Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Five Points Confidential by Don McCallister
I was perambulating down the avenue the other day like the Grateful Deadâ€™s â€œdoo-dah manâ€ icon when who should I run into but raconteur, roustabout and all around rabble-rouser York â€œBuddâ€ Durden, back from an apparent sojourn in the territories. After we settled in at our favorite watering hole with a couple of frosty Dickens Ciders, I asked about his travels and experiences.
â€œActually,â€ he said, sheepish, â€œI was in the pokey the whole time. County lockup.â€
I did a spit-take, which Scotty the barkeep cleaned up with The State newspaperâ€™s Op-Ed page. â€œFor heavenâ€™s sake, Budd! On what charge?â€
â€œMopery. They said I was walking without a clear destination.â€
â€œThatâ€™s raw, man.â€ I took a sip. â€œWere you guilty?â€
A shrug. â€œI was actually loitering while walking. Thereâ€™s a difference, you know. But I wasnâ€™t going to split hairs.â€
I nodded knowingly, even though the distinction had too fine a point on it for me to grasp. â€œWith gas prices what they are, you should have gotten a medal, not incarceration.â€
â€œTrue-dat,â€ he said. â€œThree hots and a cot, though, ainâ€™t a bad deal in these unsettled economic times of ours.â€
He went on to ask me about the recent imbroglio over 5 Points getting a dedicated parking facility, of whether or not I thought it was a good idea to encourage more driving rather than less.
I told him that, indeed, some of the folks against the garage had expressed similar concerns, which I considered honorable but probably a bit too lofty and utopian to take hold on a practical level. â€œUnfortunately, the metro area on which the city center relies is too spread out. We have to have people driving into town to sustain our businesses.â€ It was Saturday, and I gestured out the window at the cars circling a packed and stacked Saluda Avenue.
â€œBut how long can we go on like this? I mean, all of us living so spread out from one another? How can we afford for the trucks to keep rolling, bringing all those California avocados and strawberries all the way from the left coast?â€
I thought about the fresh fruit Iâ€™d shoved into the juicer that morning, about the guacamole Iâ€™d made the other night. â€œWellâ€”you sort of take things for granted . . . that weâ€™ll figure out a way to keep all this going.â€ My words felt hollow.
Durden seemed to sense my growing epiphany, my unease. â€œMaybe we need to think of a new paradigmâ€”the age of exurbia may be passing, and I donâ€™t mean, like, decades from now. Americans consume 25 percent of the worldâ€™s resources . . .â€
â€œ . . . and you wake up in the middle of the night wondering if itâ€™s sustainable.â€
â€œLike, on a moral level. Not just in dollars and cents, eh?â€
I couldnâ€™t disagree.
He went on to describe his idea of a worldâ€”an apparent fantasy place, like Candyland or Wâ€™s working Texas â€œranchâ€â€”in which bike lanes and greenways became the norm instead of six-lane blacktop and belching engines. He also made the assertion that the climbing oil prices â€œare not a bubbleâ€”theyâ€™re here to stay. Too many people are getting too rich, either directly like Exxon, or just through speculation. And theyâ€™ll fight to keep it that wayâ€”look at our Iraq occupation. Think about itâ€”weâ€™re prisoners, shackled and bound to our way of life.â€
â€œBut the American character is bound up in the idea of drivingâ€”the romanticism, the adventure, like Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise.â€ I remembered my own halcyon days following the Dead around.
â€œBut at any cost, including that of leaving a decent world behind not just for our own children, but for all the worldâ€™s kids?â€
â€œPeople donâ€™t think about that sort of long-view stuff, man. Itâ€™s tough to change when youâ€™re busy just trying to make a living like I doâ€”like most people. Weâ€™re all just following the model weâ€™ve been given.â€
He shook his head. He got up and tossed a fistful of Sacagaweas on the bar. There was more to say, and yet not, so I let him go on his way. â€œIf we really are the beacon of the world, we must be the change,â€ he said over his shoulder. â€œWe must be the change we wish to see.â€
â€œBut what if we donâ€™t wish it?â€ He didnâ€™t hear me; he was already gone, just like the old Eagles tune. My point was that making the kind of lifestyle changes my idealistic friend espoused were easier said than done for the legions of otherwise decent Americans who canâ€™t yet see the necessityâ€”or otherwise lack the capacityâ€”for such a shift in thinking.
I walked outside. The sun was shining, people were shopping and happy and not thinking about the kind of things my boy and me had been discussing. I was glad; my store was doing well, and I looked forward to the day when we got our new parking and retail spaces and places for people to live here in the neighborhood.
And then I strolled up to a locally owned bike shop and bought a new bikeâ€”my first one in over fifteen years. The act felt good; it made sense.
James D. McCallister is a local businessperson and author of the novel Kingâ€™s Highway, which isnâ€™t about driving. He currently serves as the President of the 5 Points Association.