Driving Mad

Driving her kids to school, a South Carolina woman, Amy Lynn Stewart, encountered a group of teens walking in the middle of the road. She honked but they would not get out of the way, so she plowed into them, hitting four. They were 12, 13, 13, and 14-years-old. “I wanted to knock some sense into them,” she would tell the police. Four victims were treated at the scene. One was taken to a hospital.

At that intersection, there are no sidewalks. All over America, there are many roads without sidewalks. Many communities are built just for the car. Lawns, often vast, encroach right to the curbs. 307 million Americans own about 150 million cars. Entire blocks are reserved for parking garages. Walking on a road shoulders, one can feel like a vagrant or a prowling criminal.

In South Carolina, one has to be 15 to get a driver’s license. (In most of America, the driving age is 16.) The kids struck were too young too drive. Unless one is living in selected, pedestrian friendly cities such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, for example, to be carless in America is to be confined to one’s living room and the nearest strip mall, and also school, if one is of school age. As a teenager growing up in suburban Virginia, my social orbit consisted of school and shopping mall. There was no town center, no square, no main street, no nearby park even, just Springfield Mall, where I went on the back of a friend’s scooter.

Encircled by a vast, nearly always packed parking lot, your typical American mall is of a scale seldom seen in Europe. One doesn’t just stumble into this shopping emporium, but has to make a decision to get there, which often requires at least half an hour of sitting in an automobile. After several more minutes circling around to find parking, a kind of competitive endeavor requiring alertness, good eyesight, cunning and sometimes outright thuggery, one might as well spend several hours inside the air-conditioning, marching back and forth to sniff out a totally unnecessary bargain. Spousal disagreements over parking tactics are common, often resulting in full blown arguments. “You’re an idiot!” “You’re a control freak!” Divorce proceedings can begin even before a desirable spot can be pounced upon.

Americans often wish they were handicapped so they could be saved from the torments of long distance parking. Men have shot themselves on the foot so they could be a tad closer to JC Penney.

Flinging more propaganda mud at us yahoos, Yahoo just chirped that latte sales is up, meaning the economy is blinking and twitching its way back into life, but don’t you believe it. Across America, shuttered stores inside malls are hidden behind brightly painted, mural decorated plywood. Even stores that appear healthy may be months behind in their rents. Many malls are so obviously dying, it’s no use pretending. In downtown Buffalo, I strolled through one that was so empty, each step echoed. In its forlorn food court, the homeless nursed cups of joe or dozed off. At my local shopping magnet, Philadelphia’s The Gallery, there’s much foot traffic thanks to adjacent train and subway stations, but each month, a couple more shops would go under. This week, death was literal. Early morning commuters were greeted with a suicide leaping from the mall’s third level. He wasn’t a merchant but likely a homeless man, according to the security guards. This death never made the news. We wouldn’t want to scare the shoppers, would we?

Ignore that corpse, honey, let’s just go inside and buy. Shops inside shopping malls are remarkable homogeneous from sea to shining sea. It hardly matters if one is in San Diego or Portland, Maine, the same clothing stores and fast food joints appear. On a regular commercial street, the quirks of each store owner give his business a degree of uniqueness, but inside a mall, every little detail is regulated, from signage to decoration. Drinking establishments inside malls are like those at airports, cheerless, sterile and devoid of character. No matter how long they’ve been in business, they’re without history.

The minimum drinking age for most of the world is 18. In America, it’s 21, so one can start to drive at 16, join the army at 18, get killed at 19, and have one’s first taste of Miller High Life a couple of years later. Everything, though, starts with one’s first car. With this vehicle and symbol of maturity and freedom, one can run away from home daily, have drug and alcohol fueled something-like-sex in the front or back seat, beside or even under the car. I did it with my McDonald’s uniform still on. Ditto, she. We didn’t know what we were doing, or at least I didn’t. She never forgave me.

The woman who slammed into those teens was on, among other pills, Ativan, to calm her down, and Prozac, to nudge her up a bit. Judging from her mug shot, she may have cut her own hair at home, with a cracked mirror. There’s no shame in that, I haven’t visited a barber in ages. The authorities also revealed that she was driving without shoes, wearing only green sox with holes in them. Is green here an incriminating evidence?

Like many newspapers across America, the Charleston Post publishes photos of every local person arrested for anything, no matter how minor. Presumed to be innocent before conviction, these grim or grinning individuals are publicly shamed. A good chunk of them have been booked for drunken driving.

Officer, if there’s no pub near my house, like there is nearly everywhere else across the globe, how can I abstain from getting in a car before and after I juice up and socialize a bit? Would you prefer I drive to a shopping mall bar, then walk, or maybe crawl back? If I bought a six pack and stayed home, what would I see on television but beer after beer commercial of good looking folks having a great time?

Too young to drive and living in a town of pedestrian-free, lifeless streets, these teens staged a kind of impromptu protest against the automobile and had some sense knocked into them. Live and learn, fools. Soon, you will be old enough to enlist in yet another foreign war for oil. Before marching off, you can have I WILL KILL FOR UNLEADED GAS tattooed on your brain, and if you don’t get chunks blown off over there, you can come back and drive, drive and drive until this bloated and murderous jalopy finally breaks down, which will happen sooner than you expect. Bank on that.

Before Communist China became partner with Capitalist USA in a New World Order of union-free sweat shops, Americans used to laugh at all the bicycles on Chinese streets. Now, as the Chinese become more car dependent, as their cities become more clogged and polluted, many Americans are rediscovering the pleasures, healthiness and sanity of bicycling or walking. Suddenly, a street full of bikes seems positively idyllic. In a country (and empire) on a downward spiral, this will be one of the few changes for the better. Riding and walking through one’s community at a more human pace, one will also regain one’s sense of belonging. One will also discover that one has two legs, arms and a set of lungs. Sprung from the steel prison of the automobile, Americans will be glad to see other faces and limbs. They will realize that they actually have neighbors.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 23rd, 2011 at 9:10am #

    it is not just tanks that dehumanize people. cars do that also. and the less human we are, easier is to manage us.
    ‘nobles’, modern and ancient, know how to turn us against each other. we are full of anger-hatred for one another.
    we have been taught to look dwn on best people amongst us and look up to others; usually rich people [the biggest thieves].
    no wonder we are getting deeper and deeper in all kinds of troubles. tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 11:04am #

    Linh, Bozh I agree.

  3. Hue Longer said on February 23rd, 2011 at 2:44pm #

    keep sending in more, Linh

  4. Don Hawkins said on February 23rd, 2011 at 4:02pm #

    Santiago Esparza / The Detroit News
    Allen Park— The city’s finance director said today that Allen Park must lay off 25 to 30 employees by June to avoid a $600,000 deficit for the current fiscal year.
    Tim McCurley said in an interview that the city sent layoff notices to everyone in the fire department to comply with a clause in the firefighters’ union contract requiring a 30-day notice. He said some or all of the firefighters could lose their jobs, and that the police department faces layoffs too

    What we have learned
    Is like a handful of earth
    What we have yet to learn
    Is like the whole world.


  5. Vic Anderson said on February 23rd, 2011 at 8:00pm #

    Indeed; don’t Buy the Corporate CEO CON$EN$E!

  6. Don Hawkins said on February 24th, 2011 at 7:46am #

    Was just watching CNBC and someone said the people in Saudi Arabia still love the king they have a man on the scene there and I guess this makes Wall Street happy for probably 5 minutes. I went to Linh Dinh’s blog again to see if my eye’s were deceiving me Detroit and there is was again hell the park benches are gone I guess someone needed the wood. Remember the good old day’s when you still had a park bench to sleep on I do. So maybe the military will not be needed just a few front end loaders and some dump truck’s then off to the processing plant for the new and improved food “Soylent Green is made of people!” A bit of a stretch so far but not by much. Long live the little God’s ever hear of them and yes a great place to see them is The Capitalist New’s Broadcasting Company.

  7. aldobaldo said on February 24th, 2011 at 7:56am #

    Another great article, Linh. Thanks!

  8. mary said on February 24th, 2011 at 8:20am #

    Don The Saudi royals are buying the silence of their people wirh $37 billion. The ‘king’ is an 87 year old in ill health as is the 80 year old ‘crown prince”. Ready to tumble I would say. Saudi Arabia is yet another despotic cruel regime which the West has propped up and supplied with weaponry. All part of the Zionist project of course.



  9. Hue Longer said on February 24th, 2011 at 5:59pm #


    There was an interesting article in DV about 6 or 7 years ago concerning park benches and shrubbery strategically designed and placed to dissuade sleeping and rallies. I think the guy was a musician….Sunil, you recall?