Recently, I found an old, musty, yellowed book in a secondhand book shop called Vagabonding in America by a guy named Ed Buryn. It's a guidebook, written for the hippie generation, on how to hitchhike across the country. In it, Buryn laments our lack of reverence for this land:
"Early-day American was a fantasy out of a Tolkien novel, an actual Middle Earth. From it's sparsely populated eastern seaboard to the west lay a virgin land, unknown and unmatched. Settlers were hemmed in by mountains and near-impenetrable forests for a thousand miles. Beyond that were the Great Plains and beyond that the Great Mountains and beyond that the Great Ocean. It stretched vast, pure and unknown, filled with strange wonders, peopled by mysterious civilizations. A new world full of treasures and hope... Today, the frontiers have vanished, the unknown territory has disappeared... Today, the only enclaves of original America are the national parks and forests, yet the destructive process continues. Tourists pour in, and 'developers' press in to suck the last juices."
One of my teenage dreams was to make a roadtrip across the contiguous U.S. I romanticized the freedom of the road, the American wilderness, all that hippie crap... yet, the more I've gotten to see of this country, the more I want to vomit. So much of this country hurts to look at. Our cities are concrete assaults on the eye; buildings, overpasses, vacant lots, garbage. Every year, more and more structures fester up one on top of another, designed and constructed with no regard for harmonizing the already existing structures, or with any sese of scale or balance. Outside the cities, suburban sprawl has obscured some of the most beautiful terrains the east and west coasts have to offer. Decrepit, derilect, delapidated buildings litter the landscape, neither to be repaired or demolished. Gaudy monuments to consumer culture are ubiqitous and inescapable. Vast parking lots are draped over beautiful glades and fields. Does anyone actually like living like this?? Does no one find the neverending onslaught of ugliness a depressing drain of enthusiasm about life?
In my nearby Baltimore, there is one of the most obnoxiously ugly structures I've ever seen: an abandoned theatre called the Morris Mechanic. It's an example of an architectural movement called Brutalism (also found in the D.C. Metro), whose proponents should have been repeatedly kicked in the crotch for depressing and doubly impoverishing the already poor communities they inflicted their work upon:
What the hell, America? Where has your respect and appreciation of the earth gone? Where have your aesthetic instincts gone? You weren't always this way. The present-day Times Square looks like a clusterfuck of pop-up ads, right out of a bad webpage from the 90s. But this is what it used to look like:
WTF happened? Is it our credo of rugged individualism that deifies self-made industrialists that has eroded any sense of civic pride and commitment to community? Is it that we've progressively grown more estranged from the land underneath our societal debris, and thus become inured and complacent to ugliness? Are we so myopically spellbound by our matrices of self-contained suburbia that we've forgotten (or no longer care) about what lies beyond the confines of the nearest interstate? Seriously... why is America so fucking ugly?