Wednesday, February 25, 2004

America is a funny nation for a lot of funny reasons. They all add up to a kind of crazy madness though. I just got home from the big grocery store. I said "big" because yesterday my wife was talking about all the little grocery stores there used to be in her old neighborhood. Now there's a great ugly, white-marbled set of colossal tombstones some 30 stories high sitting in the middle of what was supposed to be the beginning of a huge underground transport system...mostly cars. Instead, the four lanes become two 180 degree turns, dumping the driver out onto the narrow streets of downtown. So for millions and millions of dollars and the wholesale destruction of many neighborhoods with homes and businesses the city traded a potential art district or urban rebirth and got a dead end highway. Brilliant. Nobody mobbed the state house when that happened. Thousands didn't take to the street demanding their money back. They just moved away, insuring the need for the huge boondoggle that didn't work from the get-go. They had to drive their cars into downtown to work.

Further north the highway becomes a true highway, 6 lanes wide with a wide median that is just perfect for a rapid transit line which would decrease traffic jams and decrease pollution. I've been here for about 30 years and no one has really talked about the concept. This 6 lane artery zigs and zags as it approaches the river in order to take as much of certain people's property as possible and to approach the river finally at a 90 degree angle as if that angle would help people cross somehow. Actually, at the last zag the road also climbs a slight incline to make absolutely sure nobody can see around the corner once leaving the bridge. That way you can be sure of getting the maximum traffic jam as everybody slows down In case all the cars are stopped past the hill. Which, by the way, said hill was created to bring the highway over a small side road. As opposed to, say, treating that side road like the other side roads and having it cross the highway on an overpass. That would be less expensive.

Every morning for 8 years I drove that road, stopping at exit 9 for the traditional "Tail of the Dragon" traffic jam. 45 minutes later I'd be across the river, two miles away. Yup, that was fun. Much better than parking my butt at, say, exit 15 and catching a ride on the bullet train from Glens Falls to NYC. So I stopped driving that road. I stopped driving anywhere for money. It made me crazy. Americans make me crazy.

They have these signs on the side of the road, with big black numbers on them. Numbers like "65 MPH". Okay, that's numbers AND letters, but the thing is, nobody apparently reads and understands what that sign means. It means that you have to look at that instrument on your dash and try to match the numbers on the sign with the numbers that red needle is pointing to on your dash. Otherwise you lose and get fined or sent to jail. It's kind of a game. But nobody plays that game, everybody drives many, many miles per hour over the limit.... and why? They don't get anywhere faster because at exit 9 everybody stops, every morning. But above exit 9 they are driving like they were at a Nascar rally and then they stop. Sometimes they slow waaaaaay down to watch someone change a tire.

I was taught in civics class that American government was designed so that we were rules by LAWS instead of EDICTS and that made us special. I believed it. I believed it until I saw four cops throw a priest down to the sidewalk and kick and pound on this old man until he stopped screaming, lay there and took it and then they drove off laughing. Now, I'm a pagan so that priest wasn't special in a holy sense, outside of the fact that all life is holy. I just thought it was a crime that those cops could do that to him and several others, just for being on the sidewalk, apparently. I think it's a shame that pretty much nobody drives the speed limit. I think it's a shame that billions of dollars flow into state government from legalized gambling, something which if the Mafia did, they would be in that prison near my house. I find it hard to see my country as one which is ruled by LAW, not edict. The Law, it appears, it "Everybody, you're on your own!" Except when they arrest you, or kick you, or fire 40 some-odd bullets into your body when you reach for your driver's license.

I know two women who have cops for spouses. Both have told me how great it is never to have to worry about tickets for speeding or parking illegally. They bake cookies or flash their cop-wife ID. The fix is in. Everybody does it, everybody knows it and yet nobody seems to understand the collective influence of these mindsets. Law is not-Law. Disorder is the order of the day. Cheat when you can, hurt if you get the chance. Nobody will describe themselves as evil, but many will admit to occasionally cheating. If a nation is ruled by people who sometimes cheat, sometimes toss out the rules, sometimes say it's a good idea to fire bomb a city far away.... that nation is not so much a nation as an encampment. Like maybe the Mongols had when they did the same thing. An occupation, like our pals overseas are enjoying. A piece of real estate infested by losers who think they are clever, and the rest of the world is on to them.

We Americans love to break the rules, we idolize actors who portray cheats and murderers, we defend pedophile priests and maniac Presidents. We adore women who screw around on their husbands, if they do it for diamonds. It's a funny country and it makes me crazy. My faith says "First, do no harm." and "we are all family". I guess somewhere down the pike we decided that the Jimmy Stewart type was silly and weak and the Rambo type was exciting. Part of the Big Circle, I guess, but it makes me crazy. I'd still like to live in a country ruled by Law, and wouldn't it swell to live in a Democracy? Yeah, that'd be great.

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