Wednesday, April 16, 2008

American Mobility in 2010

From the title, you might think that I am talking about social mobility which, despite Horatio Alger's prodigious manufacture of rags-to-riches pulp, is increasingly remote in the new millennium, not because mobility is more or less likely than the prevailing class stability borne out by recent economic and sociological research. Rather, because Alger was NOT typically writing about the migration of mythical Daniel Plainview's to uber-wealth, but chronicling the working man's graduation to the comfort of middle class-dom. And as anyone can plainly see, the American Middle Class is being mowed down like the 29th infantry at Omaha Beach.

The mobility that is my subject is literal mobility, as in, "how will America get around in an age or triple-digit (and rising in real terms) oil prices, coupled with declining real incomes??" I've looked around the world to other nations where energy has, in the past, out of necessity, been used more parsimoniously, in addition to thinking laterally for some suggestions on how America might be getting around in the near future...

Americans have an aversion to The Bus, and for the life of me I cannot figure out precisely "why"? Other peoples have mastered the art of optimising the available real estate on a bus in order to maximise available space, so why not America? Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

Hitchhiking is an obviously better use of resources all around than everyone driving underutilized cars. There are some convenience drawbacks in the more rural regions, and unfortunately the more attractive-looking amongst us (both males and females) must fend off unwanted advances by creeps and perps alike. Despite these inconveniences, we'll likely see a sharp rise in the use of the thumb.

Everyone in Paris under the age of 20 gets around on the trusty and hyper-reliable Trotinette. Even hot BCBG Mommies in Sarkoville-sur-Seine can be seen zipping back and forth on them. My offspring also have them and I will admit that they are both and economical, though one must be careful not to "Smoke & Trot" at the same time.

Americans aren't very big on compromise, but the Indian Rickshaw is precisely that: private livery in a small, but beautifully-decorated highly fuel-efficient motorised transport vehicle. For insight into rickshaw-life and some beautiful pictures of India, go See G. Bharat's independent 2004 work, "Hari Om"

Indians have also mastered the art of using their trains very efficiently. Of course there is also the shinkansen, and TGV as models of why the Train is better than either flying or driving, but admittedly, with America's vast spaces, and under-investment in everything public and everything transport, (ex-roads), the Indian example (seen left) just might be a more appropriate picture of what to expect when America does embrace rail transport.

Underground, metros, subways are all examples of infrastructure investment with substantial longevity and communal benefit. Americans take note: The Paris' Metro, under public ownership is far more pleasant than the semi-public abomination across the channel. Keep fares low and simple, and subsidise deficits if you really want to get people off of the road, and use public transport. There are numerous positive externalities for non-users that disgrace arguments in favor of requiring public transport to parochially pay for itself.

Horses might make a comeback, given their pre-eminence for several thousand years. However. I might suggest that with current urbanisation trends, and high feed prices, in the event of a re-emergence, we will likely more economical models such as the pony pictured left.

As humans, we come equipped at the factory with our very own zero-cost machinery for locomotion, despite the apparent reticence to use it. I, personally, almost always walk to and from the West End from my Chelsky base when in London. And indeed, despite humanity's aversion to walking (or running) great distances CAN be quickly covered as shown in the picture inset (right).

Those desiring more exotic animal-assisted transport might find the Llama both more accomodating and enjoyable given the superior vantage point and added use as a conversation-starter. Apparently, they are attractive since they are less finicky eaters than our equine servants.

"Non-motorized personal transport devices" (such as those pictured) should be encouraged in suburbia and urban areas. Special lanes could be created on the roads or sidewalks, with the added benefit of encouraging American couch potatoes to get off their derrieres and burn some of those 6400 calories in that Big Gulp of Coca-Cola or Mountain Dew just disapparated down one's gullet.

Another potential mode of transport, perfect for the widening income inequality of our time is "The Shield" (and attendant Shield Bearers) seen here as employed by Chief Vitalstatistix, of the rebellious Gaul village where Asterix and Obelix once mythically dwelled. America, has always had lower capital-to-labour ratios than Europeans, given its alledgedly more flexible labour markets, here expressed in its basest form.

Transportation methods come and go according to whim, fashion and necessity. None are more emblematic than the airship (The Good Year Blimp to my American friends, "The Hindenburg" to my European readers). The need for fuel efficient, non-fossil fuel transport may cause the airship to make an explosive comeback, though hopefully less dramatic than the last time.

Can something be both invigorating and, at the same time relaxing? Yes, and it's called The Canoe, a staple of native north american people (Hi Charles!). There is nothing as relaxing as the gentle momentum and silence of being on the water sans internal combustion engine. In England recently, they've apparently discovered the joys of the canoe, swapping their crowded roads for practical self-locomoted pleasure-craft to get around. With rising sea-levels, we will certainly more of this soon in a coastal town near you!

American peoples are oh-so-clever! And they are innovative too! Consider "the Drive-Thru Drugstore", the "Drive-by Shooting" or the now-standard installation of multi-sizing drink-cup holders in our soon-to-be obsolete cars manufactured by any of the Big-Three that adjust to fit McDonald's Super Size or Seven-Eleven's "Big Gulp" (64oz or Super Big Gulp 128oz, latter available on in Pick-Ups) . Simply wondrous! For the lazier but still-green amongst us, American ingenuity offers the Solar Powered Canoe. On second thought, maybe it's a Canadian invention..

But the most popular energy-efficient mode of transport in an age of dear oil, weak dollar and recession, and the simply "must-have" amongst Wall Street and City-types is BTTF DeLorean with the flux capacitor and the fusion generator that runs off garbage. For if there is one thing that America produces an excess of, it's garbage.

Here we see Doc Brown "fueling-up" the BTTF Delorean with a bit of beer and garbage. Of course, if the price of hops keeps rising one might find they've swapped one bonnie situation for another...


werouious said...

friggen awesome post, but you have a few mistakes in there to correct.

love the new frequency of posting too!

Charles Butler said...

Mistakes, Werouious? You've obviously not flung yourself into the archives.

A photo of the farewell canoe trip...

"Cassandra" said...

CB - it's wonderful to have readers sympathetic to my proofreading problems !

I found myself one day at the mouth of the Dumoines where it meets the Ottawa, in a similar "Mad River" or "Old Towne" on a windy day, having need to get to the other side. Wow! I never did THAT ever again!

"Cassandra" said...

oh yeah, and we were weighed down with gear from the tail of 2week trip, so our margin for wave-action error was errrr literally quite low.

Now the Voyageurs, on the other hand. They were REAL men. They would do solo, up-river, what six of us in three canoes with modern kit would do going down-river.

Anonymous said...

They would do solo, up-river---

But the French Voyeurs were promised unlimited beaver at the other end.


Woland said...

So when the fossilized solar trust fund runs out, we will all have to WORK???? Oh, the HORROR!!