The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Of automobiles and iPods

I stumbled across a fabulous quote from the 1979 NY Times in Kenneth Jackson's book, Crabgrass Frontier. Writes McDonald Harris:

"The human animal has two profound and conflicting impulses; he wants to be safe and warm, snug, enclosed, 'at home.' And he wants to roam the wide world, to see what is out there beyond the horizon. The automobile is a kind of house on wheels, but it will take you anywhere you want to go. You can conduct your sex life in it, you can eat and drink in it, go to the movies, listen to Vivaldi or the Stones, and you can dominate others, if you have more power and are adept with the gearshift lever. It is a whole existence. Or it is till the gas runs out."

Now, we don't really use cars in the Big Apple, though I'm sure we often look out the window of our room and wistfully dream of driving through Greenwich, CT at high speeds while really really rich farts hug the sidewalk to avoid us. But here, we (I, at least), have the subway. Not quite the same, but I think an argument could be made to echo Harris' point.

My take: "The subway traveler is the most modern of men, trying to get from location to location with the least amount of delay or interaction. In the subway, you can eat and drink, watch your mini-DVD player, listen to Vivaldi or the Stone Temple Pilots on your iPod, and you can read your newspaper so as to completely avoid ever having to look at the guy across the way. Human interaction, oh if we could only avoid such awkward interactions. When the doors "woosh" open, we rush from the N to the A as those who are most adept at threading Times Square foot traffic dominate others. The travel is your whole existence, and you desperately attempt to recreate the conditions of a car on an open road by immersing yourself in distractions in order to convince yourself that you are in your own private world, even while you share a sticky metal pole with a Hungarian midget and a beat-boxing Hispanic boxer. It is a whole existence. Or it is till the Metro Card hits empty."


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