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Freeway Fantasia

This article originally ran in the Dec/Jan 2006/07 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

This article originally ran in the Dec/Jan 2006/07 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

We’re re-releasing two classic Grackle pieces every day through Sep. 26, in celebration of our 10th anniversary. The pieces that get the most attention will be included in a free “Best of the Grackle” audio collection, so please share your favorites. See this post for more details.

by Amos J. Hunt

Few of us are prepared to accept the statement that Irving’s Airport Freeway is punctuated by intersections. For, considering that the freeway, by its very nature, facilitates the express flow of traffic along a single line precisely by eliminating the interference of cross-traffic, it must be absurd to suggest that such interference exists.

Indeed, the freeway, being designed for purely utilitarian purposes, will be thought free even of those intangible intrusions of feeling which Longinus called “transport.”

However, such a thought could only survive on the most coldly rational matrix, and must melt to nothingness in the warmth of a minute’s attention. For after all, as the freeway is not a freeway at all, but only a vast slab, if no actual drivers are freed by it, their freedom belongs to the nature of the freeway as such; that is to say, it cannot be considered as a freeway at all except in view of the drivers to whom it makes itself available. Just what it frees them for is by no means as obvious as the intentions which laid it down in the first place, namely, the promotion of speed, and consequently of productivity. Rather, it includes the whole view of each individual following its course, insofar as that view is facilitated by the freeway itself.

Then we cannot ignore the way that a hundred birds suddenly scattered just as I looked at them the other day, as though breaking apart at my touch; nor the billowing of flag after flag, spreading and folding in obedience to the arrivals and departures of the wind. These manifestations are of course possible anywhere, but they are especially probable on that open road that makes its way through urban terrain, where the driver may regard the city around not as a possible incursion into his path (that is, as possible cross-traffic), but as a view around that presents itself as the complex boundaries of the driver’s course.

That these events themselves constitute intersections remains to be said. With a view to that saying, a brief look to the side will be better than a heedless and dogged advance in one direction. Consider the anecdote related by Aristotle of two tourists visiting the city of Athens: having seen the sights, they felt it would be unfortunate to leave the city without first observing a real philosopher at work, so they came to the door of Heraclitus. When he invited them in, and they found him warming his hands by the fire, they turned away, disappointed to find the great philosopher in such a humble position, rather than contemplating the heavens. But he called after them, “Come in; even here, the gods make themselves manifest.”

The coincidence of my eye turning to a flock of birds just at the moment of their breaking free of a telephone wire is a coinciding of two ordinary events in such a way as to make contact with the extraordinary. Or more clearly, the crossing of a natural force with a contrived artifact that occurs in every flag and banner along the side of the freeway is a display of the motion of the natural divinity as it moves and enlivens the devices of men—not that wind itself is a divinity, but that its articulation in the movement of a flag (however commercial in intention), expresses, exudes the divinities in a language that the traveling eye is uniquely prepared to understand.

But most marvelous of all is the intersection of topography and electric light. For it is here, as the road beneath rises and falls and the geometry of light shifts back and forth across a basic axis, that nature’s slowest force—namely, the tectonic movements that shape our landscapes—meets and controls man’s swiftest. It is this spectacle, above all others, that the driver on the freeway is most uniquely free to observe, and the one most germane and instructive especially to him: it reminds him, if he is paying attention, that, for all his haste, the driver cannot outpace the ancient crawl of stone, the heavens’ monumental speed.

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The Grackle is a production of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Imagine Dallas Literary Arts, Inc.