Imagine a Savannah as if in Africa only that it is as humid as the Amazon. This is not some foreign land but the Third Coast, the vast open spaces of the oil rich area of the gulf. This land is no longer open and empty but is built upon and now for several generations. Vast highways spread across the once flat grasslands. These highways seem not to connect places but just exist – 4 lanes. 6 lanes. 14 lanes. We have moved heaven and earth to ensure that we need not sit next to someone we didn’t agree with on a rail car that we needed not study time tables to know when to board at what station and finish that proverbial word problem “if two trains left a given station at X time and one traveled Y speed and the other Z, what time would either train arrive?”
Philosophy modifies the earth. Perhaps we are the only animals on this planet that change the landscape not through some inner mind, the dull routine of the beaver gnawing at trees least his teeth become too long and building ever swamp in order to reach more trees in order to extend the swamp, but we on the other hand believe in something, and push together the world to fit that idea.
The idea of how life should be lived on the Third Coast is very different from other areas of the mainland. That region is not so much a state of the union but a colony of the United States. We have told ourselves for a long time that this Lone Star belongs to the rest of the nation, that it is in some sacred bond with Amerika, but it is a land locked Porto Rico – a protectorate or territory or whatever euphemism we use for occupation. We have bribed these settlers with trade agreements, with monies to build, we have housed our army there, but it is as if we placed a few bases in the Philippines or some other sovereign nation. This can but explain why this space is so different, why there is an intentionality in design to the landscape that is it seems driven to exalt the individual and do so at the expense of any longer-term plans, to build freeway exchanges that rival Pharaoh in order to allow scant few private cars the luxury of travel without any interaction or need to adapt to an other.
Then there are the abundance of cameras and warning signs.
Doors exclaim that “this door must remain unlocked during business hours,” which considering this door is the primary entrance and egress for customers seems a strange posting. Other signs warn to obey laws. One sign says that an unlawful weapon is an offense. Apparently this offense is something weighted as to where you are. Are you around money, say, a bank? Are you around booze, say, a boozateria? Are you about children under the age of 10? About schools are more signs. The use of a cell phone is prohibited. This writer of missives and angry letters to the editor can only assume that means while driving…
Then there are the cameras.
Every traffic light has at least four cameras, and often a fifth one, just for luck I assume. Round and a wondrous globe, I wonder what the original independent settlers would have thought about these intrusions. Are they filming me as I sit there picking my nose at the red light. If I dip my phone down and text…. are they watching? Do these only become active in a police action, a state of emergency, a suspension of the local or county constitution or articles of incorporation? This is a strange place indeed. In each business no matter how mundane it seems more cameras and often an extra flourish, an armed guard – as if this space were indeed Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Russia…
Years ago I traveled to foreign lands with gusto in order to capture in my mind the jumbled existence of the former SOVIET bloc or the Third World(tm), and to see the great forests of the world before they are cut down and reduced to facial tissue or the ruins of grand cities still as study sites of academics and not the idle distraction of Disneyland vacationers gone wild. When I was in Rumania I thought I had a travel breakthrough, that golden epinephrin epiphany that all [most] backpackers are yearning for… I exclaimed in a drunken night to other travelers of the hostel as we discussed Zee Book (see issue #47) that I was going fast and hard to visit nations before they changed, to see these states as they are since they were, as I as a student of History, because they were America so many decades ago as I imagined. I was traveling as a student of American history. With the poverty, the pollution, the armed guards and corruption, I in my youth believed I was witnessing those activities of the Five Corners, of old South Boston, of America as She was still arranging herself to be a swaggering democracy, that Liberty lady with one breast just hanging out like, what, I’m Liberty and I have a sock for a hat and one boob out but that’s my Manifest Destiny… Bitches… In my travels I saw horse drawn funerary carts, men and women harvesting grain using scythes, hay stacks using the old pole method, vast country still under the yoke of agriculture and even oxen tilling the soil… I saw mafia transfers, was accosted by hookers, attacked by gypsies, and old men in felt boots pitter-pattering away hauling buckets filled with materials only they think qualify as food. All this was to me, in my inexperienced eyes a vision of the past, a holdover frozen in time for one reason or another. I also saw ugly development. SOVIET cement buildings, unfinished houses in India, and boondoggles galore the world over. Highways being build, the dirt literally being pushed out of the way as I drive through or that the bus I was on had to wait for machines to clear rock on the side of a cliff before we, the busload of crash test dummies, were to cross this new and unproven road.
As I was on a train in Russia I realized my mistake. I realized that what I was seeing was not America’s past, but Amerika’s future. I realized that the armed guards at the FudKenTacoHutBucksKingRucker in the Third World(tm) were indeed a glimpse into our own future. Our poverty. Our coups. Our police shooting protesters.
How, with the school lockdowns, Mall shootings, paranoid police, and rampant corruption – the disparaging wealth, the misuse of land, the ruination of farmers, that we have turned to hardness. This hard and suspicious mindset has descending on us as a people, we who used to be so positive that Americans were known the world over for being optimistic have now become jumpy and depressed tossing back medication and booze in order to feel right, to feel as we once did as children when the worst problem in our lives was that someone tossed a dirt bomb (Editor’s Note: this is a clump of dirt and nothing else) into the pool and Molly’s dad was “gunnabepissed.” How that what what I bore witness to as I traveled was of things to come. Those pictures I took were of the future as if a magic camera.
The police in the city I stayed in hid in the bushes in the only historic section of the area. The tree lined main street had a lower speed limit and there were the good officers in FLAC jackets pulling over motorists in droves in order I assume to gather much needed revenue for the city since no one here believes in taxes yet all believe in paved roads and police forces and they need pay for it somehow. In the hotel, at one point… just for shits, a sheriff came patrolling. This was in addition to the regular detail, a private security guard who this blogger can only describe as elderly, perhaps she was an apparition or as if some film about Mummies had come real. I hope that the elderly I see working here do so for fun, but I do doubt it. I suspect that like the elderly people toiling in the fields these too are here to keep oil and grain in the larder.
And so to this land there are a many wealthy. There are very many. This may seem to outweigh the number of poor, of the run down sections and workers cutting endless lawns and paving sempiternal roads who look beyond their age in the hot sun and thick humidity that takes the breath away and pushes a hot steaming hand right down into the pit of one’s stomach and grabs at whatever organ is closest. As the poor of this land live in hives of hot, the rich live in clusters of freezing cold since air conditioners seem to have a Newfoundland setting and going outside and then stepping in the same impact upon the body as any shvitz. Some of these wealthyesque clusters have gates. Little cheep barriers but they seem effective to keep all out but the servants. These homes are pristine. They exist in their own space. Not in public but the sacred private property of this nation state, the Sparta of the South. There are aggressive trucks in front of bellicose houses and one can only imagine the aggressive women who fire children out of their assertive vaginas as the men churn over all with huge machines to dominate Nature and pray to a vengeful G/g/_/o/d.
Between the dwellings of the destitute masses of angry and sweating face-tattooed lumpenprolitariat and the stately inflated McMansions of the rich or overleveraged Brass Nuts/Ovaries, is Die Woestyn. These are the highways that exist for their own sake. They do not serve any master, they are not the sort of passages for road trips in order to find yourself… These are lines on the ground in the Geography of Nowhere and about these spring up all manner of roadside establishments and about those are abandoned ideas but the size of buildings or malls. The signs stand fifty feet in the air. They advertise marble counter tops, steak and eggs, and strippers. The buildings are vast and tossed together in haste. They are endless and as old ones become abandoned or sold off to become taco stands and Spanish language churches new ones are built and more of the savannah is turned over into activity that seems deranged and born from some madness of Lovecraft or science fiction of Bulgakov.
Mixed in with the strip malls. Just across from the gated communities. Are the refineries.
As if some urban planner’s nightmare, high end homes are often jumbled in with highway flyovers and boiling vats of godknowswhat. If there is a flip flop upon your feet. If your car runs with a tiger in its tank. If you have need to turn on the grill and toss shrimp on the barby… these evil acres of steaming pipes and chimneys spewing invisible particulates are to credit. From the Sorghum Gum of your Now & Later to the polymer that bonds the bristles of your toothbrush to the ergonomic handle that prevents carpel tunnel syndrome when and if you remember to brush your teeth, this muck came from here… perhaps even the same vat. These endless stacks of pipes often are burning off some gas as an eternal fire and connected to these are rail lines and trucking channels and everything seethes in the summer heat. Die Woestyn is vast. From city L- to city H- it took over an hour and crossed this amorphous compilation of structures and networks, foundations never built upon and huge pounding derricks to realize new cities the like not even Italo Calvino would have dreamed up.
It is to this that in the distant hum of traffic and away away I can spy the burning gas of some factory that the sun sets as it does the rest of the world. This is indeed a country of itself, but perhaps not for the reasons people think. The Third Coast has a lot to offer still, I am sure and maybe in looking I will grow to love Die Woestyn of the Southern Sparta.