The Body Horror Of The Highway

You can’t see because it’s refreshing, but this sign says ‘control your anger on the roads’

America — marketed as the land of the free — is actually the land of autonomy. And its most avaricious avatar, the automobile. America was unsettled through violent expansion and, when they reached the far ocean, they were stuck with the same unsettling gnaw, deep in their scattered souls. So they built rivers of molten death across their stolen land, to keep scratching the unscratchable itch with steel claws. They call this freedom, but just look at it. They’re literally trapped in steel cages in a constant death match with each other, surrounded by billboards for injury lawyers. No one can run free or, god forbid, relax. They just have the autonomy to run each other over and be stressed all the time.

Cruising the American highway is the act of destroying the place you’re in to get somewhere else. Every highway is a rape of the land and the sack of the human spirit. You somehow get used to it and just wish that the rape would go faster, but I was coming back to the Midwest after 20 years and it was suddenly obvious as an alien (and not a resident alien, as I was). I could viscerally feel the body horror of the highway, at the incorrectly named ‘rush’ hour.

Last week I was stuck in traffic getting out of Chicago and had consumed 60 mg (whatever that means) of the latest opiate of the masses, marijuana. This was great while looking at Van Gogh, but upon leaving the art museum it was just making me nauseous. The ten, seemingly infinite, lanes of traffic were blocked and it was murderously hot on my side of the car. There were no trees in sight, just hot asphalt and the even hotter metal cab I was stuck inside, like a frying pan on the fire. Each car was an aggressive bastion of autonomy, but together they were a jam of complete oppression. Each dinosaur was trying to cool itself by blowing hot air on everyone else, obviously leading to a mass extinction level event. A metaphor for this civilization if I ever saw one, and I simply couldn’t stomach it.

To make matters worse, we entered a tunnel of some sort, like the very gates of hell. I could literally see the emissions dripping down the walls. I was inside the crumbling infrastructure of a bad idea taken to absurd levels; looming above us like the skeleton of some dragon that had consumed the princess long ago. The maw of the beast was coated with soot and grime and the whole place was choked with an unbearable heat and noise. I felt physically, spiritually sick, which may have been a conflation because I was high as fuck. Either way, I had to throw up.

But what does some body with bodily functions do on a highway? A highway is completely hostile to the idea of having a soft body at all. It’s a literal death sentence if you walk outside. Even if you could, there is nowhere to go, nowhere to shit, nothing to drink, no place to vomit; the highway is a null space and living creatures are not supposed to be there at all. There is just the road and there is roadkill, there is no room for the living on the autobahn. If you dare to try and cross one lane they’ll kill you with another, and this goes on and on. There is no mercy on the median, just desperation and public humiliation. You cannot stop and simply get out on the highway, however sick the experience makes you.

There was no green in sight, no possibility of opening a door and walking out and hurling into the Earth’s ever-patient bosom. There was no shade, no relief, just the frying pan of the car, the hot griddle of the asphalt, and the air fryer they have made out of the atmosphere. Luckily the art museum had given us a very thick plastic bag and I threw up in that. Everything has to be mediated by petroleum products, it seems to be contractual. So I carried my embarrassing out-of-body-experience around in a plastic bag until I could get rid of it into one of America’s few public amenities — a trash can.

I think you can only really experience things this way if you’re an alien, and/or slightly hallucinating. When I lived in America decades ago this was just how life was and I thought I was the crazy one. Now I realize that the place is mad and the constant depression I had was a sane reaction. I spent so much time trying to fit in and I never asked, fit into what? A steel cage, zipping across a paved prison, pointedly dividing me from the black neighborhoods? Depression is a good reaction. America is depressing AF.

What we were told is ‘not a large’ truck, next to my Sri Lankan wife for scale

The proposed ‘solution’ to this problem is buying an electric car — self-driving, and full of selfish distractions. But if this wasn’t exchanging one resource addiction for another, how does it eliminate the horror of the highway? It doesn’t. The grand idea is that you’ll be able to sleep through the living nightmare and wake up on the other end, remembering nothing but your Netflix password. All of the resource use, the land abuse, the sheer wastefulness, those remain ‘externalities’, dumped on everyone else and the bomb crater we call the future. It’s like hearing ‘from the frying pan to the fire’ and proposing an electric stove as a solution.

In truth, there is no solution but dissolution, but that is the one thing you cannot do on a highway. You cannot turn around. Once you get on a highway its forward or die, no U-Turns! You can only leave via designated off-ramps or weep in shame on the median. If you do get out, it’s probably into a suburb, which is just an extension of the highway. There is no exit, fundamentally, you just go back and forth. You just roll your steel cage up and down the highway, cursing everybody else, just to make your car (re: cage) payment. It’s a Sisyphean task if there ever was one. Driving is dying and, once a society starts down this path, it seems committed till death do us part. The only concept of escape seems to be electrocution.

I got out of the suburbs when I was 17 and I never looked back. It took me years but I felt better in time. Now I’m in Sri Lanka, a re-colonized country trying pathetically to ‘develop’ like the Americans, but mercifully we’re not very good at it. Our highways are the size of suburban American roads and cars rarely make it above 30 MPH. You are forced to be where you are because where you are won’t move. Sometimes cows just block the road or a dog stops for an urgent scratch, as they should. You generally cannot be constantly passing through places, like Americans in their state of permanent unsettlement. Whoever thought this was a development model, let alone one worth bombing and besieging into other people, was hideously overcompensating for a deep, internal void. Highways are a fundamentally autoritarian institution, it’s tyranny by auto.

As I said, there’s no freedom in America, that’s just the brand name they slap on autonomy, which can be broadly summarized as fuck you. American autonomy is the ability of a theoretical person to do whatever they want, even though, in practice, it leaves 99% of people screwed. Nothing personifies autonomy more than the automobile, the very avatar of avarice imbued. Its altar is the highway, where roadkill and wreckage are daily offered while billboard lawyers crow about $1 billion in recoveries! Recovery from what? The highway just keeps going and going.

America is all about autonomy and the automobile over all, and it’s physically nauseating, get hot and high enough and the vision will come to you too. You can read my testament here, or maybe in a thousand years they’ll dig up a bag of vomit in some landfill — preserved in plastic and buried anaerobically underground — and wonder, what was this guy thinking? Well, here’s what I was thinking. I viscerally hate the American highway system and the American system in general. These are the death of the human spirit and I get a deep body horror the minute I’m on one or in it. Thank the gods I’m home, where I can throw up in the garden and have the dog eat it, as they intended things. Highways are the fundamental breaking of the life cycle in order to go forward, fast, forever and this is abomination. That’s why I could feel the wrath of the gods stirring in my bowels that day, speaking out with great urgency, saying all of this must go.