I skirt downtown on the freeway in rush hours every day, morning and afternoon. There is always a mess of traffic; cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles flowing into and out of the city. Often, as you can imagine, it doesn’t flow so well. I can be easily frustrated, fingers clenching the steering wheel, steam blowing out of my ears, bad words spilling out of my mouth. Yet, in the bigger picture, I have to admit, it works. We cooperate. We allow people to merge, we fluctuate speed, we make allowances for an inexperienced or inattentive, dumbass (my favorite word to mutter on the road) driver, etc. We cooperate out of self-interest, mostly. The fastest way home is not to have an accident, not to get a speeding ticket.
What else are you going to do, anyway? Besides working somewhere else, taking different hours, or utilizing public transportation, that is.
While driving, my mind floats. I think about the people who planned the roads, who built the roads, who repair the roads. The people who paint the lines and plow in the winter, the people who manufacture orange cones and flashing barricades, the people who create cement and tar. I think about my widowed grandmother, who ran a sort of hostel for transient road workers back in the 50’s, completing a line of highway 41 in Wisconsin. How that led to her meeting one particular man on the crew that became my mother’s step-father, who I came to know as my Grandpa, who brought his young daughter into the mix who became my favorite aunt.
Lines, connections, intersections.
I look above the road and see the train moving over the trestle, and think about the contents of those freight cars, and the people who operate the trains and maintain the train tracks, and where the tracks lead. I think about my wife’s brother, an immigrant from Guyana, who worked for the railroad, repairing and maintaining those engines in the rail yards at night. How that job allowed him, over an eon of time, to save enough money to sponsor his parents and siblings to immigrate and start lives here. The connections that eventually led to my wife, and our children.
I drive past businesses, homes, parks, malls. I wonder, what if that was my life, in that place, living there, working there, shopping there, at that moment. Everywhere, there is a job, a myriad of connection, a life lived. A piece of an ever-growing puzzle, filled.
Pick up any piece of the City and hold it to the light. The rainbow of intersections and meanings will pulsate madly. The more you look, the more you see. But trying to speak of it or get to the heart of it is like bottling the wind. Or photographing individual trees to represent a forest. I can make pictures of the parts, but will anyone sense the whole?