Some things don't change at all.
Don't place a suicide watch on me because of the death preoccupation here. I tried improving this draft but failed to make something I liked better. This is an entry for the Car Busters Post-Petroleum Writing Contest of 2005.
Some things don't change at all.
Mariano José de Larra walked by a plaza in Madrid mobbed with buyers and sellers on Christmas Eve 1836. A monstrous mouth, he imagined, rose from the frenzy as Madrid went on consuming, oblivious. “...se come una ciudad a las demás” he wrote, “...one city eats the others.” Two months later he killed himself.
People still kill themselves.
I closed my reader and sat silent in the muted machine-hum of the language lab. I was thinking of story ideas. The CarSavers Collective had sent out a call for stories about what life was like when there still were personal automobiles. What could I write?
150 years ago cars started to lose their habitat where I live. The last highway widening in the county was approved in 2015, and by 2035 infill and improved transit made my neighborhood almost livable for people without cars. I had been lukewarmly involved in car-free activism at the time. Now those who had been leaders among the activists were trying to save the last suburb in the US as a sort of holocaust museum. Hence the writing contest.
I put on my hat and sweater, stuffed my reader in my bag, and walked out of the lab—just as I had done 150 years earlier, I realized. I would be home in about 20 minutes. I skipped down the four flights of stairs and walked out towards the university plaza. The light was on in Nicole's lab.
“Nicole, are you there?” I hollered.
“No!” a voice shouted down, “She went home to cook.”
Nicole, my wife of 120 years, had tired of my one-pot special, and sometimes rushed to beat me to the stove. Well, so be it. No one gets married these days—but Nicole and I did, three years before The Never Age was published and 10 years before White solved the last problem of the aging complex.
And that guy de Larra killed himself at 28! What is left for the discontents to bitch about these days? Every issue I can think of from the car era no longer exists. The most dynamic elements providing the greatest contrast are the people in the Mars settlements and those in the natural lifespan movement. Just as we've managed to preserve two uncontacted aboriginal tribes in their separate preserves, the natural lifespan people want isolated lands where they can have children and grow old and die.
Even without a preserve, plenty of people are choosing to die. How many have drunk the Rapture Juice? Those of us who stay on have found something to work on for eons. In my case that's studying world literatures. Nicole modifies insects. There does remain a lower social class of sorts. Humans do continue to fight for resources, mostly to deal with large-scale climate changes.
I just take the time as it comes. It is endless. No one actually lives forever, of course. Those who don't like the world they've been born into—or very often it turns out to be aspects of the social position and the body they've been born into—usually have managed to die by age 50. There is the endless debate about how much effort should be made to help those in poorer regions with less capacity to earn to avoid having to age. People still strive materially, but not for oversized personal trucks.
Pointing my feet homeward, I mulled over the CarSavers Collective's “save the suburb” plan. I avoided the leafleters for the upcoming World Parliament elections as I walked past the transit stop. Hardly anyone commutes on the train nowadays—only the youngsters who have not yet chosen or been able to buy a place in their neighborhoods. Even so, the transit stop remains a neighborhood center. Just as in 1836 in Madrid, we have our plaza market. In the car era there were massive indoor stores that people drove to. Ghent and Ceaser are trying to save a remnant of that sort of thing.
They want us to remember how a terrible planning mistake had been made creating a land of social and asphalt deserts. Not only did we poison our own air and water and kill and maim our own people, but we destroyed the lands and the peoples from which we extracted the resources to make and to run our cars. The social wasteland we created led people to turn to drugs and to food for emotional reward, and North American suburb-dwellers became the fattest people in the world.
What other planning mistake could be as devastating as the decision to design human communities around personal automobile use? Even if they could get people to keep living there and to keep driving their cars, what possible value could there be in preserving that last living suburb?
Well, they have their arguments and their supporters. As for me, little has changed from the car era but the land and the social environment I live in. What I mean is that I'm still studying literature. I still have a 20-minute walk home. When people around here stopped driving though, I finally got to have a girlfriend again.
Ah—and my parents and grandparents had to die. That doesn't happen anymore.
As I let myself in the front door, I swatted at a moth that had followed me home.