"708ers. What do you expect?"
August 18, 2008 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Then I imagined what my friends would say if I got killed: I kept hearing them retell the story of how I went out to O'Hare to get a cat and instead met my doom wandering down the middle of a highway in a blizzard. I could just hear them saying, It's how he would have wanted to go ...

A story originally published in the Chicago Reader by Lee Sandlin (previously).
posted by enn (92 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, man. As a non-driver, I have been there a million times.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:29 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great read. I've definitely been in the middle of some long "why the F am I DOING this?" walks in my life.
posted by autodidact at 11:31 AM on August 18, 2008


Are suburbanites also described by area code around Chicago just like 905's around Toronto? Neat!
posted by GuyZero at 11:35 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


That was much better than I expected. Thanks!
posted by nasreddin at 11:47 AM on August 18, 2008


Nice piece of writing, I enjoyed it, but: I can understand choosing not to own a car, definitely. And I can understand choosing not to own a cell phone. Went down that road myself for a long while. But I can't really understand choosing not to own either one. It's the difference between choosing to wear a bowler and affect Victorian speech patterns, and choosing to wear a bowler and speak like a Dickens character and also never wear pants again. You are being willfully detrimental to the quality of your own life just to make a statement that nobody else is really even going to pay attention to. By all means, reduce your carbon impact on the world. Probably consider carrying a cell phone around for emergencies, though.
posted by penduluum at 11:47 AM on August 18, 2008 [7 favorites]


Recently, my car totally died and I took to riding my bike and walking everywhere. Eye opening, to say the least. Added to my list of Things I Think That Everyone Should Have to Do at Least Once in Their Lives, along with working in food, working in retail, and learning CPR.
posted by gracious floor at 11:48 AM on August 18, 2008


Originally published in the Chicago Reader, April 12, 1996

Plus ca change...
posted by anthill at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2008


It's the difference between choosing to wear a bowler and affect Victorian speech patterns, and choosing to wear a bowler and speak like a Dickens character and also never wear pants again.

Ummm, okay, so are these choices that come up often for people? Is my obliviousness to this a giant red flag that I am traveling in completely unhip social circles? I feel so unenlightened right now...
posted by miss lynnster at 11:55 AM on August 18, 2008


I've had similar experiences going on foot in insane suburbs. His description of an industrial park as a childs' playground fits quite well.

Walking around suburban Austin, TX, I felt like I was in a SimCity grid - every building had its own distinct pre-planned cookie cutter landscaping design, and there was no coordination across them. Sidewalks appeared and disappeared at each property line, without connecting or even acknowledging each other. I saw one sidewalk dead-ending in a concrete retaining wall.

Bob, why are we building this?
- Well, it's on the blueprints.
posted by anthill at 11:55 AM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


I can understand choosing not to own a car, definitely. And I can understand choosing not to own a cell phone. Went down that road myself for a long while. But I can't really understand choosing not to own either one.

I don't own a car or a cell phone. I have chosen not to own them, not in order to make a statement, but because I don't really have the need for either of them, and I would rather spend my money on other things.

I benefit from living in a city, so most everything I need is close at hand and public transportation will get me almost anywhere that I'm interested in going. This isn't always the case, but I also genuinely enjoy the experience of walking. Cell phones are occasionally useful, but I'm seldom in that great a hurry to contact people, and I don't like the notion of people contacting me when I'm away from my house.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:57 AM on August 18, 2008 [5 favorites]


Originally published in the Chicago Reader, April 12, 1996

And that explains it. I don't see references to pay phones in articles much anymore. Hell, I don't see pay phones anymore.
posted by penduluum at 12:00 PM on August 18, 2008


I don't know about your neighborhood, miss lynnster, but mine is filthy with Pantless Vickies. Can't walk to the bodega without some chappy swinging a cricket bat at you while his friends cover their mouths with handkerchiefs and titter. It's like the Warriors around here.
posted by penduluum at 12:03 PM on August 18, 2008 [17 favorites]


Lovin' this. Reminds both why I left the midwest and how horribly beautiful midwinter Chicago nights can be. I can practically smell the ozone-papermill-diesel bouquet.
posted by mwhybark at 12:22 PM on August 18, 2008


I agree with penduluum, you need to pick one. Personally, I go pantsless and don't wear the hat, but it's not for everyone.
posted by DU at 12:23 PM on August 18, 2008


Thanks for the link. Very nice read.

Stories like this, and about half a dozen episodes of Seinfeld, make me realize how much of our collective experience has been destroyed by the very technologies that seek to make our lives easier. Don't get me wrong, they largely do, but if Sandlin had been equipped with Google Maps and a GPS-enabled phone, this would have been a non-event, and we wouldn't have had the pleasure of reading it.
posted by SpiffyRob at 12:23 PM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


That was an excellent read, thanks. And the Timon of Athens quote at the end was perfect.

It's the difference between choosing to wear a bowler and affect Victorian speech patterns, and choosing to wear a bowler and speak like a Dickens character and also never wear pants again.

Just do what I do and freelance out of your home. You need never wear pants again!
posted by languagehat at 12:25 PM on August 18, 2008


Bowler and Dickens-speak option I suppose.
posted by GuyZero at 12:27 PM on August 18, 2008


how much of our collective experience has been destroyed by the very technologies that seek to make our lives easier...

I feel confident that even 100 years from now, people will find stuff to complain about.
posted by GuyZero at 12:28 PM on August 18, 2008 [6 favorites]


Clearly, none of you without cars or cell phones live in Minnesota. Because that would be just silly.
posted by AbnerDoon at 12:31 PM on August 18, 2008


Whoop, I was projecting that night, inferring from the headlights and dash lights. Midwinter Chicago nights are still pretty darn lovely. Chris Ware captures that light in a bunch of his stuff, too.
posted by mwhybark at 12:31 PM on August 18, 2008


That reminds me of taking the bus out to see a doctor about 20 miles outside of the city I lived in at the time. 2 hours each way plus a 20 minute walk. It blew my mind that people could live that way. I feel sorry for their kids.

And this was in Portland, OR, which has fairly good mass transit.
posted by Hactar at 12:35 PM on August 18, 2008


MetaFilter: never wear pants again.

A sobering aspect of this story is the author's implicit assumption of his own invulnerability. Walking around where no driver would reasonable expect a pedestrian, covered with snow and hence near invisible, in below zero temperatures, and no one aware of his location or situation. His story might well have ended on a less happy note.

We have become so armored by our technology that we often forget that the world can, at times, be a hostile place, and that Nature can exact the most severe penalties for our hubris.
posted by SPrintF at 12:37 PM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


d00d! LOL! All you have to do is go to the AACargo website and then type that address into Google Transit and check the relevant bus' current position via GPS and ... oh. ROFL.
posted by WCityMike at 12:41 PM on August 18, 2008


(j/k, i'm not that clueless)
posted by WCityMike at 12:42 PM on August 18, 2008


Amusing though the story is - the guy is a fool. The cat would have survived another day - he may not have.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:47 PM on August 18, 2008


So wonderful. Thanks for posting this.
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:49 PM on August 18, 2008


Technology BAD, you say?

Well, methinks Google Maps would have helped, if such a thing had existed in 1996.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:54 PM on August 18, 2008


Count me in as another who owns neither cell phone nor car. I can understand the utility of both, but I have chosen to create my life in a way that requires neither.

Thank you for sharing this, enn: Sandlin expressed a disconnect from car-based society that I've had emphasised to me over the last few days (I've just returned from a four-day bicycle tour of central Alberta). Everyone, for understandable reasons, expresses travel in terms of cars. "A few minutes down the road" means a several minutes at 100 kph. Traffic control workers don't know how long the gravel treatment on a road goes for: it can't be more than a few minutes drive, so who cares? There's an essential disbelief that anyone could get from point A to point B without a car, or wish to be disconnected from the invisible telecommunications web for a little while. It's the presumption that bugs me, while I do understand its cause.

And as for cell phones for emergencies: your immediate parents and grandparents drove cars for 50 years without using a mobile phone. Your ancestors demonstrated their fitness by depending on themselves and anyone within a hoot and holler or a day's swift walk. And yes, obviously this can be carried in extremis - your ancestors didn't have appendectomies or antibiotics, either. But there is something to be said for relying, as much as possible or practical, on your own abilities. Wandering through your day in a life preserver is safe, but also limiting and dependence-building: and when it doesn't work, for whatever reason, people are lost and quickly sink.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:58 PM on August 18, 2008 [6 favorites]


This is a good post.

I was working on a project out in that office-complex he describes at Mannheim and Irving for about six months last year, and dear god that is one hell of a hike. Chicago is bad enough with decent weather.
posted by smackwich at 1:15 PM on August 18, 2008


Me? I don't even own a TV!
posted by BeerFilter at 1:16 PM on August 18, 2008


I really enjoyed that. I didn't even learn to drive until I was 25--I've been in these situations enough myself. That said, my favorite recent airport experience was walking into a terminal from a hotel a couple of miles away--it feels vaguely subversive* arriving at an airport on foot.

Also: Intrepid kitty!

* I know that it's not really subversive.
posted by everichon at 1:18 PM on August 18, 2008


Is this something I have to live in Chicago to understand?
posted by wfrgms at 1:20 PM on August 18, 2008


dear god that is one hell of a hike

G-map with Street View. Ballardian, I tells ya.
posted by everichon at 1:21 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


i know the area. it is accessable via public transportation. used to take a bus from york road to irving park to the rosemont/river road el transit station. the bus went onto north access road. i was riding that bus route in 1996.
posted by lester at 1:22 PM on August 18, 2008


I assume our hero is young, and that accounts for the invulnerability. Around the same time his story takes place, I had moved to Boston sans car (and money, for that matter). One night, I found myself stranded in Revere after working a late shift in a nursing home. Rather than sleep on a bench, I decided to walk back to Boston. So there was me, in my white nurse's aide uniform, wandering around Revere, Chelsea and East Boston at three a.m. I did eventually make it home, just as the T started running.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 1:22 PM on August 18, 2008


"Just do what I do and freelance out of your home. You need never wear pants again!"

I have been to a meetup with languagehat and I can verify this.

I own a cell phone, but no car. I'm a motorcyclist! I think that makes me a smug elitist and a rebellious scofflaw. Plus, my cell phone could totally hack your cell phone (if you owned one).
posted by Eideteker at 1:24 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wandering through your day in a life preserver is safe, but also limiting and dependence-building: and when it doesn't work, for whatever reason, people are lost and quickly sink.

Agreed without reservation. But refusing to put new, higher-buoyancy life-preservers on your boat because by God the old foam Mae West ones were good enough for your parents and besides that why don't you just learn to swim? seems to me to be taking an affectation beyond harmless character trait into a place of dangerously stubborn short-sightedness. By all means learn to be self-reliant. Be aware of your situation at all times and plan ahead. But to limit your own access to a tool that's helpful to that process because you think it makes you less tough—I don't think that's something your ancestors would have done either.
posted by penduluum at 1:29 PM on August 18, 2008 [6 favorites]


Pony request: Matt and pb need to make some kind of automagic polling sidebar that appears whenever certain keywords come up. Then, in threads such as this one, we could just have the poll on the side:

* I have a cellphone.
* I do not have a cellphone.
* I have a car.
* I do not have a car.
* People with no cellphone are insufferable.
* People with cellphones are insufferable.
Etc.
posted by everichon at 1:39 PM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


We have become so armored by our technology that we often forget that the world can, at times, be a hostile place, and that Nature can exact the most severe penalties for our hubris.

Definitely true. In this case you have a modern-technology-pampered human snubbing that technology (which is usually good, smaller carbon footprint!) but also forgetting that if you're "off-the-grid" going to a place miles from other people in the middle of a blizzard without any real preparation is a terrible idea. When a technology becomes ubiquitous to the point of seeming like an inconvenience, I guess people just forget the reason that technology was good in the first place while still taking the risks that technology enables. Kind of reminds me of people who think their kids don't need vaccines anymore because, hey, it's not like anyone they know has ever had the measles!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:45 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Last week, I decided to take advantage of our, finally, decent summer weather, and walked to lunch. As I'm waiting at the light for my turn to walk across, some guy driving past in his car leans out the window and yells, "pay some fuckin road taxes, asshole!".
posted by nomisxid at 1:46 PM on August 18, 2008 [7 favorites]


I still remember walking from Xerox PARC down to my hotel in Menlo Park. Lovely weather, nice well-maintained sidewalks, a great day for a walk (unlike this story).

But I was the only pedestrian. Drivers were staring at me as they drove by. To this day I'm not sure why I wasn't stopped and questioned by the cops.
posted by tommasz at 1:48 PM on August 18, 2008


A sobering aspect of this story is the author's implicit assumption of his own invulnerability. Walking around where no driver would reasonable expect a pedestrian, covered with snow and hence near invisible, in below zero temperatures, and no one aware of his location or situation. His story might well have ended on a less happy note.

What the fuck are you talking about? Did you miss the part that was excerpted in the post itself?

"Then I imagined what my friends would say if I got killed: I kept hearing them retell the story of how I went out to O'Hare to get a cat and instead met my doom wandering down the middle of a highway in a blizzard. I could just hear them saying, 'It's how he would have wanted to go ...'"

posted by languagehat at 1:51 PM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


And since we've moved on to the topic of being stopped by cops for walking: this happened to me in Long Beach, California.
posted by languagehat at 1:52 PM on August 18, 2008


I'm another no-cell-phone-or-car type. Like the author, I also decided against getting a driver's liscence in high school and have never gotten one since. I had a teacher once who talked about the day that people turn 16 and amputate their legs; choosing to avoid driving requires a certain amount of willpower and self-reliance that I see as a good thing.

Here's my own ridiculous self-powered travel story, though the weather conditions were a bit different:

A few years ago, I went on a bike tour with some friends from Eugene to the Oregon coast. We took a back route through a bunch of logging roads, had one big trailer that we had loaded down with all our gear, and had a hell of a good time. We took two days going out to the coast, but, owing to just some restlessness (I ride pretty fast and the group was rather meandering in its pace), I decided to take the trip back alone, in one day instead of two. We rode together for the first fifteen miles or so, until around noon, when we had lunch at a little market and I really made up my mind to go ahead alone. It was shaping up to be a really hot day, and the next seventy miles had no place to resupply, but none-the-less I took off alone with a pile of clif bars and two bottles of water to supply me.

In retrospect, this was fantastically stupid.

I ran out of water with about thirty miles to go, I think. And I eventually hit the point where just the thought of eating a bar was enough to make my throat swell up in revolt. Those protein bars need a lot of water with them to aid digestion, it turns out. With ten miles left before the city limits, I fell into a pattern of pedalling a bit, then lying down on the side of the road for twenty minues, wishing I was dead. But then I would get up again, pedal a bit longer, and lie down again. Some deep, boneheaded and stubborn part of me was fundamentally opposed to hitch hiking after having come so close, so I soldiered on. Eventually I came to a gas station on the outskirts of town, and drank about a half-gallon of gatorade straight away, and felt so good that I could have done the whole thing again. Then on the bike path back to the house I was living in, I ran into a friend coming back from a race, and we ate gigantic burritos together, and everything was good. I even rode around town a bit to push the milage for the day over the 100-mile mark.

The real morale of the story is pack enough water and ride early in the day. The most recent century I rode started at 3:30 am, and was just fantastic; turns out it's much easier to cover miles before dawn than after noon. Who knew?
posted by kaibutsu at 1:55 PM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


According to Alexa, Mapquest.com was online starting 10 January 1996.
posted by chimaera at 1:58 PM on August 18, 2008


On the subject of cops, I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, and can think of four occasions off the top of my head when the cops stopped me for walking. And only half of them were after midnight.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:01 PM on August 18, 2008


What he did was stupid. On the other hand, it was the result of a cascade of decisions. Haven't we all thought "I've come this far, I might as well take the next step?"

Also, in 1996, cellphones were expensive and many people didn't own one.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:19 PM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, what this guy did was pretty hardcore under those conditions, but according to Gmaps pedometer it's not "5 or 6 miles" to the United Freight depot; rather it's 2.63 miles or 4.23 km. I couldn't help but check - I didn't think any airport could be *that* big.
posted by Flashman at 2:20 PM on August 18, 2008


That was hilarious! As a Chicagoan who spent more of his share of time trying to get home from suburban destinations after hours until I bought a car, I fully sympathized. The best bit was the quote bit in the post title -- the punchline, if you will. I knew it going in but I didn't know how it would be used.

I'm not sure what all the second-guessers are doing. "Geez, if he'd been smarter ..." Well, geez, if we'd all been smarter we wouldn't have a society where this seemed at all ridiculous.

Also, I'm pretty sure there are delivery options from the freight office that didn't come up -- just as with the limo, through a third party. It's also not clear why the freight office was the only possible pick-up point. Most of the baggage is offloaded at the terminal and there should have been some way to intercept the cat there. So yes, there were other ways this might have been solved.

But it does comment on our extremely car-centric culture.There are so many suburban areas that are built like this, not necessarily adjacent to airports, where the pedestrian is not just an afterthought, but an interference.

Are suburbanites also described by area code around Chicago just like 905's around Toronto?

It came about after 708 was split from 312, but that only lasted about 15 years before a good chunk became 847, and now there are cell phone overlays and worse. But it was and probably still is Chicago's equivalent of what New Yorkers call "B&Ters", or "Bridge and Tunnel People".

lester: It's quite possible you rode a rush-hour shuttle. Pace has a few of these; many are subsidized by employers. They're for commuters, and generally don't run midday, and sometimes don't even cover the reverse commute.
posted by dhartung at 2:50 PM on August 18, 2008


In common with a few others, I am a lifelong pedestrian and have been through tiny variants of this scenario a dozen times in my life.

While there was a time when owning a cell phone was unusual and came across as something of an attempt to make an impression on other with dry goods, nowadays it seems almost an affectation not to have one. Certainly in 1996, when the piece was published, the balance had not yet shifted.

Around the time this was written, Ontario's incoming conservative government had famously cancelled a government roadside assistance program that patrolled the highways during blizzards looking for stranded motorists; the rationale was that it was unnecessary because anyone stranded would just call for help on the car phone. For this (among many other things) the government was ridiculed.

Ten years later, a homeless man was trapped for days beneath fallen trees in Vancouver's Stanley Park after a windstorm. He was eventually rescued because he recalled he had an old phone in his bags. The charge was nearly gone, but he still was able to call 911.

I am at a loss to think of any other gizmo whose cachet has fallen so fast in a decade: from being an item of conspicuous consumption owned only by the wealthy, to being the kind of thing that the homeless have, but then forget they have them.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:55 PM on August 18, 2008 [8 favorites]


Well, no car for me, but I certainly do have a cell phone. Does it count if it's also my home phone? Cheaper that way. Though vaguely unsettling it if you forget it at work and find yourself at home without a phone...

But yeah, done some monster walks in car territory. I know the stares.

ricochet biscuit: that's an excellent story.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:23 PM on August 18, 2008


it seems i may be the only one who felt that the story was whiny and obnoxious.

the whole time, all i could think was, "well, why didn't YOU call and double-check the directions?" it seems to me that, if one is going to choose to live their life in a way which eschews conveniences like personal transportation or cellular contact, it makes sense to take the extra steps to know where you're going, what the hours are, that you're going to the right location, etc.

this guy's day got royally screwed up by his own lack-of-planning. if he'd have called the airline himself, and not relied on his friend's less-than-stellar directions, i suspect he might have fared better.

also, i think he could have said what he wanted/needed to say with about 1,000 fewer words. i'm a bit agog at all the fawning over what good writing this is! but meh, to each his own.
posted by CitizenD at 4:06 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


if he'd have called the airline himself

he did. it was from an airline representative that he received the "less-than-stellar directions" in question. it's right there in the third paragraph.

and, again, we've established that this story is from twelve years ago, when cellular phone ownership was far from ubiquitous.

and it's worth also noting that, even today, cellular phone ownership is not really a "choice" for considerable segments of the population. it's just another luxury that gets weighed against groceries, rent, and the heating bill.
posted by wreckingball at 4:25 PM on August 18, 2008


And then you find yourself in this situation, in the middle of nowhere, no bearings, no help; worse than the conditions are the questions-How & Why the fuck did you wind up here? When they find my body, will they laugh their asses off before the toe tag goes on? I doesn't matter if you choose to walk, drive, swim, or slip on a pair of Icarus wings and attempt to fly; there's no more satisfying expression of our bottomless and boundless absurdity than the pointless, harebrained & dangerous self imposed mission.

I raise my right fist in the air in salute.

Dummy.
posted by vurnt22 at 4:29 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm another carless, cellphoneless person.

But when I go to the airport or need to pick something up, I take a cab. I don't assume that industrial areas will be walkable.
posted by jrochest at 4:34 PM on August 18, 2008


I lived without a car for 10 years, and I rue the day we moved to the (Chicago) suburbs. There is just no other way to get around.
posted by desjardins at 4:44 PM on August 18, 2008


I've had plenty of experiences like this too, but my favorite was a couple years ago when I got a staph infection, a few months after giving up my car. After watching it take over the whole last digit of my finger over the course of three hours, I decided it was time to head to the hospital. This was just 6 blocks from my house, in an urban area, but not built for pedestrian access at all. The entire campus is fenced in, and the only road doesn't even have a sidewalk. There's nothing like seeing the Emergency Room entrance sign over a wall that takes 10 minutes to circumambulate, and getting lost by the infrequency of signs over that distance.
posted by 7segment at 4:45 PM on August 18, 2008


Ooh, ooh! Is this the thread where we proudly announce our lack of tv, car, mobile, shoes, coat, earmuffs, hat, shades, thermos, canteen, matches, flare gun, pirate pants and common sense?

Mapquest started in '96, but that wouldn't have helped him since he didn't have the right address in the first place.

I'm a car owner, but I've frequently walked 7-12 miles in 98+ degree weather in California. I can't imagine walking even short distances along an isolated road in a blizzard though, unless I was thoroughly accustomed to such weather from walking in a safer area. I've got many carless friends, and while I think such a lifestyle makes sense in a city center, clinging to it after being displaced to the 'burbs seems like a crazy affectation to me.

Note, walking long distances in 98+ degree weather is crazy too unless you know where to get water ahead of time, or are comfortable carrying multiple gallons.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:58 PM on August 18, 2008


dhartung, it's pace route 332, and it still runs today. i rode it from 1994-95. i rode it from york/butterfield. most of it's ridership came from it's cargo road stops.

what i call bullshit on is his reference to o'hare's terminals. pace has a major bus station at the Rosemont stop. he shouldn't have gone to o'hare. also, the airport is part of the city, and he talks about a suburban bus picking him up there?

the rta line he refers to would have been able to tell him where he needed to go--and even their bad bus directions would have led him to the Rosemont stop, not the airport proper. i used that rta line a lot in the day, too--they would have known where he was going. they would have known that no one wants to go to the corner of irving and manheim. there's also lots of information on routes at the rosemont stop ... including maps.

that aside, as an experienced suburban transit rider, i've had my own 'walking across the tundra' moments to not doubt his experience. that's a nasty walk he took, and it makes a nice story. too bad he couldn't figure it out.
posted by lester at 4:59 PM on August 18, 2008


7segment, ouch, I biked 3 miles in the heat to the hospital with a 103 degree fever once, so I can definitely sympathize.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:00 PM on August 18, 2008


There's a sweet bit from Derrick Jensen concerning the cell phone for emergencies rationale. (it's somewhere in that link; it's well worth listening to!)

To paraphrase, it's always possible hypothesize. What if you're driving out on a lonely road late on a rainy night listening to the story about the escaped convict on the radio when suddenly you see a flash of yellow ahead and plunge your car off the side of the road. You then call the police on your cell phone and the AAA or whoever comes, fixes your car, and then off you drive, only to find the bloody hook of the murderer lodged in your door on arriving home. Good thing you had a cell phone, huh?!?

Anyone can make up a story like this; here's a counter story:
You're out driving on a lonely night listening to the radio story about the escaped murderer, when you take out your cellphone to call your mom to warn her about it. But this distracts you from the road a bit, and then you see a flash of yellow which is clearly the escaped killer, so you pull out your other cell phone to call the cops. But now you don't have any hands on the steering wheel, so your car plunges off the side of the road, where three orphaned children were standing, killing them instantly.

[end paraphrasing]
Both stories are ridiculous, it's just that one can be used to sell cell phones. And once enough are sold, then the middle class is well served and we can start getting rid of the infrastructure that makes communication easy for the disadvantaged or the anarchists or anyone who doesn't want an instantly trackable GPS device attached to them at all times.

A similar lesson is being played out here with cars: enough of the ruling majority buys into cars that the entire infrastructure of the country is built on the assumption of car ownership. This is why the poor live in suburbs and spend a major portion of their meager incomes transporting themselves back and forth across sprawling cities to get to their three jobs in time. It's why Achack Deng (the Sudanese refugee in the Dave Eggers book 'What is the What') at some point says he feels poorer living in the US than he did in the freaking Kenyan refugee camp.

But this might become painfully obvious in time. If we end up living through the oil crash, the sheer stupidity of building car-based cities will be realized viscerally by all involved. It's not the stupidity of the author on display in this article; it's the stupidity of the infrastructure.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:49 PM on August 18, 2008 [8 favorites]


I didn't get get a drivers license or car until I was about 25 (for purely financial reasons; I couldn't afford one) and reading this story brought back all those horrible feeling of every time I've found myself on foot in unfamiliar surrounds. I almost feel sweaty palms now as I remember sliding along the emotional spectrum from concern, to worry, to alarm, to near panic as I find myself in an industrial part of town that isn't even on my damn map and it's already getting dark, there won't be another bus for twelve hours 'cause it's after five and the buses only come here at all for the workers of all these now shut up buildings and and... breath! Fortunately Brisbane just isn't that big and there's no direction in which a few hour's walk won't bring you back to some form of civilisation. But now, even with the wonders of google maps and the internet in general, I still make sure I buy an updated street directory every year.
posted by adamt at 5:51 PM on August 18, 2008


Does anybody have a different link to this? It sounds really interesting but my work proxy interweb firegate mail thingy won't let me check Sandlin's page screen.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:01 PM on August 18, 2008


Oh, adamt, you're in Brisbane? And have a car? Can you help me move on the weekend?
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:02 PM on August 18, 2008


turgid dahlia: Here it is in the Reader archive, with some formatting quirks.
posted by enn at 6:07 PM on August 18, 2008


Much obliged enn.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:11 PM on August 18, 2008


Good stuff. I've also had such walks through the snow.
posted by madh at 7:55 PM on August 18, 2008


This was a great read. I go on big walks like this sometimes in GTA IV when I can't find a car I like. Then suddenly there are like ten of 'em in a row!
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:10 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Living in Chicago without a car or a cell phone is a cheap, simple (well, usually), considerate way to live. People who do so may seem to affect an air of superiority. That's because they are superior. At least in terms of self-reliance.

The guy in the story might have been foolish, but he friggin' did what he set out to do, didn't he?
posted by Jess the Mess at 8:24 PM on August 18, 2008


if you're "off-the-grid" going to a place miles from other people in the middle of a blizzard without any real preparation is a terrible idea.

i think it's very odd that someone would describe one of the world's buisest airports as being "miles from other people" - i've no doubt that it seems that way to a rare pedestrian, but - what a curious irony that is - to be in the very midst of civilization and feel utterly lost and abandoned by your fellow human beings
posted by pyramid termite at 8:41 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't own a cell phone. (Technically, work owns it. I just carry it around).

I don't own a car. (Work does, though, and I'm the only one who drives it).

Pfft. I don't even have a TV.

I just make do with a projector / surround sound etc.

The guy in the story might have been foolish, but he friggin' did what he set out to do, didn't he?

Yes, but he came a lot closer to dying than he needed to, and he rode a limo home. I would have given him a lift. Industrial areas around airports really aren't meant for pedestrians.

Would he have tried to carry the cat back along the road had the weather been better? From personal experience I know that's tough work, and not a good experience for the cat, either.

I'm an avid walker though, and the scale really does change from driving. When you're a bit lost in your car and you think `I'll just keep going to the next big intersection, then I should get my bearings'. On foot, that's 20 minutes away, potentially in the wrong direction. People who never walk think something just five minutes down the road is close, that could be an hours walk.
posted by tomble at 9:25 PM on August 18, 2008


penduluum: ... Pantless Vickies.

Now there's a band name!
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:08 PM on August 18, 2008


i think it's very odd that someone would describe one of the world's buisest airports as being "miles from other people" - i've no doubt that it seems that way to a rare pedestrian, but - what a curious irony that is - to be in the very midst of civilization and feel utterly lost and abandoned by your fellow human beings

A rare pedestrian? I'm a college student. I don't own a car, though I do have a driver's license. I walk or ride my bike everywhere while at school, though I'll admit it takes a car or bus ride to get home for vacation. I use terrible Columbus public transport to get to my job. But nice random guess anyway, maybe you'll get it right next time.

I don't believe he was in danger of dying alone inside one of the world's busiest airports - there were a few steps between "at the terminal!" and "oh shit this is terrible!" that were important choices.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:12 PM on August 18, 2008


The guy in the story might have been foolish, but he friggin' did what he set out to do, didn't he?

Yes, but he came a lot closer to dying than he needed to, and he rode a limo home.


And this is my point exactly. He rode a limo home. So...why didn't he borrow a car? Or get a ride? There's not having a car (I don't) and being so incredibly single minded that you don't even think "hey...it's nasty out and I don't know where I'm going...maybe I'll get a ride!" There's principled, and then there's stupid. This was stupid.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:46 PM on August 18, 2008


I don't get the cell phone hate. I didn't own a cell phone for a long time. Then my mom got sick. No-brainer. In case of emergency, don't be a stick in the mud.
posted by prefpara at 11:01 PM on August 18, 2008


At the point when he decided to eschews calling a cab and has no better plan than walking there and back to the bus station, he loses the right to pick up the cat.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:23 PM on August 18, 2008


Both stories are ridiculous, it's just that one can be used to sell cell phones.

I guess we could play Dueling Absurd Anecdotes, if you wanted to, but can you really not imagine that having a wireless, battery-powered telephone might be helpful in situations of extremity? That seems dubious to you?

You know, I don't really have a dog in this fight, so I'm not sure why I keep coming back. Wish I'd seen the publication date that anthill found before I said anything. But listen: on the one hand, if you can organize your life such that you don't need a car, more power to you. The whole world is better for it, and I respect that decision deeply. If you don't want to have a cell phone, good for you. Sometimes I wish I hadn't caved in either.

On the other hand, a cell phone is just a tool. If you choose to use an electric screwdriver to drive some screws, it doesn't make you weak, and it doesn't shame you in the eyes of your forebears or whatever. If your electric screwdriver breaks and you don't know how to use a manual one, that's your fault for not being prepared, not your Black & Decker's fault for educating you stupid, Timecube-style. The invention of, and proliferation of, pneumatic jackhammers wasn't a conspiracy to keep hammers and chisels out of the hands of the hoi polloi. It was just the blind march of developing technology. Screwdrivers, jackhammers, cell phones and cars are value-neutral. Using them, using any tool, in a wasteful way and without regard to the consequences of their use: that's a problem. Not using available tools even when their moderate use would be helpful, because you're making an ethical stand where no actual ethical issue exists: that is also a problem, I think, although I readily grant it's a much, much smaller one.
posted by penduluum at 11:29 PM on August 18, 2008 [5 favorites]


That seems dubious to you?

The biggest fallacy in the cell phones for emergencies argument is this: If you really need a cell phone for an emergency, it is because there is no one around. And if there is no one around, there's a good chance you're out of range of cellular coverage to begin with. (Probably because there's no one around to sell that coverage to.) The majority of situations I have found myself in where a phone might have been useful fall into this category. But really, for me, the cell phone is mainly an economic choice. It costs more than the land line and it's extra functionality (now people can call me ANY TIME!) just doesn't seem like a Good Thing to me. I find it unfortunate that the world is arranging itself in opposition to this decision.

On the other hand, a cell phone is just a tool.

There is no value neutrality in use of tools, however. I actually ran a discussion group a while back trying to educate people to think rationally about the way they use technologies and to adjust their lifestyles according to what they discovered. I'm not sure it accomplished much, but it should be clear that I make choices for myself and ask others to think about the choices they make (or don't, for that matter). I don't claim that my choices are right for anyone but myself, but I think everyone should try to make choices about the tools they use instead of defaulting to blind dependence, as seems to be the default.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:00 AM on August 19, 2008


Just because one can think of two situations doesn't make them equally probable, kaibutsu.

Also (in response to the direct above), you vastly underestimate cell coverage, at least in the US. The majority of Nevada has coverage, for instance - places where you'd have to drive more than an hour before seeing another person.
posted by dmd at 4:10 AM on August 19, 2008


Kaibatsu: I don't know about where you are, but in the UK, a pre-pay mobile phone can be had for ten pounds, including a fiver's worth of calls.

That's less than two hours worth of minimum wage income.
posted by pharm at 7:00 AM on August 19, 2008


The biggest fallacy in the cell phones for emergencies argument is this: If you really need a cell phone for an emergency, it is because there is no one around. And if there is no one around, there's a good chance you're out of range of cellular coverage to begin with. (Probably because there's no one around to sell that coverage to.) The majority of situations I have found myself in where a phone might have been useful fall into this category. But really, for me, the cell phone is mainly an economic choice. It costs more than the land line and it's extra functionality (now people can call me ANY TIME!) just doesn't seem like a Good Thing to me. I find it unfortunate that the world is arranging itself in opposition to this decision.


No, it's because you need to call an ambulance or the police. It's because your mom is sick, and alone in the hospital, and needs to know that she can call you ANY TIME. And that seems like a Good Thing to me.
posted by prefpara at 8:51 AM on August 19, 2008


Hmm, pretend that first paragraph was in italics.
posted by prefpara at 8:51 AM on August 19, 2008


If you really need a cell phone for an emergency, it is because there is no one around.

When I needed to go to the ER, it didn't matter that someone else was merely "around." It mattered that that someone else wasn't a paramedic. HOWEVER, he had a cell phone!
posted by desjardins at 9:58 AM on August 19, 2008


That's why I went with carsharing - you get the utility of having access to a car, with the smugness and moral superiority of not owning one!
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:01 AM on August 19, 2008


It's almost fetishistic the way some people refuse to use certain tools - I have a cell phone - I use it when I need to and I don't use it when I don't need it. If it bugs me, I turn it off and leave it at home - because they have another cool tool, which is the voice mail. There are times when it is absolutely vital, times when it's merely convenient, and times when it's useless. Same with cars, computers, televisions, radios, etc. To absolutely refuse to use a simple, harmless tool, on the basis of some moral/ethical code is just as ludicrous as believing that religious icons can heal the sick.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:16 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's almost fetishistic the way some people refuse to use certain tools

nothing fetishistic about it - i've gotten through 51 years of life without a cell phone and still don't have a compelling reason to have one - hell, most of the land line phone calls i get are tape recorders trying to sell me things - sometimes i wonder why i have THAT phone
posted by pyramid termite at 9:03 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pyramid termite, I get about six telemarketing calls on my mobile in any given year, but I got about one a day on my landline before I switched to VOIP, and even with VOIP I still get one a week or so. Not that I'm judging your lack of mobile phone, whatever works for you. I will say that people rapidly switch from thinking of it as a luxury to thinking it is a necessity.

As far as emergencies go, mobiles are great if you aren't hiking in canyons; even canyons in populated areas.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:20 AM on August 20, 2008


Redwood forests ain't so hot either.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:17 AM on August 20, 2008


prefpara: "But really, for me, the cell phone is mainly an economic choice. It costs more than the land line and it's extra functionality (now people can call me ANY TIME!) just doesn't seem like a Good Thing to me. I find it unfortunate that the world is arranging itself in opposition to this decision."

I have to disagree. The very first cell phone (a Sony Ericsson) I got cost me negative eighty dollars — not only did it cost me nothing, but I got $80 back on a rebate from the store. And the package of minutes I got made my monthly phone bill using a cell phone much less than the charges I was incurring with a landline telephone. I first went to cell phones for the economic savings, actually, not for the portability. The high-techiness was just a plus for this gadget geek.
posted by WCityMike at 7:39 AM on August 20, 2008


for all you folks who think this guy was a fool for walking around in a blizzard ... what does that make the drivers of the vehicles schussing past him & staring at the idiot on foot?
posted by msconduct at 8:52 AM on August 20, 2008


WCityMike, I had an italics failure. You are not responding to me, but rather to kaibutsu whom I was attempting to quote.
posted by prefpara at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2008


As someone who went without a car of my own for most of my adult life, I can completely empathize with this guy; going from an urban or campus environment where going without a car is not only possible but preferable to a suburban hellscape that wouldn't be possible to live, work, or even visit without a car, and being utterly disoriented and unprepared for the experience, is a scenario that I've lived out more than once. I even get that stubbornness that he describes when he starts to realize that he's in over his head, but keeps going. I think that it's a little pushback against the attitude that being carless by choice is so freakish that you're even lower than someone who's lost their license because of multiple DUIs.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:24 PM on August 20, 2008


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