The east coast is unique in North America because the geological composition is such that we can build underground. It is understood that this changes the structure of buildings. For instance, you rarely see basements in Florida. However, this also effects transportation. In Boston we have, as a result of the Big Dig, a maze of roads beneath parts of the city. So large, ugly highways have been hidden beneath historic buildings, and the city is more aesthetic.
In addition to burying our cars we are also permitted underground trains. Phoenix has a train system resting gently on the fragile desert soil and Chicago has trains attached to buildings several stories above the ground. They have the light rail and the El….we have the T.
For what it’s worth I have been taking the T more often lately and it puts me in the mind of dystopian societies. The system is well designed and trains should come often enough so that rowdy crowds do not build up on platforms but not so often that they are empty and thus wasteful. However, the trains themselves are aging and break down with almost daily regularity. Conveniently for the state, the delays seem confined to rush hour periods when people are still groggy from waking to early or tired from the day’s drudgery. The crowds are thus desperate and frustrated by a need to be anywhere else save where they stand, but the lack of energy drives them into suspicious and hopeless passiveness instead of riotous action. Youth maintain more energy throughout the events, but they resent cooperation and lack focus. They respond to the situation with furtive vandalism and little else. Still the effects of such street art are not always empty.
Posters highlighting or perhaps mocking the grey dystopianism are sprouting around the city. The image is a stern but portly face something like the synthesis of Che with Buddha. The eyes are watchful and the expression borders on angry, but it is rendered in a way that it cannot be taken seriously. Many posters contain only this face while others are underscored with the word OBEY in large, bold letters. Big Brother has come in the form of an overweight man and he is watching you from bridges and from rooftops. He is with you while you are on the highway, crossing a pedestrian bridge, or shuffling through the train station. He sensors the mail you slide into the mailbox and he peers in to the coffee shop where you access the internet to check your email.
I assume few acknowledge this bit of vandalism. At best they label it poor street art and dismiss it. And again I assume that these same people fail to notice the cameras in the tunnels reading license plates and those mounted on building corners near busy crosswalks. Signs denote train cars under surveillance and train stations watched as well, but these notices are lost amid one hundred other signs, posters, and graffiti scrawls. If the overzealous person does manage to read and understand those words they will be translated as “safety” anyway for watched means protected to most.
But perhaps this is all tainted thought. A bias brought on by reading too many of the wrong type of books in my youth. Had I read cheerful sentences my outlook might reflect the same. Instead I am left with sad images from sad pages that are brought into alignment with the current situation any time I step into the underground.
The underground, where the color is always washed in soot or concrete grey and pigeons huddle against the breeze that must be coming from someplace outside or above. The underground, where people wait idle and wary and water seems to always trickle down the walls from some other place into another unknown. The underground, where ugliness of all types is hidden.