Monday, March 7, 2011

Getting Places

**I get less page views now that I'm not on Facebook it looks like....hopefully the trend doesn't continue. Here is a paper I wrote about PLACE for my Pathways to Civic Engagement class.

Putting the car into park, debating whether or not to turn off the engine, hanging our heads out of the windows like dogs on a joyride, blasting the dated tunes of Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls, and in the back of our minds, slightly worrying about our to-go order at Escalantes, Kathryn, my jeep and I sat in a standstill line of cars on the Westpark Tollway. Five hours after first setting out for a Friday afternoon adventure, neither of us would have guessed that three hours would be spent in a car, in traffic, on every freeway in Houston.

Traffic like this, as well as, concrete, exhaust fumes, oil prices, and construction cones largely define me. Coming from Houston, the fourth most populated city and void of an effective public transportation system, much of my life has been spent in a car on freeways. Since childhood, the freeways—Loop 610, Katy (I-10), North (I-45), Northwest (290), and Southwest (59)—have been as common to me as cartoons on television.

Just as freeways allow one to progress from one place to another, these structures, steadfast day after day, observe a daily change in the lives of millions of commuters who partake in its services. In my infanthood, the freeways helped my father soothe his fussy daughter as he made the “Transco Run;” six miles to and six miles back from popular Houston destination, Wall of Water. Then, as I progressed into middle school, freeways allowed my mom to ferry me across town for this swim meet, that soccer game, and those lengthy dance competitions. In high school, I acquired my driver’s license, my first set of wheels, and my chance at exploring Houston on my own. Finally, the same freeways that I grew up with for nineteen year led me out of Houston and off to Austin.

The Houston freeways never changed, only expanded, and I found comfort in knowing each freeway exit, each area of the city, and each shortcut to avoid traffic. Spaghetti strands of concrete bound the city together. The freeways connected friends and families, transported ideas and goods, and blended diversity. In a way, I became that spaghetti as well. I chose a balanced life with multiple friend groups that permitted a constant flow of new ideas. This interaction, as suggested by the freeway network, prevented assimilation to the ideals and uniform of one set of people.

With my first car came the freedom and accessibility to the freeway system that allowed me to discover my love for exploring. I drove round and round on Loop 610, discovering new restaurants and hidden neighborhoods, and learning largely through experience—getting lost and finding my way back home. Where 610 would split off into three directions like the head of fork, I had once ventured to the left only to travel out of Houston and into suburbia. Deductive reasoning, green freeway signs, and emergency calls to my father always solved any wrong turn. The experience of being lost and then found could not have been learned in the passenger seat.

The freeways taught numerous life lessons like navigational skills, courtesy when considering other drivers, and patience when sitting in traffic from three to six near the Galleria. Red taillights poked along and then lit up, one by one, as if synchronized along the concrete hills and too often, drivers would grow hasty. Patience with the state of getting nowhere and presumably wasting time was a well-learned skill. Traffic also allowed time for reflection and forced one to wait and be still. The absence of traffic, however, required focus and served as a distraction from minor day-to-day problems.

In today’s society, we are largely driven by the importance of time and money, the necessity to move via car and the desire avoid traffic through use of a streamlined flow of traffic that a freeway advertises. Its efficiency, however, does not comprise a freeway’s whole list of benefits. Freeways led us to where we live and function today, and freeways connect us to our past. Only one hundred and sixty miles stand between my family, my friends, and my past in Houston. In terms of the future, a freeway will take me there and another freeway waits beyond that.