The stuff outside the car window on a road trip is actually real

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. 

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” 
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Interstate highways accentuate the problem. They take you past the real territory whether it’s small towns with local character or countryside made up of differing ecosystems that all blend together outside the car window with the same unreality as the background in cheaply made theater/tv cartoons. Even the exits look alike, featuring the same chain gas stations, fast food restaurants, and hotels as the exits one saw five hundred miles ago.

Wikipedia photo.

I remember my first trip through the peninsula part of Florida. Looking back, the homespun roadside attractions all seem rather tacky and low grade when compared to the destinations everyone’s racing to see in and around Orlando or Tampa or Miami. All that homespun was real and very different from town to town when compared with today’s tourist destinations. Even now, I prefer the numbered U.S./State/County roads where one can experience the local cultures and local environments. I’d rather eat at Mom’s Diner than another Applebee’s or another Cracker Barrel.

Chain restaurants offer a bit of security, I guess. When you walk into an Applebee’s or a Cracker Barrel, you already know what you’re getting. With Mom’s Diner, you don’t. When a see chain restaurants, I think of the old Pete Seeger song “Little Boxes,” a slam against suburbia, and I think, yes, all these buildings are made of ticky tacky and look just the same.

When you race through Florida on I-4, I-10, I-75, and I-95, you’re really out of alignment with the territory and can no longer say (obviously) that the journey is more important than the destination. Using the contents page of one of my favorite books about Florida’s wetlands, when you travel an Interstate you don’t see, much less differentiate, between seepage wetlands, interior marshes, interior swamps, coastal intertidal zones, and mangrove swamps. Likewise, hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, and savannahs fly past your car window (like TV) at a mile a minute.

Wikipedia Photo.

I see that Disney World and other theme parks are raising prices again. So, there goes a hell of a lot of money, long lines, crowds of people bumping into each other, submerged within Orlando’s ticky-tacky sprawl, and then home again via Delta Airlines or the Interstate. Missing from this experience is, of course, the real Florida. You missed the whole thing except for the so-called Magic Kingdom that features everything but real magic.

I’ll admit that when my daughter was little, we took her to see Seaworld and Disney World. And we recently went back again with her family so that my granddaughters could see the best of the best at Universal and Disney. Yes, we had fun. Probably, the kids had even more fun. I hope the kids will grow up and discover the real Florida someday, that is to say, a beach other than Daytona with its crowds and condos and hotels, the real magic of grasses, wildflowers and trees in one of the state’s diverse environments.

One Interstate is pretty much like another, but the stuff outside the car window isn’t the same from state to state. It’s too bad the good stuff gets passed by. It’s even worse when you realize most people don’t think anything’s outside the car window.

Malcolm

Campbell’s contemporary fantasy novel “The Sun Singer” is free this weekend of Kindle.

 

 

 

Remembering Robert M. Pirsig

“Robert M. Pirsig, whose “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a dense and discursive novel of ideas, became an unlikely publishing phenomenon in the mid-1970s and a touchstone in the waning days of the counterculture, died on Monday at his home in South Berwick, Me. He was 88.” – New York Times

I’m not a philosopher, so I’ll leave it to the philosophers to put Pirsig’s philosophy of Quality into perspective. I never met Pirsig, so I’ll leave it to those who knew him to talk about what they talked about and what it meant to them.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

Nonetheless, my memories were personal because–even though I didn’t subscribe to Pirsig’s passion for Quality (as he saw it)–I felt like all of his sentiments surrounding it were things I was then in the process of discovering; or, as the sages who believe we know everything before each earthly incarnation suggest, remembering.

As I looked out the windows at the landscape from my coach seat in the Empire Builder and saw Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana flying past, I had to smile because this was the route Pirsig took on his motorcycle. Except that he said seeing such sites through a car window was pretty much just more TV. The train window views weren’t real because I wasn’t inside those views.

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

He believed the journey was more important than the destination. So did I. I still do. I loved the train, but I also preferred the experience from my motorcycle trip in the Rockies or perhaps from my 6,000 miles in an open-topped Triumph TR3. Mountain climbing and walking were even better. So, I believed that experience trumped books and sages and presumed logic.

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. ”

Today we’re even in more of a hurry. Perhaps TV dinners and instant coffee were the first omens of the world to come. Hurry up and wait: we said that in the navy. Now we’ve gotten rid of a lot of the waiting thanks to satellite TV and the Internet. By any real definition of the term, quality has suffered.

Pirsig’s work had a profound influence on my thinking. It still does. There was a time when my ideas were called “New Age.” I disliked the term because the ideas it included were very old, presented in today’s terms. One might say the same thing about many of Pirsig’s ideas; though he presented them in such a monumentally different way, they had more impact than the dusty manuscripts in the forgotten section of the library.

“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.”

That sounds very parental, doesn’t it? So, I expect many of today’s young people would say, “hell that’s the kind of crap my father and grandfather tried to get me to swallow.” Perhaps they did, but you didn’t understand what they were talking about.

I used to work at a place where my sarcastic comment about the general work ethic was that “a half-assed job saves time.” Just get the work out the door. If it doesn’t last, it’s somebody else’s problem down the road.  I think a lot of places consider that work ethic to be the guiding force of business and industry and, hell, maybe even literature. If so, they need to get a copy if Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and repair themselves.

–Malcolm