I gave up driving when I moved to San Francisco five years ago, because I hate driving, and a monthly bus pass means I can go anywhere in the city with something approaching efficiency for a little more than $500 a year — way less than car payments or gas or insurance (to say nothing of the three combined!). So my Exxon stop today before returning the weekend’s rental car was the first time I’ve gassed up a gar in ages, meaning it’s the first time I’ve experienced that nauseating knot in the stomach as you watch your price tally streak toward ten bucks as the volume indicator ambles leisurely past two gallons. Man.
Traveling around the greater D.C. area over the past few days has reminded me just how hard gasoline’s one-way ticket to Gougeville is going to hit the country in the coming years. Outside of a half-dozen dense metro areas, the past century of U.S. civic engineering has been built around the assumption of the permanent availability of cheap, plentiful gas. The most horrifying thing I saw all weekend was a newly-minted, artificial suburb-slash-strip mall whose name I can’t even remember — essentially a deconstructed shopping mall with the stores and parking lots freely intermingled, seemingly manufactured to resemble a quaint village. It failed, of course. Mostly it felt like someone had lifted one of the innumerable vapid shopping towns that comprise the majority of urban development between South San Francisco and San Jose and dropped it whole a few miles from Dulles. I wonder if cities and suburbs responsible for inventions like this will be able to adapt to the new reality in which driving a few blocks to go everywhere is no longer an afterthought to be taken for granted but a luxury few can afford, or if the entire country is just totally boned. I guess we’ll all find out in ten years, if we’re not dead from rioting.
On the plus side, I’ve discovered that U.S. Airways is apparently the last competent airline in America. Yeah, they’ve cut corners and corners — nothing is as fun as your stomach rumbling 500 miles into a cross-country trip before realizing that they don’t even give you a bag of pretzels for free — but at least those are fairly insubstantial considerations. (Most everyone else is laying off staff and overbooking their flights.) I flew round-trip across the country with connections for a total of four flights bookending a major holiday weekend, and each and every leg of the trip not only departed on time but mostly landed early. And there were empty seats, too! In fact, my Dulles-to-Phoenix flight was so far ahead of schedule I was able to jump on an earlier flight to San Francisco, which landed so far ahead of schedule that we had to taxi for 15 minutes because the traffic tower wasn’t ready for us. With the media full of stories of passengers turning feral after being stuck on the tarmac for 10 hours at a time, it was sort of refreshing to have a completely painless travel experience. It was like a brief reminder of the good old days before air travel in this country went straight down the crapper. Ah, memories.