|A View from the Trail|
Yesterday my wife, son, and I went for a stroll along the Catawba river. The city I live in recently added a 2.5 mile asphalt trail along the river. While walking I noticed an unpleasant smell that was slightly intrusive. I asked my wife if she smelled it and she said that she did and yet neither one of us could identify what it was. We walked along the river talking about where our lives are headed and what we were going to do to bring our actions more in line with our vision of the ethical good life. Until the wheel fell off of the stroller. Well it more snapped off at the weakest unrepairable point. Now a wheel breaking off of a stroller isn't necessarily a travesty. It all depends on the ins and outs surrounding the particular stroller failure. For instance, the stroller could become inoperable at the grocery store where your car is just outside. Or it could break in the yard of your house in which case you pick the baby up and go in the house with him. Even still the front wheels can break a good distance from your vehicle allowing you to simply give your baby a reclined ride for the rest of the way back. He might even enjoy it and fall asleep due to the new comfortable reclined position.
However this was not the case for me. The back wheel snapped off over a mile from our car. The metal pin that holds the back right wheel sheared clean in two making the thing unrepairable. This particular break down also made the back left tire unusable because as the stroller was pushed it continued to work it's way out. Apparently it was kept in place by the other rear wheel. This left us with a stroller with only two functional wheels up front. The only way to continue utilizing the stroller, given this particular break down, was to use a lot more upper body strength to hold the rear of the stroller up while pushing it forward. Luckily for my son, he was oblivious to the fact that his ride was broke down due to the father, now donkey, exerting himself to keep this broke down POS on the trail...he just continued cheerfully babbling on about how much fun he was having in his comfortable stroller. After about a mile of this nonsense my forearms were burning, I had a kink in my upper left back that is still soar, and I was now sweating. So much for a leisurely stroll with my little family. Our stroll quickly became an exercise in unnecessary unnecessariness.
After about a half mile I realized that not only was I carrying the weight of my son and the stroller, but I was also carrying the weight of the diaper bag, various other babymajigs, and my wifes stuffed oversized purse. You know all of the things that were necessary to take a wife and baby 2.5 miles away from a vehicle on an asphalt trail on the edge of suburbia. Once I realized all of the extra weight I was fighting gravity about, I put the strollers back nubs (the now useless portion that used to be responsible for maintaining a way for the stroller to comfortably stroll along) on the asphalt and began handing my wife domesticated packages of baby/wifey things to carry. That worked for a little while but not for the whole while. At this point, in protest of reality explaining to me how out of shape I was, I had had enough of this 100% FDA certified domesticated tragedy. It was time to regroup.
My next strategy was to simply pick up my son and carry him. It was my wife's turn to play with our now useless stroller. Now it was simply an unnecessary burden. We collapsed the stroller hoping to find a way to use the remaining wheels to perhaps pull the dead weight behind us. Unfortunately when collapsed, only the strollers rear wheels were designed to roll. In case you haven't been following along well, those were the wheels that were now missing. Imagine the passerby's surprise to view this circus show. Picture me with my 8 month old son slung over my right shoulder and my wife dragging a collapsed broke down stroller behind her behind me. All while Ayden incessantly babbles on about why he's not in his comfortable stroller any longer, and why is mama dragging it, and could I please have my Baby Mum Mum back? Unfortunately I was unable to explain to him the nature of our predicament due to the fact that he doesn't speak English yet. I think he understood.
Eventually we were able to collapse the stroller, reverse it, and flip it in such a way that the front tires became the back. This allowed us to place our donkey load of domestication on what used to be the back of the stroller. We limped on in the rest of the way to the car feeling out of shape and ready for a beer. This was ridiculous. Yet, memorable. It left me with a sense of accomplishment and arthritis in the hips. And now, for your laughing amusement (I think the best part is Ayden's babbling):
On the way to work this morning I found the source of that intrusive smell. I have to cross over the Catawba river on my way to work. As I was driving across the bridge I could see a steady plume of gray/black smoke billowing from beneath the bridge. They have been building a new bridge beside the old bridge and apparently part of that process involves smoke that smells similar to when a jack wagin drives a straight drive that doesn't know how to drive it. Combined with worn out breaks. So, warn out breaks and an abused transmission with a little bit of burned petroleum smell. That about describes the smell that infiltrated my closed vehicle and inhabited the enclosure of my heater vents. The diluted version of that smell was what we smelled yesterday during the Valentine Odyssey of the Broken Down Stroller in Suburbia (sounds like one of those poor excuses they are passing off as comedies in the movie theater these days doesn't it).
It's the smell of progress and growth. I wonder how this city has the money to pay for a new four lane bridge over the Catawba river? States are going bankrupt and the federal government is supposedly going to start slowing their spending (which just means they're going to cut social spending and continue giving free money to themselves...the corporatocracies). Whatever the case, this bridge building is just another probable exercise in unsustainable delusions. Not much different from the trail that we broke down on yesterday. All along the path I kept noticing the base of recently cut oaks that were over 50 years old. They were beside the path. I kept wondering why they cut them down. The only conclusion I could come up with was that they didn't want the roots cracking the asphalt? They didn't have to cut those trees down. Just like they didn't have to be a mile down river making that awful smell of supposed progress and growth.
After I drove through that cloud of pollution on my way to work today I just couldn't help thinking that this was somehow all connected. On the one hand it's just a broken stroller and some random everyday pollution. It's just man cutting down trees for no reason and spreading petroleum products on the Earth's surface for our own amusement. It's a city providing it's inhabitants with a new, faster way to cross the Catawba and a nice 2.5 mile asphalt trail next to the river. What is the connection?
It was an easy stroll with my family on an unusually warm Valentines Day. I'm wearing Croc's, basketball shorts, and a t-shirt in the late afternoon in the middle of February. It was nice until the stroller broke. It was cheaply made out of plastic (petroleum) by a China man making .87 cents per hour. The only metal part on the entire stroller happened to be the part that broke. God knows what that cheap metal pin was before it was sent to China and recycled into a stroller pin. I remember reading during that "Cash for Clunkers" debacle that we sent all of those old cars to China. We have exported our jobs and are exporting our resources to a communist country. They turn around and sell it back to us in the form of cheap ass strollers that break, ironically, at the only metal part...the part we shipped to them for free. Once that break happens it must be made up for by human muscle. The human muscle that should have been making sustainable things of quality locally all along.
It's all connected all right. It's connected to the smell that infiltrates the river air reminding me of the supposed "progress." The sound of oak trees twice my age screaming to me from the past to respect their brilliance and firm endurance and to not cut them down for trite reasons. The sound of microorganisms under perfectly good forest duff being covered by thick, gooey, ugly black asphalt composed of prehistoric dead microorganisms and dinosaurs. The quality of hallucinated delusions spinning lies of infinite growth on a finite planet being possible. The conversation just moments before between a husband and wife attempting to navigate away from a culture of deceit...and accepting entrance into underground counter culture. In an attempt to escape a culture that worships convenience and egotistical laziness propped up on unsustainable hubris made possible by that same hallucinated delusion of progress smelling of pollution. That pollution is necessary. It's even more necessary to ignore that smell. In that moment, when the pin sheared off, all of that came clearly together.
The truth is that this was a clear snap shot of what our future is going to be like. The past and the present has allowed me to take the shape I'm in now. The culture I was born into allowed it. Our future, even amidst this new construction, is crumbling before our eyes. It's going to require what reality before the petroleum fueled fiesta required, human muscle. We're going to have to pick ourselves up along with our progeny. We're going to have to carry our responsibilities down a new trail with muscle. Most of the crap that we use to help make our convenient Western lives lackadaisical to begin with is no longer made here. It's made cheaply in a distant land that is truly not concerned with our well being. Most of us don't know how to make that world any longer. We've forgotten because of all the clever machines that we have made. We have machines that make machines in factories with no lights to maximize profit. Machines don't have to see to work. They aren't human after all.
So most would only see a broken stroller. I see a broken future that we must begin thinking about fixing. The symbolism is all around us. It's deafeningly loud. You just have to know where and how to look. The upshot is that there is hope. The hope is born between us caring for one another. Community is resilient. We bought the stroller used for a really good deal. My wife asked a network of friends if anybody had a stroller they would care to donate to our household. We now have a stroller that is of much better quality than the broken one. It's also designed better and suits our needs better. Our future needs of using our bodies more and participating in this convenience culture less. Due to the kindness of a friend we no longer have a stroller problem and are actually better off than before the broken stroller came into our lives. As we will be when we get on down this polluted path of convenience a bit. My firm belief is that we will be better off in a world that once again honors our muscles and local friendships.
In the meantime, that POS broken stroller is on it's way to a dump where it won't rot. It's just going to be sitting there just like it will be in 1000 years. Another useless and unrepairable consumer widget that won't even rot. Ironically it may end up having vasts amounts of energy spent on shipping it back to China where it will not rot in one of their dumps. Maybe I could have figured out a way to fix it but in the end...it's not even worth my time. You can't fix the past. I'm looking forward to a future that resembles something worth caring about. I'm all for the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle" but some things are just so epically useless that there can be no use for them once broken. Just like our current way of life.