Urbania; 345,600 Seconds of Paradise

30 11 2009

Monday through Friday they drive safely, resigned to their daily grind.  They get up, go to work, then come home again.  There’s no rush.  Then comes the four-day weekend, Thanksgiving Holiday, and their brains, whatever exists of them, fly out the window with the fast food wrapper.  For them, there is no Heaven, apart from what can be spared here on Earth.  Each second of bliss arrives once, and then it’s gone forever.  In four days, that’s 345,600 seconds, and every moment lost is a moment of paradise wasted.  Before they know it, it’s all gone, and they return to their weekly chore of earning the next one.  Eventually, there will be no more weekends or holidays, and the passing of this one marks another milestone toward that end.

The speed limit is sixty-five, and everyone is trying to go eighty, following the next car at a distance of a murderous few feet.  Occasionally, two drivers get into a micro-disaster, slowing the rest of the herd to a maddening crawl.  I look in the rear view mirror at the car behind me, cringing every time its headlights disappear below the line of my trunk hood.  My presence has robbed him of several of his precious seconds, and he threatens my life with his car, like putting a gun to my head and demanding that I do the impossible and speed through the car in front of me.  Through the night, our river of headlights winds, snaking up through the Tejon pass like a line of ants returning to the colony.  Over the mountains we pour, gushing like a waterfall into this basin, this sea of humanity that we call the Greater Los Angeles area.  While it may be large, there’s nothing good about it.  It’s the home of Hollywood, selling us fantasy to soothe our postmodern minds.  It’s the pornography capital of the world, the ultimate whore.  It spreads like a lake of lights, hemmed by the ocean to the west and south, and by the mountains to the north and east.  They keep reproducing themselves, not knowing why they are here, not caring where they are going, passing the onus of that discovery ever to the next generation.  It is a place where people are not best measured by the numbers, but by the kiloton of human mass.

In the middle of it all, there lies an open grave, just west of Baldwin Park, a city named for a dead rich man.  Few people know it as a designated mass grave, mostly filled with water at the moment, but ever ready for the fateful eventuality of the big one.  It’s like they expect a big hand to reach out of the sky with an industrial-sized can of RAID and spray our colony, watching us wriggle as we die.  Then we might need a big gaping maw in the ground to put our casualties.  Their grave is already dug and waiting, and they don’t even know it.

The colony is better prepared for death than for life.  Had they been prepared for life, they would not be burning with frustration, watching as the seconds tick by, counting down on their temporary paradise.  Instead, they would be drawing life everlasting from a source that never runs dry, like ants to a cornucopia that is renewed every morning.  Four days is nothing.  They could have eternity.  They would have so much that they need not fight for anything.  What’s infinity plus a few more hours, a few more dollars, or a few more feet along the asphalt trail?  There is no deadline, no scarcity, no limit for those tapped into the eternal source of life.

But they choose, instead, to fight for every last piece of the pie, and every last second of their four days of paradise, until it is over, never to return.