But the other day I needed to be in the Sacramento Valley in the morning and back at Stanford by 5:00 p.m., with a few interim stops thrown in. The trip was only possible by car. I left at 5:30 a.m., which let me beat the commuting traffic pretty well, although the incoming traffic was already bumper to bumper and moving slowly because of people living far away in more affordable housing but working in the valley. But coming back I could not beat the traffic, ran out of back roads, and got caught.
I escaped my heart attack by musing about once good products that were no longer compatible with increased population density. The automobile is a truly sophisticated product in many ways —capable of carrying one long distances at high speeds in comfort. Still great if one drives around Eastern Oregon or West Texas—less great shopping in New York City or commuting in Los Angeles (photo by Monica Almeida/The New York Times). If too many of them are put together it becomes a terrible product – a small cell enclosing one and barely moving, if at all, while it pollutes the ecosphere, devours petroleum, and causes one to endure unhealthy changes in one’s vital signs and exhibit sometimes violently anti-social behavior. The present move toward “autonomous” vehicles is probably partly motivated by the fantasy that traffic will move more rapidly and one can entertain oneself by drinking, texting, watching TV, and sleeping as one is transported to work and back. But it may also have the effect of depriving the traveler of diversion and allow him/her more free time to curse and extend one’s middle finger toward others.
There are many products that work well in less populated areas (firearms, un-muffled engines, weed burners,) but not well in cities. Can you think of a few? This probably explains some of the differences in attitudes of people (and our good congressional representatives) toward such issues as high speed railroads and the environment. I would guess that people drilling for oil and gas in North Dakota experience less criticism than those who built platforms off of the shore of Santa Barbara California. And shooting game birds in Wyoming farmland is more acceptable than shooting pigeons in San Francisco’s Union Square.
I would also guess that some of the resistance people have to ever tightening regulations might result from having grown up in more sparsely populated areas and who remember freedoms that are no longer acceptable in densely populated ones. Even I am sometimes guilty of such behavior. I could better get away with throwing the garbage out of the back door in my youth (when there were chickens and orange trees there rather than neighbors) than in my present yard in an upscale community, even though garbage is good compost. And how can people have the nerve to prevent me from using my fireplace? Fireplaces were wonderful products when I grew up in an agricultural area – family and social centers and cheery winter heating. Apparently not so good in suburban Santa Clara Valley, California these days.