Year 5, Piece Twenty-Six: 45. Black White Yellow
They say that in the Midwest there are only two seasons: Winter and Construction.
This past week we clocked at least 600 miles of Midwest driving, with a decent amount of road work going on. I was behind the wheel for most of those miles, including when I took the photos for this animation (disclaimer: do not try this at home; we were going much slower than it appears and it still wasn’t the smartest thing to do).
From the asphalt to the paint to the signage, Black White Yellow is the color of the road. Or the road as of the 20th century, with the advent of cars. Black White is interconnectedness, transcendence, light. Yellow is power, energy, sun, yes.
Driving long distances is a strangely collective activity, and not just because I was at the helm of a minivan with three generations of passengers. Driving is a dangerous dance with strangers in metal boxes, speeding up and slowing down with and in spite of each other. The separation of those boxes can make the interaction of driving feel impersonal, but (at least for now) there are humans making decisions that directly impact your personal safety.
Beyond the literal collectivity of driving, it’s also a decent if often used metaphor for life. You know, we are all on the road together. Or maybe it is that there are many roads, many interchanges, many entrances and exits, and not all connected. Many types of vehicles, many types of passengers, definitely not enough types of fuel. Individual contexts and stories all so different from each other and yet traveling through time and space together.
Okay, maybe it is just that I am from the Motor City and I actually secretly love to drive. But I also hate cars and try to organize my life around using them as little as possible, though that has certainly slipped a lot in recent years with the pandemic + two kids.
Still, when I stop to think about not just the carbon I emit while I am driving but the carbon emitted during the travel of all of the things that I consume and throw away, and then expand that to think about all of the travel of other people and their things, it feels daunting and hopeless. Not because there are too many people to all make more ecological choices: I need to remind myself that it’s so much bigger and in the hands of so many fewer than that. It feels like the whole human project is a vehicle with no brakes, but maybe it is that we don’t have the right people behind the wheel. We don’t have The People behind the wheel. Could “we” ever?
I don’t really have anything uplifting to say to wrap this up, and this driving metaphor is getting tired. I’ll just point to what I said about Black White Yellow for Year 3:
Restoring power to the many through collective action. Smashing systems of oppression and violence with a shining Yes to what’s possible.
Well, at this moment, even saying yes to what’s possible seems kind of impossible. Maybe the road we’re on is a loop, like this animation.
And like maybe there is no more winter, only perpetual construction.