Looking Back on the Gas Age
A thousand years from now, if anyone is still alive, they'll call this the Gas Age. The Petroleum Period. The Oil Epoch. We'll be known by what we burned.
What they'll never grasp is what a blast the Gas Age has been.
[Regular readers are aware that self-plagiarism is the foundation of this blog. Amateur writers repackage material several times, but professionals can reach 20 reiterations or more. By my count I have written some version of this car column precisely 87 times, and am thrilled at the prospect of reaching the fabled century mark. Appended below, for example, is an excerpt and link from a piece that ran on this website a few years back. Though ostensibly about George Washington, it is really about cars and how they've reshaped the American landscape:
Following the Footsteps of G.W.
Originally published Feb. 6, 2002
CHARLES TOWN, W. VA. -- I've been following the tracks of George Washington. The boast that "George Washington Slept Here" is appropriately widespread; the man slept around. He was probably the most widely traveled American of his time, always charging off somewhere, always exploring the wilderness or trying to start a war somewhere. I, too, often have the urge to pack the kids in the Honda and drive out I-66, and indeed the only real difference between George Washington and me is that he was the Father of Our Country and I am an inconsequential person who by comparison cannot even call myself a man.
It took G.W. two days on horseback to get from Mount Vernon to Charles Town; today you can make the trip in just over an hour if you avoid rush hour and take the right freeway. The problem with the Washington area is that it is quickly turning into Los Angeles, land of the 24-hour traffic jam. You can't drive on a whim from the city to the country -- you have to make an escape, carefully calculating the moment when you can make a break for it. Otherwise the traffic suddenly congeals around you and your life is basically over.
On the drive to West Virginia you see the epic struggle between open space and subdivisions. A farm within 40 miles of the District is a museum piece now, or a kind of performance art. Some of these farms open their doors to tourists from the city, who find farmlife exotic and will pay big money for the pleasure of petting a goat or climbing on a hay bale. Cornfields near cities aren't harvested anymore, they're turned into mazes for city children. Corn is not as valuable as the concept of corn, the principle of corn. It's not corn anymore, it's "corn." This is the final stage of civilization before everything collapses into barbarism: When corn and cereal crops are celebrated for their irony.
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