I saw this thread on Twitter last week, during the big snowstorm that hit Northern Virginia and triggered a nationally covered 24-hour traffic jam on I-95.
This isn’t anti-car, per se—what she’s expressing, if you read the whole thing, is that the automobile can give us a false sense of security or even invulnerability. The feeling of power and autonomy you get when you sit behind the wheel is part of why traffic jams can be so frustrating. There’s a dissonance between the exhilaration you get piloting a car and the reality of sitting there. It can also be hard to imagine your car disabled on the side of the road or, in this case, stuck for hours, especially given the reliability of modern cars. (Back in January 2016, I narrowly avoided this very fate—I was meeting some friends in Washington, D.C., and I almost took my car in. But I ultimately took the Metro, and the next morning I heard about overnight jams on the highways.)
I took these pictures the day before I read that thread, but I was thinking about some of this when I took them. When I went to dig out the car, I just climbed inside and sat there for a few minutes, in the total silence, with every little bit of outside light blocked out.
There was something almost calming about it—being that I was in the parking lot and had nowhere to go—but also kind of spooky, and also humbling. Weather has a way of reminding you how little power a device like a car actually has. It operates on nature’s terms.
This made me think of something I’d seen back in the summer of 2020. I had found a pretty big flat-panel television in our building’s trash room, and I brought it up to our unit just to see if it worked. It didn’t look broken, so it was worth a try. But when I plugged it in, this is what I got:
You could see it flicker and change colors as it tried to display things, but it had pretty severe cracks in the glass, under the plastic outer layer, that had not been visible when I wasn’t looking for them.
It struck me as a sort of metaphor for the unpredictable nature of systemic breakdown. We barely seem to understand a lot of what we’ve built as it is—we have no idea, really, what happens when it starts to come apart in ways we haven’t even imagined.
Or maybe we do.
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