Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Story Notes for "Flat Crossing"

The Taco Bell restaurant where I often go to write is located next to a train track.

I was sitting there one day, when I had decided to write a spontaneous microfiction story.  Nothing planned.  No idea what I was going to write about.  Just write it.  I sat there, staring out the window at the safety wall that kept people from wandering onto the tracks, and a train went by.

And I thought about how in the 1970s, urban planners intentionally placed freeways between good and bad neighborhoods to keep people from the wrong side of the tracks from stepping outside their neighborhoods and doing horrible things like, you know, shopping at stores with better prices and higher quality goods.

It is ironic, I think, that since then, the paradigm has shifted to the gated community: so now, instead of hemming in the poor, the rich put themselves in a prison.

And now we've evolved further: even where we aren't trying to keep anybody anywhere, we're so wrapped up in this separation culture that we make it nearly impossible to be a relaxed and ordinary pedestrian.  We don't live close to where we work or play.  Often, if you want to take a walk you need to drive to a place to do it.  Or, if you live in a suburban community, you don't have any place to walk to.  If you want to go to he store, you have to jump in the car.

My family moved into the city so that we could walk places.  But we find many of our neighbors who are new to the city have a suburban mindset, and they want to restrict things and manipulate traffic flows, all so that the city is more like the suburbs -- more separate and formal.

A few years ago I read a calcualtion by a scientist, who surveyed studies which talked about how Americans were gaining weight at a rate that was about the equivalent of 100 calories a day.  And he then calculated the amount of calories that "convenience" accounts for -- things like how much less you walk when you pay at the pump rather than go into the store to pay for gas -- and found that added up to about 100 calories a day.

This isn't a matter of people being lazy, this scientist complained.  We have set up a system that pushes people to be lazy.  We cater so strongly to convenience that we end up punishing people for trying not being lazy.  We have walls and train tracks and freeways all over our culture.

All that might have been in the back of my mind, but I wasn't really thinking about it when I wrote the story "Flat Crossing."  I was just thinking about how that wall was there to keep people off the tracks, and how, so often, the tracks were there to keep people from jumping the wall.  And how ironic it is that we take so much trouble to draw these lines in our lives.

See you in the funny papers. 

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