Thursday, November 20, 2008
82nd Avenue: Street of Lost Souls
Over the past couple years, I've occasionally been visited by a certain sentiment, a slightly melancholy emotional cocktail of regret, sadness, resignation, recognition, and pity, when I consider the not-too-distant future of our society, our civilization. The feeling, no doubt, has its genesis in the dark days that followed the 2004 general election, when it seemed that the forces of ignorance and fear had been utterly and irrevocably triumphant.
But that sentiment came upon me less and less frequently as this election approached, and I dared to hope that the American people had finally become aware of the futility and malignancy of the so-called "conservative movement."
Well, last night, Maty and I had occasion to get in the car and take a drive down 82nd Avenue (sometimes called "the Avenue of the Roses") in East Portland, and that old, by now familiar, feeling took hold again.
Eighty-second Avenue runs all the way from Portland International Airport, at its northern terminus, to the city of Clackamas, in the south for a distance of about 7 miles. This main artery of north-south traffic is chock full of single-occupant vehicles stacked up at interminably long traffic lights all day and all through the night. It is lined on either side by strip mall after strip mall, each indistinguishable from the 50 that precede it and the 50 that follow it, populated by ridiculously unnecessary retail outlets, fast food restaurants, cheap hotels, and convenience stores. Each strip mall is well-back from the actual street, buffered by vast acres of black-top parking lots. Only the bare minimum amenities exist for pedestrians. The outlay is such that it is easier and safer to drive than to walk from one parking lot to the next a few hundred yards away.
In short, 82nd Avenue is a soulless desolation devoid of anything nourishing to the soul, the spirit or the body. Or so it seems to me.
Last night, as we did the brake-and-gas shuffle from Division Street to somewhere south of Holgate, the utter waste and inanity of it all gripped my soul. Not for the first time, mind you. But with the triumph of the last election still fresh on my mind, the usual despair remained at bay.
Well, it is true that this zeitgeist we have created perverts so much of humanity's better nature. We have become soft, pathetic creatures, morally and physically obese, feeding on salt and fat and corn syrup. We sit passively while a never-ending stream of images passes before our eyes, convincing us to buy, to consume, to submit.
But as realities assert themselves on a global level, as civilization itself is threatened by the rapid depletion of fossil fuels and by the environmental degradation that looms ever more direly, it seems apparent that 82nd Avenue and the lifestyle it represents, is doomed. A new world is being born. What will it be? No one really knows.
There will be pain. There will be suffering. And I suppose it is natural to be somewhat afraid, somewhat wistful. But the old life of living for the moment, with nary a thought for the future? That is doomed. Gone. Terminal.
There is little enough to mourn in the passing, anyway. In fact, this past election gave me hope that most people recognize that it is time for us to change our ways. It seems that we're facing the future at last, rather than ignoring it.
As my friend, Ridwan, says, "Onward!"