I believe the physical isolation and socio-economic segregation afforded by the automobile are integral to the cultural alienation and political bipolarization which afflict our times. There can be no meaningful discourse among us if we spend most of our lives withdrawn into suits of armor – metaphorical or actual.
For it is not merely the shells of automobiles which separate us – it is the lifestyles and community patterns we have built to accommodate them.
I think of the tremendous joy I felt mingling with the crowds on Madison’s Capitol Square during the last few months. Then I think of how terribly lonely I felt yesterday, standing with a campaign sign along Main Street in the village of Oregon as rush hour traffic surged by. Yes, some drivers honked their horns and flashed a thumbs-up – and more than a few cursed me and flipped me the bird – but there was precious little HUMAN connection in any of it. For these motorists I did not persist; like the torrent of images on a television screen I was a phenomenon that rapidly came up before them and just as quickly vanished in the rear-view mirror.
And yet one great irony struck me amidst this fleeting interaction: how many motorists seemed to resent my imposition on their solitude – as though I was standing in their backyard peeking through their windows. Is this our expectation – that motoring is a personal and anonymous act, and that public thoroughfares are extensions of our private property?
P.S. You may ask why I chose Main Street. Because it is the closest thing to a “public square” in my village.