Just Because You're Full Doesn't Mean You Should Stop Eating
March 1, 2002
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A folk music critic recently wrote of "... a suburbanized and sanitized America... a giant crowded highway lined end to end with WalMart and McDonald's...," and of the "...increasingly vulgar and distracted audience..." for which today's radio is targeted. He spoke of "...an age when life was slower, folks knew each other, and decent, unpretentious music could be found just about anywhere."
It's a familiar rant. Normally this sort of writing brings on a vague gag reflex in me; I spend a good deal of time in exactly that environment and grew up in that previous decent and unpretentious age when folks knew each other. And of course the giant crowded highway is not pretty, at least not compared to the crowded city markets in exotic National Geographic places like Algiers, but at the same time there's less crime on the giant highway and one can take care of business and move on, and most of us who aren't truckers can get off the giant highway fairly quickly and into a neighborhood of our own choosing.
So I rise now to speak on behalf of sanitized giant crowded highways lined with commercial vulgarity everywhere: they're a natural thing, folks, as natural as the carotids and the femorals and the aortas we all carry around. And if the view is a little too jarring for the sensitive types now and then, the hidden beauty of the six-lane and the four-lane and the cloverleaf is exactly that they are a magnet for all that nasty commercialism. It used to attach itself to the two-lanes; the Interstates have taken it all on themselves, not only the rampant garishness strewn around but also all the heavy traffic, all those monster semis like ours, and the buses -- and all those millions of grim 4-wheelers -- so that almost anywhere in America you can cruise back roads as sweet as maple syrup and very seldom come face to face with a big old Peterbilt.
The net result of the concentration is that this country is more beautiful now than it's been since the advent of the motorized era. You can ride the back country of Montana and Wyoming or any state you please and you will be astounded at how peaceful it all is. You can hit a deer or a raccoon in any state in the Union and do it without fear of being rear-ended when, too late, you slam on the brakes.
And now that I'm up and touting the hidden charms of the freeway, it's natural to move on to defend the other favorite whipping boy of the squeamish media, the saloon. It's a drumbeat, thousands of personal ads beginning with: "Tired of the Bar Scene?" and "Tired of Playing Games?" and all the rest of it, as if writing your own lying flattering profile in response to someone else's is more real than a chance meeting between friends of friends, or even between total strangers. And the bar business has suffered not only from that but from the great wars brought on by those in the lawyering trade who live on the belief that for everyone's dumb mistake there has to be someone else to sue; hopefully some businessman. There are legions of our citizens who believe in legislation through litigation, which I don't mind saying is a terrible disfigurement of the democratic process.
I love bars. Don't drink nearly as much as I used to but I still love the bars, and there are some great ones out there, starting with the Montana Bar in Miles City and the Owl in Livingston and taking it anywhere you want to go from there. I flinch when people badmouth taverns, because it's where the music is and where it was born. It's where all the amazing music of this incredibly musical nation begins; the livable cities in the USA are the music cities: Austin, New Orleans, San Antonio, Memphis, Chicago, Nashville. These surveys miss the point when they grade cities by the mil rate and the number of churches and junior colleges; the essential questions are these: "Is there live music there? Is there lots of it? Is it any good? Are the bars fun? Can you stay up late?"
. . . .
And on a more quiet subject, one is repeatedly amazed at the cheap wonders available to you if you have a microscope in your kitchen, right out there where you can use it. Put a decorative old silver kitchen ladle under a college-surplus 10-power microscope and you enter a whole unknown landscape; what were small engraved roses become giant complex metallic domed structures, a shiny curving fluid world gashed in every direction, skinned and nicked by every rubbing with its neighbors in the drawer. Rust way down there in the tight corners.
Put a beetle under there and you see an iridescent weapon of war, armor-plated, with radio antennae and light-sensitive and infrared sensors; an 8-legged ground mobility system capable of climbing vertical walls and an instantly-deployable concealed flight system. But mostly what you see is that brilliant shell and those fabulous kinetic colors; shifting, mesmerizing. It harkens back to a time when weapons were not only life and death but also art itself; to times of armor suits, of incredible plated horses, of painted faces and warbonnets, lances, shields. Plumes on silver helmets and fancy red coats with gold brocade. If you could put that beetle's coloration on the angular details of a Stealth bomber or an Abrams tank -- well, it just wouldn't make any sense, would it. But it sure looks great on a beetle.
Fabrics under the scope look like endless plains of interlooping hemp rope, of the kind used for mooring ships, but with a lot of extra hair; letters on the newspaper look like t-shirt art. And what really knocks your socks off are leaves and feathers; a living reality so orderly and graceful you can barely believe it. You think the world up here is complex enough, and then you see the substructure; and below that is yet another substructure, but you don't have the money for the electron microscope to take you there.
On the other hand, the electron microscope would be cheaper than buying a Hubble telescope of your own, the first big step into the next reality up. One has the feeling that in a generation or two our computers will bring all these fabulous worlds right into the house. Live on stage, in real time: see real enzymes break down carbohydrates; watch burning stars fall into black holes. Eaten alive!
. . . .
Something about subversive t-shirts that seem so uplifting: one on a teenage boy in Boone, Iowa, said: IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO START WRECKING YOUR LIFE.
On the same theme, a week earlier in New Orleans, a mild one for that town: JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE FULL DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD STOP EATING.