Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Travelin' to Grand Rapids

The wonders of the American transportation system.

At 7:30 this morning, I drove less than 2 miles to connect with Interstate90 in upstate New York. Eleven hours and 646 miles later, I arrived in Grand Rapids, Michigan -- never leaving a four-lane highway. Crossed the Niagara River, drove by three of the Great Lakes, went from the rolling hills of the Mohawk Valley to the flatlands of Ontario and Michigan.

Four generations back, an American might have gotten to the next county in one day of travel. Today, I went a quarter of the way across the country...Well, two countries, since the most direct route took me through Canada.

The interstate system is Eisenhower's legacy, the federal government's major foray into the road construction business. Ike used the government's security and defense rationale for building one of the largest road networks in the world, a ribbon of red four-lanes across 48 states. We can all use our four-wheeler engines to go anywhere we want on the American map.

There are consequences to this, some of them negative. Our reliance on highways for such a high proportion of our transportion keeps a huge auto industry in business. We are pretty lonely in these cars, as far too many of us commute to work by ourselves. All these cars have helped deplete our supply of fossil fuels. We haven't done much to improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine for over a hundred years, and apparently these things aren't friendly to the atmosphere.

I contributed to the problem today. Drove by myself. Probably got 32 miles to the gallon, but still burned plenty of gasoline. Coulda slowed down and saved gas. Might have found someone else to go with me.

So what is in Grand Rapids? The Festival of Faith and Writing, a biannual conference on writing and spirituality held at Calvin College. An impressive roster of novelists, poets, essayists, screenwriters, graphic artists for three days of lectures, workshops, conversations, interviews. I wandered the campus tonight (always been intrigued by college campuses), found the conference center and was able to pick up my registration materials early. Spent an hour trying to select the sessions that I will attend over the next three days -- not an easy task! For instance, here's the description of a session with author Kathleen Norris:

Acedia...Again: Few people today have encountered the word 'acedia', which literally means not-caring, of being unable to care -- or even being unable to care that you don't care. In some ways, though, acedia defines today's culture, expressing itself as willful indifference, restless boredom, or even frantic busyiness. Norris discusses both acedia and its opposite -- the zeal that draws on faith, hope and love.

Yikes! Wanta hear that one, but it competes with another poet at the same time. The whole weekend is like this!

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