It’s May Day in the Sprawl. Just a day like any other day. No one remembers the Cold War, or knows what May Day signifies, they just know the weather has been decent lately and the days are getting longer. People seem to sense the summer coming on. It isn’t oppressive yet, like August, when you walk outside from an air conditioned building and it’s like hitting a wall. The thick, humid atmosphere makes you start to sweat as soon as you enter it. It has the smell of the city. It’s such a dramatic change from indoors that light itself seems to bend as it goes from one medium to the other. Well, like I said, it’s not like that yet…
I’m sensitive to the weather because the car is gone and I’m riding public transportation again. I ride in the discrete annonymity of a brightly lit bus or subway. No one looks at anyone else, just down at their feet. Riding the bus is a humbling experience. In a way, it’s the freedom of not having to worry about a broken car, insurance, and all that goes with owning a car in the Sprawl. But on the other hand, that belief quickly gets old and you are soon enough willing to brave the insane traffic and outrageous parking prices just so you can have that perception that you actually have control of something in your life. You don’t really. The routine of the bus is always the same – as long as you are there on time, you get where you’re going on time. If there is something I like about public transportation, it’s the feeling that I’m on time and more reliable. That is, of course, until the summer repair season hits.
The dog days of summer haven’t hit, but now that the weather is consistant the streets and bridges seem to all be under construction. One thing that has changed little in the past century is the “make-work” programs dreamed up by bureaucrats in the Department of Transportation. If I were a violent man, I might suggest a lynching was in order. Because the union workers won’t work at night, the total cost to the Sprawl of the daily commute has jumped immesurably. Sitting on the bus, as the trip to the University used to take 20 minutes by car, and 40 minutes by bus, now stretches to an unbearable 90 minutes each way. Streets are reduced to single lanes, bridges are blocked off, traffic is re-routed, assholes in cars try to circumvent the queues by passing on the shoulder and waiting for some sap to let them cut in front of the line (and there always is one!) I just know that what has become a pain now will get only worse as it warms up.
One way or another, the construction will go until the fall and then take a break for a few winter months before starting up again. Plenty of time for drivers to forget any of the humility they might have gained by sitting in line each and every morning and afternoon. It’s bad enough that no one knows how to merge or use their blinkers, but the construction just stresses everyone out and pushes them closer to the breaking point in a place where the tension goes up exponentially with the temperature. It’s pretty normal now, which is a sick thing to say, but in the Sprawl in the heat and humidity of August, with the city in gridlock people get road rage and tempers flare. Angry words turn to riots that ripple throughout the streets of the Sprawl. Then the police suit up in their riot gear and suppress the unrest. A few people are killed (maybe blamed on heat stroke or gangs) and curfews are inacted for a month, and some people are arrested and some just disapear. Then the heat dies down and the water rationing ends and the curfews are lifted and the construction season ends. A cycle of discord brought on by an increasingly artificial, antisocial, over-governed, society – consumed by commercialism and blinded by the very technology that was supposed to free it. All I know is that I am glad I have air conditioning and a high-speed data line in my apartment. When the semester ends, I won’t be teaching again until January, and I don’t plan on leaving my aparment or taking the bus unless I absolutely have to, until the temperature and stress level goes back to a safe and bearable level. Maybe I can finish up this job for this Johnson who hired me to locate someone for him, then I can get out of the Sprawl for a while and relax.
Well, it’s my stop. I’ve gotta go.
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