Some Expected Things
Three things I like about America are fast food, suburban sprawl, and traffic jams.
No, I’m not writing this from the mental health facility where my family has sent me to get some “rest.”
Not that I couldn’t use a little psychiatric treatment… But my own personal form of taking Prozac is listening to “Traffic on the 3s” every 10 minutes on WBZ Boston news radio – 1030 on my AM dial.
The Traffic Jam as Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor
Nothing cheers me up more than a Boston traffic jam – when I’m not in it.
I live to heck and gone in the New England back country where there isn’t any traffic. However, I get lonely out here and feel isolated and down in the dumps sometimes, especially when New England weather is crap the way it was this spring… and last winter… and so far this summer… and probably this fall.
Good weather is so rare here that we don’t even have a word for it and just stand around with our mouths gapping open, rendered speechless by sunshine.
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Anyway, when I get depressed, I tune into the WBZ traffic report, and I’m instantly full of optimism, good feelings, and love for life… Compared with the people in Boston who are stuck in traffic… which would be all of them. WBZ has a slogan for its traffic report: “Boston – it’s an hour’s drive from Boston.”
Why Boston traffic is so bad, I don’t know. Boston isn’t a huge city. In fact, it’s less populous than Columbus, Ohio, or Charlotte, North Carolina. And Boston drivers are notoriously aggressive – curb-jumping, left-turning-on-red, one-way-wrong-waying, lead-foot lane-hopping lions in the zebra crossing.
They should, by all rights, be able to hot rod their way out of any traffic tie-up. (Why don’t Boston drivers use turn signals? That would be giving classified information to the enemy.)
But Boston has something called “the Leverett Connector.” This is where I-93, Rt. 1, Rt. 3, Rt. 28, Storrow Drive, the Charles River, Boston Harbor, the Zakim Bridge, the Callahan Tunnel to Logan Airport, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway all meet. If you’re coming into Boston from the north… or south… or east… or west… you will end up in the Leverett Connector. You may not mean to, but you will.
And if you want to go to Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, the bar that inspired Cheers, Fenway Park, or a Celtics or Bruins game, you’ll end up in the Leverett Connector.
Even if you’re headed someplace that’s nowhere near the Leverett Connector, such as Gillette Stadium, you’ll end up in the Leverett Connector. It’s the Murphy’s Law of driving in a city where a lot of people have the last name Murphy.
However, if you’re not in Boston – the way I’m not in Boston – it doesn’t matter into what depths of despair you may have fallen. You can turn on WBZ any time, night or day, even 3:03 AM on a Monday morning, and hear those wonderful inspiring words that will snap you out of your gloom and put joy back into your heart: “It’s a sea of brake lights in the Leverett Connector.”
Actually, I like traffic jams even when I am in one. (Though not in the Leverett Connector. People have gone through puberty, grown to adulthood, and gotten old between the exit from the Zakim Bridge and the entrance to the Callahan Tunnel.)
I like traffic jams because they give me a chance to look at my fellow Americans while they’re doing what most defines us as Americans – being stuck in a traffic jam.
And what a land of equal opportunity this is! Seeing hundreds of my fellow countrymen in their cars makes it clear that, in America, no one is too intellectually challenged, differently abled, emotionally fragile, beset by anger management issues, encumbered by dementia, or burdened by obsessive-compulsive disorders involving personal communications devices, burritos, and Grande caffè lattes to have a car. (And – presumably – a driver’s license.) There may be discrimination in this country, but not on the highways.
It’s better for everyone that these people are stuck in traffic – you don’t want them at home. Traffic jams ensure they’ll never get there.
And the cars are interesting. Pickup trucks have grown enormous. They’re full-size, four-door luxury sedans except as tall as a house and with doorsills so high that you have to stand on a Prius to get inside. What are these pickup truck drivers picking up? The pickup beds are the width and depth of a backyard above-ground pool, and there’s never anything in them.
Yet, in the next lane over, there will be a Fiat 500 with a mattress and a box spring bungee-corded to the roof, a back seat full of moving cartons and kitchen appliances, and a sectional couch hanging out of the hatchback. Do we need to introduce these folks to each other?
Also, where did minivans go? You see fewer and fewer of them. Almost every family used to have a minivan. They’re inexpensive and space-efficient with room for six or eight kids in the back and all of their skateboards, terrain park skis, mountain bikes, lacrosse sticks, and a regulation soccer goal net.
Is it possible that parents are using SUVs to drive their children deep into the wilderness to feed them to wolves?
But minivans seem to have been replaced by much more expensive and much less space-efficient SUVs with the kind of off-road capability I had no idea that ordinary parents needed. We know America’s average family size is getting smaller. Is it possible that parents are using SUVs to drive their children deep into the wilderness to feed them to wolves?
Suburban Sprawl – Beauty Is In the Me of the Beholder
I like suburban sprawl because it all looks alike. When we leave our rural home and “go into town,” we go to a commercial strip on Rt. 101A in Nashua, New Hampshire. It looks exactly like every other commercial strip in America – same big box stores, gas stations, franchise restaurants, car dealerships, vape shops, nail salons, and hairdressing establishments with “funny” names… Curl Up & Dye.
You’d have no idea you were in New England unless you happened to catch sight of the leaves turning orange in the fall on the couple of sickly maples that Target has planted in its parking lot islands. You could be anyplace – Los Angeles, Phoenix, Orlando.
This cuts down greatly on travel expenses. No need to take a flight to Los Angeles, Phoenix, or Orlando.
What’s so bad about suburban sprawl being so much alike? People are alike. They should be treated the same no matter their gender, sexual preference, race, ethnicity, or religion. So why is it a bad thing when people act alike? And what’s wrong with them being treated the same at the same big box stores, gas stations, franchise restaurants, car dealerships, vape shops, nail salons, and hairdressing establishments?
Yes, Suburban sprawl is ugly… Or is it? I’ve been to Venice, Italy. A great beauty spot, I’m told. All I saw in St. Mark’s Square was a waving field of selfie sticks from 10,000 Chinese tourists. The sickly maples in the Target parking lot are attractive by comparison.
And just try parking in Venice. There are limits to the off-road capabilities of even the best SUV. Bring your snorkel. (And get a tetanus shot.)
In the suburbs, you’ve got fresh air and sunshine without your only friend being Lassie, who has to rescue you from a well every week.
Parking is easy in the suburbs. Everything is easy in the suburbs. It’s the best place to grow up. You’ve got lots of other kids to play with (unless their parents have been feeding them to wolves) and, unlike the city, you’ve got places to play where you aren’t constantly being run over by Uber drivers.
And, unlike the country, you’ve got fresh air and sunshine without your only friend being Lassie, who has to rescue you from a well every week. (I know about these things. We raised our kids in the country and, lacking a collie with a Mensa IQ, had to do it ourselves standing on the back steps yelling, “Get the @#$% out of the well!”)
My only worry about suburban sprawl is that Internet shopping will drive malls out of business. Without malls where will suburban kids hang out? (Kids hate fresh air and sunshine.)
Malls are good places for kids… compared with the Internet. There are no “Alt Right” shops at the mall. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t have a retail outlet where she sells socialism to young people. The “messaging” at malls is inclusive and all about good old-fashioned capitalism.
There’s no porn at the mall, if you don’t count Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bags. There’s not much that’s truly loathsome, unless you hate the Marvel superhero movies at the Cineplex as much as I do. At the mall the scope of evil is pretty much limited to shoplifting, which is bad, but, according to Barnes & Noble, it’s something that Jeff Bezos has been doing for years.
Would you rather have your kids hanging out at the mall or hanging out on the Internet? Zara is closed at 2 a.m. when kids are supposed to be asleep. The Internet isn’t.
Fast Food – It’s Fast and It’s Food
Anyone who complains about American fast food is too young or too dumb to recall the greasy spoons that came before franchise restaurants.
You’d be driving down the highway and everybody in the car was hungry, and you’d have to pull over to whatever was along the roadside with a big sign out front that said, “Eat and Get Gas.”
And, depending on the circumstances, pricier sit-down restaurants aren’t necessarily what we want instead of McDonald’s. Now that legalized marijuana has become ubiquitous, we can be frank about this… Has anyone ever smoked a joint and had a “pâté foie gras attack?”
Fast food may be contributing to America’s obesity problem. But take me to a Michelin 3-star French bistro, and I’m going to order things that are much more fattening than a Big Mac. Starting with that pate foie gras, and going straight to escargots in garlic butter sauce, roasted duck breast (1,500 calories and 25 grams of fat), asparagus hollandaise, potatoes au gratin, crème brûlée, and a big wedge of cheese washed down with two bottles of 1996 Chateau LaTour.
At least when I emerge from between the golden arches, I’m just fat – not fat and broke.
Plus, some fast food is delicious by any standards – In-N-Out Burger, Chick-fil-A, Whataburger.
I fondly remember when that icon of suburban sprawl, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, first came north. It was in the 1980s, when I lived in New York and was dating a stylish young lady from New Orleans who was full of scorn for Yankee cooking. She claimed a decent meal could not be had north of the Mason-Dixon line. Every few weeks she’d have a dinner party, inviting guests for “a real southern treat.”
But the stylish young lady could not cook. What she did was sneak down to the only Popeyes in the city, which was in a scary neighborhood on 42nd Street. She’d come home with her Vera Bradley bag full of spicy white and dark, biscuits, Cajun Fries, red beans and rice, and jambalaya. She’d stick them in silver serving dishes and everyone would rave.
It’s a Free Country
And I like that. We Americans are supposed to be able to do what we want to do. And what we want to do is obvious.
Fifty-two percent of us live in the suburbs. On any given day, 37% of us will eat fast food. And, as far as I can tell, 100% of us are stuck in a traffic jam in the Leverett Connector.