Monday, February 08, 2016

Look for America (at 3000 feet)

Ever since my teens, I've had a horror of American strip mall roads -- those endless routes lined with fast food joints, big box stores etc. etc. for mile after mile. As the years went by I told myself to get over it, don't be prissy, they loom large when you drive them but it's not like they're the whole landscape....

Enter James Fallows, previewing an Atlantic cover chronicling  his three-year small-plane tour of American towns that are either noteworthy successes or striving effectively, or at least intelligently, for a comeback.
A coast-to-coast drive across America has its tedious stretches, and the teeming interstate corridors, from I-95 in the east to I-5 in the west, can lead to the despairing conclusion that the country is made of gas stations, burger stands, and big-box malls. From only 2,500 feet higher up, the interstates look like ribbons that trace narrow paths across landscape that is mostly far beyond the reach of any road. From ground level, America is mainly road—after all, that’s where cars can take you. From the sky, America is mainly forest in the eastern third, farmland in the middle, then mountain and desert in the west, before the strip of intense development along the California coast...


I never tire of the view from this height, as different from the normal, grim airliner perspective as scuba diving is from traveling on a container ship.
Hours later, coincidentally, I came across another lyrical flight about the view from 3000 feet, and...you can read the sequel here, on Fallows' field.  This one's about rediscovering, not America per se, but life on earth, or life itself.

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