The Mother of Roads – final thoughtson June 6, 2014 at 11:33 am
I’m on the NYC subway as I write this – a high-speed bloodstream of strangely efficient public transport, underscoring the City of Cities. People are sleeping next to me, whereas others are yelling, standing, sleeping again, listening to their tunes, trying not to get too close to their neighbours’ armpits, and still being… at peace, for the time being. The subway cars let you have a break from NYC’s adrenalin rush – at least until you get to your next station.
America has not been what I expected it would be. But what the hell did I know? Clichéd movies, the same Times Square and Golden Gate bridge icons played again and again… Rednecks, niggers, spics, jews, white trash, occupiers, stock brokers, bums, mutants and superheroes.
The reality of the continent seems to be that all those things do exist – they’ll turn up again and again, playing off your expectations, offsetting their own cliché with a very real granularity, more real than any HFR3DIMAX movie. Young spunky black girls on the subway being loud and obnoxious, slapping one another with pretend dicks. Hobos you can smell a block away, with a putrid stench you didn’t think a human being could produce, except maybe for someone who died three weeks ago in a sealed plastic bag. Fascist cops, friendly cops, impressive firetrucks. Walls and buildings and walls again of advertising screens, surrounding you, assaulting your synapses. Lonely deserts that stretch for days of driving.
The insane thing about America, to me, is the fact that you’ve got a country that’s really a continent. Everyone speaks the same language (more or less), and you can roam the shit out of it. The road trip is truly an american thing, and it’s real. You can leave everything you have built, take the highway west, and build a new life without too much hassle. This is simply not possible in Europe – it might be possible, but it’s not part of our culture. We stay in our own country, our own city. In ‘MERICA, you can go live wherever the fuck you want, work as you want, do whatever you want – you can be free. And people use that freedom. It’s real.
At the same time, there’s also the issue of credit. Good Credit and Bad Credit are also very real things here, in ways a European cannot understand. Most people are born into debt here. Your Student Loans are a millstone around your neck, as is any credit you ever take – and you’re encouraged to take it. From before the moment when you get your first job, there’s already a big-ass hole waiting for you. A gaping maw in your finances, dug out over years of flunking studies, having fun and being young – and that hole might never be filled. You just live from month to month, paying off loans, paying rent, and living off whatever you have left. Most people I talked to don’t have a savings account. All they have is what they earn each month – that and that fucking gaping MAW of debt, that terrible gnashing monster, always hungry for its next meal. And if you miss one payment, the next one is double… And they’ll write down how you missed a payment, and that’ll add to your downward spiral of Bad Credit, a death sentence to any new apartment, even employment.
I don’t know when America became like this, but I know I couldn’t take it – even the idea of loaning money makes me uncomfortable. In this scenario, your job is your lifeboat. The one thing that stands between you and the gaping maw of debtors’ prison, and getting fired from it may turn out to be a long-term death sentence. And suddenly, freedom becomes a very relative thing. I was raised on the idea that money is an unimportant means-to-an-end: you don’t need it, you may need the things it can buy you. In this scenario, money is a living thing, a parasite, a symbiont attached to your life. Its presence or the lack of it has dire consequences on the rest of your life. You won’t just be hungry for a week – its absence heralds the beginning of either a long period of toiling in sweat, or the beginning of a steep downhill road that ends in curbside panhandling.
This continent provides a great freedom to those who walk it. It may well be amongst the greatest realms of freedoms in our world – home to the brave. But the price of growing up in this system is steep, indeed.