rather than well-respected businesses that have been in the same family for a century or more, we have ugly little pre-fab strip malls, whose tenants seem to change yearly. Rather than locally-owned, dedicated, and homey restaurants of all kinds, we have slick, neon fast-food chains that serve up grease-laden hunks of mush. Am I too critical of my own country? It’s all out of love and a wish to improve it, man. Well, most of it. Believe me, I have plenty of critiques of my other favorite country, Germany, besides the thing that happened a few decades ago. That’s for another rant.

How to resolve this lack of a sense of community I see here? A confluence of many things, and that’s for the many people smarter than I. But for a start, let’s build some damned sidewalks and bike paths and some community places we can be proud of – and I ain’t talkin’ any more churches. That’s also for another rant. Oh, if I had the time, volumes I could fill. Humor me – writing about things I like just ain’t as interesting.

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