“…I thought the only lonely place was on the moon.”
Paul McCartney, “Jet”
Most of my daily commute covers 25 miles of the New York State Thruway. The traffic is heavy during both morning and evening commuting hours, particularly between Exits 25 and 23.
One thing is very striking about each vehicle: the driver is nearly always the only person in the car.
Thousands of single-occupancy-vehicles each day. A mass of steel and rubber jockeying for road room at 70 miles an hour, all with one individual over each set of four tires. How lonely can we seem? How lost in ourselves are each and every one?
Naturally, we are all pretty busy while we cruise toward our place of employ or schooling. We listen to our radios and CD players. Some people shout at other drivers or give them the digit of universal disdain. We drink our coffee, eat our breakfast, do our makeup. Some even read the paper.
Those who crave human conversation will take out their cell phones, and flaunt the law. The safer ones have a wire crossing their shoulder, with that little knob about a foot below the earlobe, looking for all the world like an on-off switch rather than a receiver.
But in the end, don’t we look like hundreds of very lonely people? We represent one of the ironies of the metropolis age: mankind is crowding together in larger and larger metro/suburban/exurban communities, with more and more people on less and less space -- but we isolate ourselves from our neighbors. Big lawns and fences separate our homes. We drive into our driveways, shut the garage door behind us, and never even see our neighbor, much less wave to her. We walk up the front steps of the city brownhouse, or apartment building, and unlock the front door – the one with the bars, multiple latches, and camera above the alcove.
Our electronics keep us focused elsewhere – not really inward, just somewhere else. Digital music players and radios that come with small earpieces, so we can shut out anything within one foot. Huge 50-inch televisions, where we bury ourselves in vivid pictures and sounds. Video games that lock the mind into never-ending vignettes and chapters, hooked together in a seamless story that takes hours and cannot be broken.
I can’t fully condemn us commuters. For many, this may be the only solo time they get. Generally, we probably could be riding with a neighbor, working around the logistical problems and timetables, having a little human conversation and contact.
Meanwhile, we travel in a pack of SOVs. Yup, that’s me in the salt-covered black Focus. Driving by myself. Probably listening to Yes. Ask me if I’m lonely…