Late afternoon. Fall. California’s infamous 405 Freeway snakes ten-laned, Hydra-like through Long Beach, Torrance, Carson, Hawthorne, and a half dozen mini-cities within the Los Angeles mega-complex. Slowly, ever so slowly, haltingly, like corpuscles of blood in arteries too constricted to flow freely, cars carrying their cocooned human cargo slog from bedroom community to work and back in a never-ending circuit. These commuters, outwardly appearing short on optimism, pass obliviously through a landscape, both physically and sociologically varied as one could imagine – everything from mountain vistas to blank concrete walls.
On the other hand, they seem bravely aware of the fragility to which they have surrendered themselves: one careless fellow driver, one automotive flaw, one foolishly fearless animal, and the whole well-endowed but clearly ill-planned system collapses into terminal ennui. Intent, aware, always alert to the dangers of the slow-motion road, yet mesmerized by the everyday boredom of the commuting cycle, the drivers relentlessly crawl forward to their various destinations. Yes, fearlessly they pursue their seemingly endless to-and-fros.
A soon-to-be thing of the past, this commuting. Self-driving cars are on the horizon. But for now, in an unending stream, these iron-carapised victims of our culture caterpillar endlessly from the new-day freshness of the sunrise East and return in the evening, apparently consumed, West, into the sunset’s slashing light, and the impending darkness and gloom. Do their steel shells (now increasingly more plastic and carbon fiber) protect them or imprison them? Physically, psychologically, and sociologically the answers are probably as diverse as are the drivers. I cannot but feel that these commuters, the backbone of our culture, the major contributors of the beehives that are our cities, deserve better. Bring on those self-driving cars.