At the very point at which LoCo Parkway begins, is a scene that, for my money, is positive proof that this country is headed straight for the wall with no one at the wheel. One the right side of the road is a shopping mall -- anchor grocery store, Starbucks knockoff, hair salon, what have you. On the left side of the road -- remember, a four-lane divided road where the speed limit is 50 miles an hour -- stands a condo development, what, about 300 units packed together, facing parking lots, the Parkway (now there's a view!), other muddy, denuded bulldozed lots where more of these hideous things are due to go up.
What's even more depressing than the architecture, though, is one simple fact that smacks me in the face every time I pass this way: There is absolutely no way to walk safely from the condo side of the road to the other to go shopping. No overpass, no underpass, not even a zebra-crossing painted on the road.
Even if you wanted to, you couldn't put the kids in a stroller or a bike-trailer and amble over to the Starbucks for a latte and a chinwag with the neighbors.
We've designed ourselves into Hell. A Polis without an Agora.
Joe Bageant drove through Brambleton recently, and had this to say, in another of his powerful and beautiful essays that I could only dream of writing:
...Brambleton is a real place. And today I am passing through it under the slowly arching mid-morning sun, which seems to be the only moving thing today in this development Northern Virginia development. There is not a human or even a car in sight down the long wide streets, just a crystallized silence occasionally nicked by the chirp of an unseen sparrow. My rusted out 18-year-old Toyota truck moving slowly along the streets, with its oxidized paint and a dead air conditioner sticking up from its bed gives all the more impression of some post apocalyptic scene from a not-quite-nameable film. A distinct eeriness pervades the sculpted green landscape and its too-bluish precast artificial stone retaining walls and artlessly placed trees, as though it were a movie set about to be torn down any minute, an illusion created for the moment. And in a way it is. Even something as timeless as a tree becomes a prop in places like Brambleton; they will be landfill in a few years because several feet of top and subsoil were scraped during site preparation. Trees won't ultimately survive in what's left, no matter how much mulch, fertilizer and watering is done. But they look OK now in a place where the average house is six years old, in a planned community with no communal memory, no sense of time's trajectory in which one can sense a future, or a common weal except through changes in real estate prices. CNN Money has called this place, 29 miles west of Washington D.C., one of the best places to live in America.Joe hits directly some of the themes that I was more obliquely aiming at in this post. It's the same place. "There is a Buddhist principle," says Joe, "to the effect that the dream also dreams the dreamer. And that's what happened with the American Dream, which is why we are all sleepwalking through this escalating nightmare of meaninglessness, unable to shake ourselves awake." (Did I mention Joe's piece is a real cheerer-upper?)