Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Everything is BIG in Texas

And sprawling. And wasteful. This is yet another of my tirades you are all so used to by now. Also please note that the main objective of this essay is to bring to light the problems. If I had the solution to all these problems I would be the almighty God Christian (not that Hindu God, because they(I) believe we are all God. Even this laptop). Or President George Bush.

Just as a friendly, amusing way to get us going, do you know that yahoo questions published a speculative article on the special ingredient that gives Dr. Pepper its unique flavor? The possibilities ranged from grape juice to prune juice. All the while I was thinking, duh, every self respecting Indian knows that they stir in a bottle of Amrutanjan for every vat of Dr. Pepper they brew. Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here we go.

Let’s begin with the road transportation system. The one thing that struck me when I first landed in Dallas was the highways. And more highways. And freeways and tollways and turnpikes and frontage roads. And of course, the places where highways intersect. Mile long ramps that take you off one highway onto another. Or off the Tollway and into the Valley. (Anyone who has taken the Valley View Lane exit off of PGBT West will know what I am talking about). Of course, even with wide, multi-lane highways being the norm, traffic jams are routine. Just tune into any radio station during peak traffic hours, and you will find that there are at least 3 accidents blocking some lane on some highway, slowing traffic down to a standstill. They don’t even bother to mention routine things like crawling rush hour traffic; that the Tollway is backed up again because there are 2 many lanes that merge into a lane that already has a bunch of people wanting to get off.
Airport traffic. Oh God. I drove their once during peak hour and I hope I never have to do it again. I had to change 4 lanes to the left within a quarter of a mile, in the midst of rush hour traffic, and it wasn’t fun. You need to have faith in God and a certain bloody-mindedness to squeeze into the adjacent lane so that person behind you has to brake and let you in.

Then the meals. I mean, I can’t even eat half of a typical full sized entrĂ©e out here. Just go into any Tex-Mex restaurant and order a dish of mashed potatoes and broccoli ( did I mention that pure veggie options are few in most restaurants, the exception being Indian restaurants? Or course if you are willing to ingest a bit of lard, rennet ( an enzyme used in the manufacture of cheese, extracted from the intestine of a cow. Or cows.), eggs, and other gravies made of indeterminate substances (chicken, fish, who knows?), you may be able to find a more diverse selection of entrees and appetizers and desserts.)
Anyway…back to the potato/broccoli dish. First, be prepared for it to be oozing of cheese. And again, smelling of something that you’d rather not know about. This side dish alone can fill my entire stomach. I now have adopted a much better policy at such places. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. If the specialty of the house is chocolate volcano delight, then that’s my dinner. I might order a small cup of boiled beans just to add some variety to the whole thing. Dessert is one thing that I will carry home in a doggy bag. It’s bad enough eating restaurant entrees with suspicious ingredients; I draw the line at storing them in my fridge and heating them in my microwave the next day…no way am I going to contaminate my pristine food production system.
As a consequence, I really don’t eat out all that much. Especially by myself. (Exception to the rule: pizza at Baker Brothers at Whole foods. I rarely end up with leftovers in these instances) I go out only in company, or on company meals where it’s more about being present than actually eating.
I can’t even eat a complete veggie burger by myself. Of course, perhaps that does have something to do with the fact that the patty is usually made of ground soya/lobia/rajma beans…yeeeecchhhhhh.

Now let me tell you about the suburbs. The reason public transport is so unsuccessful in most parts of the DFW metroplex except maybe the downtown areas, is the fact that the suburbs constitute most of the metroplex. I mean, if your home is 1.5 miles from the nearest road that has traffic signals, that’s the minimum distance you have to walk to catch a bus – assuming that all roads with traffic lights are serviced by a bus route. ( And trust me, servicing those many roads is no mean feat). Of course, the whole optimization thing, considering the number of passengers at different times of the day and pricing the ticket and adjusting the frequency accordingly…it would definitely end up being an NPV negative proposition for any company that attempted to provide comprehensive public transport. I doubt that they would make any profit in the near foreseeable future. Unless of course gas prices rise to $15 a gallon. Then it might work. By the way, NPV stands for net present value. I think.

What do all these suburbanites drive? Typically, they are all families with 2 kids. Therefore they must have 2 cars. One for the parent who drives the kids around everywhere. Obviously this car is a gas guzzling SUV ( more on these later). The other car is a more fuel efficient one, for the other spouse..typically a Nissan or a Honda Accord/ Toyota Camry in the case of Indian families. And of course they can’t rely on public transport…one kid needs to be dropped off at day care, the other at school ( in the opposite direction) and all before the parent gets to work at 8.30 am. And then there are the parties…in yet another suburb 25 miles from home.

Now we come to the SUVs. The Scum of the UniVerse. And of the roads. Their owners think they can get away with anything ranging from turning into the road and braking to a halt in the middle of the left lane while you are traveling at 55 miles per hour, or swerving into your lane, contacting your car, and scraping off a good portion of the paint off of the sideview mirror. Both have actually happened to me. The second incident – I got off so lightly because an accident up ahead had slowed down traffic to 20 miles/hour on the Tollway. If we had been going at 65 mph, all of you would be weeping into your hankies and regretting not telling me how much you loved me while you still had the chance.
Worst, some SUV drivers think they needn’t steer to drive, you know. Today, on my way to the airport via the airport shuttle, I was just observing the passing traffic on PGBT (it’s not a straight road – its got plenty of curves, so you typically need both hands on the wheel to avoid swerving into another lane, traffic is quite dense in the evening hours, and the average speed of vehicles is typically 65 mph). I noticed a big black SUV in the lane to our right. The lady had her cell phone in one hand and was no doubt engaged in a riveting conversation. And with her left hand, she was smoothing her hair. I was like, Gulp, Jai Gurudev, Gulp Gulp, Jai Gurudev. I counted a whole 15 seconds before she got one hand back on the wheel. God.
The more minor things these SUV dudes and dudettes do include honking loudly behind you gif you don’t turn right on a red light, in the face of a steady stream of traffic, abruptly changing lanes without turning their indicators on, waiting in the middle of a road at a green left turn yield signal (and finally turning when the light turns red), taking a left turn from a go straight only lane…I could go on and on. Of course, I don’t mean to say that drivers of other vehicles don’t do these things. They do, too. But, SUV drivers do it more often because people like me generally let them do their thing rather than wreck our cars in a clash of egos.

DFW Airport: It occupies as much space on Google maps as most other cities that make up DFW. It is just HUGE. The first time I landed there, I was thoroughly intimated by all the highways that run to and through it. Not to mention the gates. There are five terminals, A through E, and each of them with around 40 gates for arrival/departure. Contrast this with Hyderabad, where you can walk from one end of the airport to another in 5 minutes. Here you have to take the inter-terminal train (“Skylink”) or shuttle bus to get from one terminal to another. Even if you really wanted to walk, I haven’t seen any pedestrian walkways on the 55mph speed limit roads that run through the airport, which would allow you to do so. And of course every terminal has several restaurants, fast food chains, shopping centers, and huge parking lots that never seem to be enough.

And of course the miscellany:

Clothes. How many times have I walked into JC Penney’s and found that the smallest size of all the pretty skirts on sale was a 10? Note, I was NOT In the maternity section. In fact, I like to buy clothes from the girls section. If only they were slightly longer….

Malls. Huge, sprawling malls. Especially the Stonebriar Center in Frisco. It’s got EVERYTHING, practically.

Parking Lots. Typically, the parking lot of a store is as big if not bigger than the store itself. So much concretized space that could instead be soaking up rainwater and replenishing Texas’s stressed out, maxed out aquifers.

Lawns. Serve no purpose in the ecosystem, and further drain out Texas aquifers.

Big, grassy lands right next to a huge hospital or a theatre that serve no apparent purpose except to house a couple of horses and their trough of water, thoughtfully positioned as close to the road (and therefore passersby) as possible.

Of course, there are benefits for me in this whole thing. I get to rent approx. 750 sq ft at $650 a month, get to take my car on shopping trips ( I love shopping) and return with a trunk full of groceries, supplies and other things I don’t really need. ( as opposed to the kind of planning people in Chicago downtown, who rely on public transport and their own two feet, have to do…buying milk on Tuesdays, OJ on Thursdays, coz carrying both at the same time and walking home isn’t exactly fun) I don’t even have to pay for parking in most places! I can also suddenly decide on a whim that I need to visit my aunt or eat dessert at whole foods and get in my car at 9 in the night. You get the general idea.

Many of you may not have the patience to read this whole essay (big and sprawling, just like the subject), so selected portions are in bold– you may now go back and read only those. They will also help you recap quickly for a quiz I am going to conduct on this article.


Songbird said...

Couldn't agree more with you Preeti. These were my exact same sentiments when I first landed in the US. I distinctly remember how taken aback I was by these huge intersecting highways.
The "SuperSized ME" Texas explains the stats that of the 10 most obese cities Texas houses 3 of them.

A very entertaining read as usual...keep up the good work.


Ramakrishnan said...

Ohoo..preeti your blogs are really interesting and longgggggg.

But I beleive Lawns do help the ecosystem. For example,they stop soil erosion by protecting the top soil. The reason why we don't have dust here like India is Lawns. Top soil is completely protected.

Googoo Baby said...

Glad you liked it, Ramakrishnan.
I am not sure if anyone did a study on whether the benefits of lawns outweigh the downsides...but it will sure be an interesting analysis!!!
Plus, the best way to protect topsoil is not to have human civilization at all :-D

Harita said...

hey babe! Amazing blog you keep! loved this one too, as I do all the others. I won't add anything to the lawn discussion because a) it is boring and b) i have no business saying anything in the first place. But Gurgaon is similar to your place in the utter lack of public transport and our situation is different in that we can't afford a car for a while! but the huge sized chocolate-desserts sound goooddd!!

Jo said...

A companion at last...!
If only the whole world could read your blogs, atleast the whole of Bush's territory. Why don't you get his e-mail id?!

Jo said...

A companion at last...!
If only the whole world could read your blogs, atleast the whole of Bush's territory. Why don't you get his e-mail id?!