November 15, 2017: Drive-Thru Culture
A friend worked until quite late into the evening at our house, with the kids and dog running in every direction, interrupting us, as we determinedly knocked things off our to-do list. Then, I looked up the local bus schedule and we careened over to catch the next shuttle into the city. I was struck, however, by the fact that on the local transit homepage, the following appears in fairly large bold green lettering:
Do something good for your health and
the environment – Use local transit
instead of parking
Discourse and rhetorical strategy are curious beasts. It is so interesting to see what works and what doesn’t. The mainstream media speaks incessantly about the need for energy transition and the adoption of more environmentally sound options to first pass the test: will they improve or negatively impact the bottom dollar. But here, on the transit site, it is about creating an identity around stewardship of the environment and ‘your’ health — still quite individualistic. But at least, it isn’t that making the environmental choice is cheaper. That is reassuring to see. And I think briefly about how positive it is that transit can now be a lifestyle choice, even a convenience, and isn’t simply seen as a symbol of low economic status.
I drop him off at the main station and there are at least half a dozen large buses pulling in and out of the terminal. Some of them are even two-decker buses. And none has more than a couple of passengers at this time in the evening. I’m glad they are running. Build it and they will come? But, it looks worryingly not terribly environmental to be running such huge buses at this time of night. Likely just cheaper than have a hybrid or electric van shuttle the few passengers to and from the University of Alberta–when that would be all that is needed.
As I pull away from the terminal, I shoulder check to my left. There, across the road from the bus terminal, I see the glowing neon sign advertising the drive-thru pharmacy. The juxtaposition of these two things speaks to me, it seems, of the ironies of the present moment. On one side of the street, hundred (probably thousands) of people a day commuting via bus. On the other side of the street, the infrastructure to make it unnecessary to ever step out of our vehicles. Of course, drive-thrus have many practical purposes including accessibility, in some cases. People with a range of mobility needs can simply pull up and get their medications. And, of course, I remember have very small children and being so grateful not to have to unbuckle three or four kids from their carseats only to run in and drop of the slip of paper prescription and then have to buckle them all in again, only to come back in an hour and do it all again — often in the deep freeze of winter, with the wind howling and one of them sick.
By the same token, I think of the culture of the drive-in. The car-culture that it derives from and celebrates, and I can help but shake my head. Its a funny world right now, caught between two energy eras, shifting ways of being and doing. I chuckle to myself, because we must keep our sense of humour, even at the end of the world — as we know it.
(Image: Transit shelter.)