Posts Tagged ‘Transportation’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

(This post follows somewhat thematically with the wonderful posts written this week by Michael Stelzer Jocks and Tricia Lunt. Read those, too!)

The first time I heard of the internet was in the early 1990s while my family was at the Rosemont Convention Center. My parents were at a Pet Expo on the main floor, and my older brother and I sneaked upstairs to a small computer show.

My 8-year-old brain didn’t retain much from that afternoon, except a foggy memory of standing still and listening intently to a “grown up” (who was probably 23) tell us about this amazing computer program called Prodigy that allowed people to do amazing things like order items from Service Merchandise. My mind was absolutely blown. I could now order a blender, a vacuum cleaner, and a Phillips CD-i without leaving my bedroom!

I linked out to info on “Prodigy,” “Service Merchandise,” and “Phillips CD-i” for everyone under 30.

I linked out to info on “Prodigy,” “Service Merchandise,” and “Phillips CD-i” for everyone under 30.

Twenty-three years later, this internet thing has really caught on! It’s WAY more than just a fancy alternative to mail order catalogs. And forget being “home” for internet access; lots of us have the internet in the palm of our hands – literally – with smartphones.

The extraordinary advancements in computers and mobile technology make me proud of human ingenuity and I’m giddy to see what technology will come next.

But then there are days like yesterday, when I was stuck in traffic for three hours, that I start to lose faith in humankind’s collective ability to be, ya know, smart n’ stuff.

My drive to work on a normal day takes about 50 minutes. A wee bit long, but not unreasonable. However, yesterday, rain coupled with car accidents turned I-57 and I-94 heading into Chicago into a stream of idle metal boxes. Rather than arrive an hour early to work, as planned, I arrived an hour late.

traffic2

Like all people, traffic makes me angry. I’m angry at whoever caused the accident. I’m angry at all the other people around me for clogging the road by deciding they should also go to work today. I’m angry at myself for not clairvoyantly predicting this dilemma and setting out from home even earlier than I did.

On top of all of that, I’m angry at us humans, because whenever I’m stuck in traffic staring at a sea of brake lights, I always think the same thing: We’ve got to be able to do better than this.

Ford Model T

Ford Model T

Automobiles have been around for nearly 130 years, and started becoming common over 100 years ago with the Ford Model T. A century later, we’re still driving around – sticking it out to the bitter, expensive, polluting, trafficky end. Sure, cars have improved, but they’re still cars. This is humankind’s brilliant solution to the simple problem of how to get from Point A to Point B: sit on top of four wheels and roll around slowly and inefficiently.

There has to be a better answer.

In the early 2000s, I overheard two of my college professors discussing this secret project that was in the news. Apparently, this project was for a new invention that would revolution transportation. I did some research, but everything about the project was kept extraordinarily quiet, except the deafening buzz surrounding the product’s unveiling. I imagined it could be the flying car, or personal spaceships, or teleportation. But what was it?

The Segway.

11 1/2 out of 13 people agree that it's possible to raise both hands while riding a Segway.

11 1/2 out of 13 tourists agree that it’s possible to raise both hands while riding a Segway.

Oh how revolutionary it is! Now tourists can take “walking” tours at 1.5x their normal speed! And mall cops can glide effortlessly between Auntie Anne’s and Mrs. Fields, all while striking two-wheeled terror into the hearts of the restless, mall-roaming youths.

But, I suppose I should at least give credit to the Segway for being something slightly different, because therein lies the true difficulty in creativity and innovation: nobody has thought of it yet. It’s easy to propose changes to what currently exists: make cars and trains and planes faster, make their fuel cleaner, make them more comfortable. Build bigger roads, build better rails. All of that may help, and all of it may improve our situation, but none of it is the ultimate answer to transportation. Inventing an ultimate answer from scratch – on any issue – is much more difficult.

Nonetheless, how is it that we can go from Prodigy to iPhones in under a quarter-century, but have been stuck with cars for more than a century? We humans are capable of such magnificent ingenuity, and yet simultaneously, we can be so creatively bankrupt as to accept never-ending brake lights as a solution to anything other than how to raise someone’s blood pressure.

C’mon, humanity. We’re smarter than this. We’ve got to be able to do better.

I hope.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

I remember as a child standing in the mall parking lot, thinking about breakfast. “Mmmm. What smells like waffles?”  I asked my mom. She explained that that delicious smell was antifreeze leaking from the car. Let me tell you, Eggos and Aunt Jemima are not the tools with which to disabuse a child of that notion. Indeed, that breakfast smells uncannily similar to a leaky automobile.

Gross. For some reason, many of my childhood memories revolve around the smells of cars and food, and, disconcertingly (now), those smells are often interchangeable. I remember the sharp plasticky smell of the inside of my parents’ blue Chevy station wagon, which made me think of Smoke-Y-Links (and kind of gave me a headache, to tell you the truth), and I remember pulling into the gas station and breathing deeply the stingy, eye-watering smell that makes me think of Combos and pop (my high school lunch). I also remember watching the waves emanate from the vehicles all around us in a McDonald’s drive thru (not “through”): hot asphalt and fries.

Blech. Now, this post isn’t just about how gross car smells remind me of gross food. It’s about memory.  Much of what I remember about growing up seems to have had to do with being in the car and eating processed foods. I grew up in Mid-Michigan. My stay-at-home-mom was 25 and had 3 small kids to feed while she worked to keep her family and her house in order through buying things at stores (and my dad worked, building cars). In the 1980’s, that meant driving around a lot and eating convenience foods because there was no option to do things any other way: life was too busy. This, of course, was painstakingly designed and unabashedly sold.

Ick. “You, harrowed housewife and busy working man, are FAR too busy for the things that slow life down (growing food, locomoting sans vehicle). Don’t you worry, little lady; we’ve got you covered.”  Thus, we got a country built for cars, and a brand-new (note that descriptor) mindset: convenience.

Thirty years later, we know that those mad men were bs-ing us, and we know two things:

  1. The food that was created and processed (instead of cultivated and cooked) to save us time has brought us epidemics of obesity and cancer, and the notion that someone else should be providing sustenance for our families.
  2. The machine that gets each of us going quickly and bestows upon us independence theretofore unknown, has brought us polluted air, an insatiable thirst for a limited resource, and the notion that we are each in this alone.

So, why do we keep it up? Why do we continue to eat foods that are made from the cheapest, grossest stuff possible and are dangerous to us and damaging to our land and water? Why do we continue to demand to move ourselves around with a 2-ton machine that makes dangerous the air we breathe and helps to change our climate? I think it’s because we don’t yet know the third thing:

  1. We are NOT so busy that we must sacrifice our earth, our health, and our happiness for convenient eating and swift transportation.

“Oh, I would LOVE to grow some of my own food…ride a bike…shop locally…etc., but I simply don’t have the time!”

Sure, it feels that way. We’ve got kids to raise and jobs to do and stuff to buy and television to watch and more money to make and more stuff to buy and more driving to do and…etc. Of course. But, really, we act in accordance with what we value.

The interesting thing is that these are all fond memories for me. I enjoyed the time I spent with my family doing the things that we did. The point is that our world has changed, so we need to change with it. I don’t want to raise my kids in the car headed to McDonald’s or Dominick’s. I want their memories to be of the time we spent growing our own food and getting ourselves around on our bikes. I don’t want them to simply believe that that cinnamon roll and/or chocolate smell wafting over Chicago and the ‘burbs is just some little bakery getting ready for their day. It’s the antifreeze leaking from that car that just passed us, or something way grosser.