The Highway Men

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Not just in certain intersections and squeeze points, but for miles upon miles and in all directions.  Were this those dark old day of pre carbon locomotion, I would have taken wagon team days or even spry hiker hours to cover the distance from the first car in congestion to the last cars just joining this huge parade of engines and anger.  This is the commuter city, the lost and cemented bayous of Houston, Texas, this is the current and future landscape both Bladerunner and mundane; the stuff of late night documentaries and college radio.

The solution has to build ever more highways, to facilitate ever more movement and yet it seems to each one of these highways each lane is filled.  Eight lanes, ten lanes, fourteen lanes (perhaps counting the service roads that run aside each direction), the traffic piles up late into the day and soon into the evening.  In between the ebb and flow of these tides of engines and brake lights, there are sporadic events, small tragedies and occurrences to be seen.

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Close to the shopping mall an 18 Wheeler truck had slammed into a sedan in a configuration called the T-bone.  Later the same day, and not far away, a compact car had crashed into a city bus.  All about there were signs of conflagrations and very complicated days as the evidence was often strewn over the shoulder of the road.  Bits of car, chunks of unknown plastic, oil stains and clay litter absorbent, dust piles from flares, yellow caution tape and gashes in the guardrail, trees, or other features of the roadway.

There too in this city of checked movement are memorials to those movers and shakers and long haul men who did not make it to their destination.  Bundles of worn flowers set casually on the ground.  Small clusters of plastic decorations and notes dipped in tears and rain.  White crosses stapled to trees, planted in the ground, or tied to a traffic lamp post.   On the highway the large digital traffic signs serve both as light houses warning travelers of clogged roads and incidents, as well as dark houses, as they carefully enumerate the fatalities to date and count all the dead souls.

Day 58 in the Year of Our Lord two thousand fifteen hundred and already in the great state of Texas there are 285 enumerated traffic fatalities at the writing of this dispatch.

And perhaps this does not count the white bicycles and those pedestrians gunned down by a passing motorist this past week for daring to walk alone.

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And it is no wonder that this maze of passages there are so many dangers and distractions and seething anger on the roads of rage.  This blogger, in a short time in Houston, witnessed three major accidents, two of which I cannot see how anyone in the car may have survived.  About me there was a number of drivers weaving fast and furious in and out of traffic and I don’t think I have seen so many people blow red lights.  From those who sped through at the last moment (common) to those who would just pause, and then hit the gas or take a quick left turn with or without looking for on coming traffic.

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Some may say this is the nature of the folks of Houston.  Their cowboy heredity and culture of individualism.  This open range mentality is indeed at odds for the city they have built for themselves for this is a city of walls, gates, highways, and rules.  Lanes that close at certain hours, special highways tolled at “market rate,” and the roadways lined with acre after acre mile upon mile of roadside Krap-o-la: Kentacohuts, Mcburgerwendyislandadrepas, Hooters, Motelholidaysuper8s, welding shops next to city schools, tattoo parlors next to churches that inhabit former Rite Aids where parking lots and drive throughs feed in and out of the main roadways without warning.  The sense of agoraphobia at the wide expanses are mitigated by the acute claustrophobia of knowing one is trapped and it will take hours to escape the confines of Houston proper and the huge circle of settlement that surrounds that area that does not allow for open land and it takes hours to reach a wild area, a wilderness where the bayou has not been filled with plastic cups or cemented into submission.  I felt trapped, seething and the fear gripped me.  My stupid car could not get my out of this.  There was little I could do but sit in the traffic and wait for them to clear up the accident, haul away the cars, and hose off the pavement.  I became too weak even to blare the horn, I had become that animal in the jaws of a predator who despite having no wounds just goes prone and allows destiny to wash over…

The sticker on the mirror of the bar exclaimed “Fuck You, Houston is Awesome.”  The woman next to me asked me how I liked Houston, what my impressions of the city were as an outsider.

I cowboy’ed up a beer and that deep squinchy knitting of the brow as best as I could remember the Marlboro Man did, and said…

Highways.  So many fucking highways.

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