As I write this, I’ve just woken up from two successive nights sleeping in my car at rest areas, but I spent last night on the outskirts of Wilsonville, not five minutes from a classy-ass Starbucks, so fuck yeah. I have a car, so I drive, too much, actually, but I pay some fucking attention to how a wide variety of other people live, in the interest of not being a damn idiot, so I recognize my own good fortune to be able to pile a bunch of shit haphazardly into a not too heavily used Focus and not into a stolen shopping cart.
We’ve enjoyed some crude language already, so let’s enjoy some more, this time as part of a vicarious cold Chicago morning. Some Chicagoans live in the ghetto (in the ghetto); others get out of the ghetto on a regular basis to operate the CTA’s free fare program. I heard about this from a guy who chatted me up at the cell phone charging stations in front of the Metra ticket windows at Union Station, but it’s way the hell more credible than probably forty percent of what I read in any newspaper of record, so I believe it. The way the free fare program works is that a bum with a free unlimited CTA fare card will go up to Addison on Cubs game nights and call out, “Any of you white motherfuckers want to get on the train for free?” Because their black ally has accurately assessed the moral character of his White clientele (not much), the answer is oh fuck yes, more drinking money. The bum then swipes preppy shitheads through the turnstiles by the dozens in exchange for whatever tips they offer him; they’re loaded, often in both senses, so the tips can run into the hundreds of dollars an hour, but the bum usually quits within a few minutes, after he’s cleared about forty.
This is one of the least racist things to happen in Chicago. The White Community involved in this scam makes its contribution to the Society for the Prevention of Kwesi Millington for Sheriff. The bum isn’t meanspirited or bigoted for calling them white motherfuckers; he’s just making sure that he’s getting through to his target customer base, which is assuredly white, and most assuredly White, and isn’t exactly not motherfuckers. They all know that the farejumpers aren’t proper old church ladies. I don’t enjoy ripping off transit agencies, even badly run ones, so I wouldn’t Fly the W for being invited into a seedy racket like that, but I’m not a preppy Northside cocksucker. I’ve never been to Lakeshore Drive. The El doesn’t go there, and I’m always le tired when I visit because I’ve been humping luggage around after some redeye train ride or flight. What, me Royko? Also, I’ve seen some dystopian shit in Whole Foods and don’t expect it to get better if I wander even further north.
Seven generations from now, the CTA may have recovered from the Emanuel administration. RAHM SHANTI, RAHM HARE HARE. Fare-whoring bums aren’t crapifying the CTA by having loose morals with their cards. The assholes they’re swiping onto the El are doing more than their fair share as private citizens to screw over the system, but they’re still relative bit players. (Yes, I inevitably started to write that as “fare share.” Faaaaaahhk.)
The real trouble comes from the elected officials and cronies that the preppy fuckheads cherish in their municipal government. Rahm is surely steak-knife-into-the-table livid about the fare-whoring bums up at Addison, because they’re running an unauthorized paleoliberal racket under the auspices of at least two administrations of social democracy, not an authorized neoliberal racket under the auspices of a mayoral administration that gets schoolchildren killed on their way to school by closing their neighborhood schools and forcing them to cross rival gang territory. The bums can’t take part in some bullshit scam to give Metra riders free Uber rides for signing up for some app; getting driver’s licenses would get in the way of being severely mentally ill and drunk, and besides, parts of the El run all night. The guy who told me about the swiping scam said that the welfare authorities and the CTA probably figure they’re nutty as fuck, “Yeah, I’m gonna get on the bus five times in a row and then get on the train another three times.” I don’t doubt that they’re card-carrying members of the mental health community, because I know that they carry cards.
What I don’t know, and what the guy who told me about this racket didn’t say, is whether the police turn a blind eye to it on the Northside specifically in furtherance of white privilege and, for that matter, White privilege. Dude was mixed-race black and not squeamish about discussing racial problems, but that didn’t come up and I didn’t think to ask about it. I recall him making some comments indicating that the scam is allowed in racially integrated skid row neighborhoods, too, but some of what he said faded into my sleep-deprived haze, pursuant to Wow Much Travels.
So far we have white motherfuckers who are also embarrassingly White driving less because their brothers by very other mothers are there to swipe them on to the train. Some of them probably take the El in sober daylight hours, too. A friend of the Insurance Schmuck’s has been driving less because she totaled a car that her parents had bought for her in a drunk driving accident; since then, she has been commuting to work in Center City on the old R6, getting around Conshohocken on Uber, and still getting sloshed at the Great American.
Many of my other contacts in greater Philadelphia’s White Community, however, continue to drive all over hell. It takes a lot to get Americans out of their cars. SEPTA, by this reckoning, is not a lot. I still use it when I visit, and I can confirm that it kind of sucks. On dysfunctional lines and at bad times of day, it sucks major ass, and I’ve never tried to argue that it isn’t a great place to get work as a total numbskull. By contrast, the LA Metro Rail system has been exceeding ridership expectations. I’ve used LA Metro quite a bit, too, and it beats the shit out of almost anything that SEPTA runs, so I think that’s why. A cherished Angeleno car culture makes more sense to pop culture consumers in flyover country who never visit LA and to TV executives who live off Mulholland Drive than it does to anyone normal who tries to commute on the 101. Reason Online doesn’t change that by concern-trolling Metro and LA voters with dispatches from empty trains on the Expo Line on the first day of service. It didn’t take long for normies to notice that the line really worked and to start mobbing it.
LA now has excellent rail service in some areas and slow boat to China bus service in others. Philadelphia continues to have shitty transit service in many areas. San Diego continues to have a trolley system culturally fit for Tom Perez and Bill Durden and logistically fit for not a hell of a lot. It takes really good transit service to get affluent people who demand reliability out of their cars. If they vote for Rahm, that’s an oops for all of us. There will always be a hardcore minority of Kardashian-aspirant assholes who insist on taking limousines to clubs with bottle service, unless mass media trendsetters start recoding limos as trailer park trash trucks, but they’re marginal and susceptible to peer pressure holding that buses aren’t for losers anymore.
The obstacle to walkable neighborhoods, to arrangements like being able to safely stumble home blind drunk on account of Conshohocken’s geography, is speculative rentier parasitism, and that’s as American as apple pie and industrialists approaching Smedley Butler with coup proposals. It isn’t immutable; America has evolved from good to evil to good to evil in the past; but there’s a shitload of defensive, possessive, easily riled up, belligerent incumbent elites who have to be overcome if walkable urban planning is to be redemocratized.
The places where people without cars are left in the meantime can be pretty fucking ugly and difficult, even dangerous, to navigate. Remember, I live by the light rail station in Rancho. I don’t stay there, but I lives here; can I come in? Rancho is reasonably walkable for a suburban shithole, but it’s still sketchy and poorly appointed. Northeast Salem is much safer and sociologically upstanding, but its urban planning is worse. East Salem, trashier but no Rancho and certainly no transit-oriented San Diego, has been described to me as “Felony Flats;” it also has bad urban planning. There are densely populated streets in Salem with apartment complexes but no sidewalks.
The reason people in these neighborhoods get by without cars is that they cannot afford cars. It’s that simple. The Salem bus systems, Cherriots and CARTS (Scout’s honor, that’s what they’re called), don’t operate on weekends. Not a lot of people move out to Lancaster Drive to walk for their health.
Extrapolate this by a few thousand to account for all the other towns whose cores have been gentrified by hipster shitwads, and the implications for those displaced into the banlieue aren’t so groovy. The implications for declining motor fuel demand are pretty dystopian, too. Every time gas prices drop, Americans start trading in sensible cars for gas guzzlers again. We’re an awfully profligate people. If gas demand remains low in spite of this ostentatious waste, it makes sense that it’s because lower classes of Americans have been dispossessed from car ownership entirely. That’s a great way to kill fuel demand while still allowing those with enough credit or cash to continue to buy shiny jacked up crew cab pickups for the proper manful display of truck nuts.
No one at the farm where I work, staff or owner, drives anything of the sort. It’s because we aren’t useless assholes. It’s because we aren’t drugstore cowboys. We leave it to others to waste money on vain shit like that.
It goes to show that it’s easy enough for a country to be ruined and beggared by an aspirational ten or fifteen percent. All it takes is an organized, pushy minority, another minority that figures it may someday enjoy the same privileges, and a disorganized, apathetic majority that doesn’t particularly care for the bullshit but can’t figure out what it can possibly do to combat it. Why the hell should RV touring take precedence for policymakers over weekend bus service in cities of two hundred thousand? Because RVers vote; that’s why. As their bumper stickers brag, they’re spending their grandchildren’s inheritances.
Our leaders cater to those who demand things of them, and the circuit-riding senior bling crowd is demanding. Why wouldn’t it be? These are people who believe that they’ve earned the right to drive around in fucking buses. They believe that such a luxury can be earned. Some of them have the nerve to pretend that they’re of modest means while driving $200,000 rigs tens of thousands of miles a year. Bull fucking shit. Even if they bought their boomer cruisers on credit they can’t sustain, that’s no modesty.
We distribute the goodies unequally around here. It’s the Amway, I mean, the American Way. Borrowing from future generations, born already and yet to be, is some solid DeVos shit, too. We can’t all live on Wealthy Street. Some of us would have to expatriate to the Netherlands to become Dutch. Dick and Betsy don’t carry no paper ten-stamp Dutch Mafia card, dumbo. They don’t get their cream by the shot, and they aren’t the kind of white motherfuckers who are down for a welfare swipe onto the subway. America, America, God shed some dregs you don’t even want to imagine on this joint.