Big and Blue in the USA

I was directed to a wonderful curmudgeonly rant in The Orion. It’s worth the time to read the whole thing.

What we see all over our nation is a situational loneliness of the most extreme kind; and it is sometimes only recognizable in contrast to the ways that people behave in other countries. Any culture, after all, is an immersive environment, and I suspect that most Americans are unaware of how socially isolated they are among the strip malls and the gated apartment complexes. Or, to put it another way, of what an effort it takes to put themselves in the company of other people.

This pervasive situational loneliness, of being stuck alone in your car, alone in your work cubicle, alone in your apartment, alone at the supermarket, alone at the video rental shop — because that’s how American daily life has come to be organized — is the injury to which the insult of living in degrading, ugly, frightening, and monotonous surroundings is added.

We chose our house specifically to be within walking/biking distance of our kids’ school, and we’re within walking distance of both the GO Train and the subway. So we’re not in complete suburban hell; we can get lots of places without our car. My new commute is going to be ugly, though.

Our neighbourhood is relatively old (for Canada :), but it suffers many of the problems of modern suburban life. There are few amenities within walking distance (and particularly, no pub :). There used to be a grocery store, but it closed; Dominion decided that small stores were not cost effective. It’s now a Shopper’s Drug Mart, which does carry emergency rations, but it’s not the same. There is a small bakery close by, and (ugh) a KFC. Fairview Mall is walkable, but it is its own kind of wasteland. We have lots of parks and ravines, but they seem to be the terrain of the dog walkers. On the plus side, NYGH and three medical buildings are all in walking distance :)

I’d love to be able to walk and bike more (other than as recreation), but it’s not terribly practical. I’d love to cut my (non-car) commute down below an hour each way, but again, not practical; even if we lived downtown, we’d then have to commute uptown to take our kids to school.

People joke about how we can walk to IKEA. Who would want to walk to IKEA? I’d rather drive there, and walk to the grocery store.

(Can you tell I’m not looking forward to driving to work next year?)

(via Philip Greenspun).

posted at 10:51 pm on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 in Rants | Comments (1)

1 Comment

  1. Jeff K says:

    The curmudgeon’s stuff is total hogwash, top to bottom. Having things spread out increases efficiencies of scale. You even pointed it out. Walking to a grocery store when you own a car is, well, I’ll be charitable and call it dumb.

    In this day and age of varied interests, you can’t have a baseball diamond, pool, scrabble club, yacht club, ham radio club, chiropractic, Rosicrucian or Masonic temple and psychic reader on every street corner you know. [nor apparently a book store that stocks Goethe, Jung or Freud ANYWHERE in the city]

    ..and Psychoanalytical techniques and self-help clinics are too time-consuming to give people with troubles in there life anything other than Prozac or beer, and as near as I can tell the beer drinkers prefer beer to self-help and psychoanalysis anyway. I’ll assume Prozac has the same effect, I don’t know much about it.

    Continue to drive your car and let the government worry about installing nuke plants in the Alberta oil sands [to extract fuel]. Trust the Government!

    Oh, wait, the Don Valley is a hopelesss write-off of an unupdated highway.

    Do you meet many intellectuals at your local pub? Walking in the street? Perhaps it was the intellectuals on the subway who got paranoid about that one guy’s metal suitcase?

    So far the only conversation I’ve had on the subway or streets of Toronto in the last year was some schizophrenic who snapped his fingers in my face and babbled as well as someone who had never seen a palm top and someone who had never seen a 200mm zoom lens. In Ottawa, walking around, I was offered dibs on a shipment of alcohol and cigarettes. There were no other spontaneous conversations, well except for the drunk in Bayward market who was spouting profanties and 6-pack-logic to passers by who took a moment off to tell Jennifer that God loved her.

    The curmudgeon’s approach is completely vacant.

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