“The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” — John 3:8, from the American Standard Version of the Bible.
The wind blows pollen from male trees in towns and cities across the country, and because there are far fewer female trees planted due to the perceived messiness of their fruits and seeds, much of the pollen lands instead in the breathing passages of people and animals, provoking allergic reactions. For trees, it’s an isolating and nearly sterile environment. Rain washes the pollen away from the streets and the houses and the cars eventually, but the people and animals have already inhaled more than some can tolerate.
A person can stand alone a very long time and be at peace, not feeling lonely, and until the wind whispers in their ear about the possibility of someone’s loving companionship they might stay alone, happily, for many years more. The wind has blown good news in that case, but it may as well have stayed calm and quiet. It is impossible to ignore the wind’s news, however, and in altered circumstances the person now realizes, oddly, how lonely life can be.
Boreas, a 1903 painting by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).
Love scene from Vertigo, a 1958 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Kim Novak and James Stewart. Bernard Herrmann wrote the haunting score.
Would it have been better not to listen? Better to shut the windows against the noise, the pollution, the pollen, and everything else carried by the wind? Everyone has to make up their own mind about it, and things change and therefore minds change as well. Even a person who rarely feels lonely can suddenly understand what it means when experiencing the loss of a loved one, or when falling in love with someone whose absences leave a void filled only with reveries of times spent together and dreams of future unions.
Dutch harpist Lavinia Meijer performs “Metamorphosis Two”, by American composer Philip Glass. Mr. Glass wrote the piece in 1988 and recorded it in 1989, and in 2002 he incorporated it into his score for the film The Hours.
Patience with those gaps means as much as patience with one another in the times spent together. Being patient demonstrates trust in the other person and acknowledges vulnerability to them. There’s no use in rushing; haste will only create a shaky foundation. You don’t know where love came from, and much as you would like an end to anxiety by knowing where it is going, you can’t. A person might say, imploringly, to the wind if not to one’s beloved, “I didn’t know I was lonely until I met you, and now that I have fallen in love and experienced loneliness when we are apart, I wish an end to loneliness. Please comfort me by returning my love!” But all you can wisely do is listen, and open yourself up, and give generously without demanding a return. “Love is a thing full of anxious fears.” — Ovid
Linda Ronstadt sings lead, with harmonies by Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, for their rendition of “Feels Like Home”, written by Randy Newman.
By the 1960s, of the hundreds of streetcar lines that had once been a primary mode of transportation in cities and suburbs across the United States in the first half of the 20th century, only a small fraction still operated, and usually only in city centers. Competition from automobiles and buses was one cause for declining ridership of streetcars, and supposedly the costs of installing and maintaining lines was higher than costs associated with infrastructure for cars and buses. The history of what happened in the major mid-century makeover of American urban mass transit is muddled, and one explanation for it that keeps popping up has to do with the machinations of the automobile manufacturers, chiefly General Motors (GM).
The idea springs from how GM bought out streetcar lines around the country, and then dismantled the lines, junked the streetcars, and signed city governments to contracts for purchase and ongoing use of the buses GM manufactured. GM also sold cars to urban and suburban commuters who found themselves with fewer alternatives than they had before the 1920s, when the streetcar lines were still thriving. That’s a neat story, and it certainly fits in with the behavior we have come to expect of large corporations and the executives who run them, but in this case it turns out to be a little too neat and only partially true.
A postcard circa 1930-1945 depicts Purchase Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Photo from the Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection.
Market forces generated by consumer preferences played the greatest part in the decline of ridership on streetcar lines starting in the 1920s and accelerating through the next quarter century. The streetcar lines were privately owned and the companies bore the costs of maintaining the tracks they operated on and other infrastructure costs, even though they used the same publicly maintained roads as buses and cars. The streetcar lines were more and more at a competitive disadvantage as public money benefited those other modes of transportation and as consumers came to prefer the relative freedom of driving their own cars or taking buses that weren’t restricted to tracks.
Comforting as it might be to blame the automobile and gasoline industries for ripping up streetcar tracks around the nation, depriving commuters of a useful commuting option, the truth in this case is that the public shoulders the greater responsibility. Individual consumers operating in their own self-interest took advantage of cheap gasoline and publicly financed road building, such as the interstate highway system started in the 1950s, to buy at least one car for every household. In most cities, taxpayers balked at public ownership of the streetcar lines, a move which would have saved many of the lines from the corporate scavenging that ultimately killed them off. In other words, GM and other auto and gas corporate interests didn’t precipitate the demise of the streetcar lines, but neither did they mourn their loss, and ultimately, of course, GM and the others profited greatly from the makeover of the American transportation system.
By the time of the 1959 release of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, the streets of Manhattan were dominated by vehicular traffic, and mass transit options for New Yorkers were limited to subways and buses. Bernard Herrmann composed the music for the film, and Saul Bass designed the titles. The director makes his cameo appearance at the end of the title sequence.
More than a half century after streetcars were all but wiped off the map in America, they are coming back in spots like Brooklyn, driven by the desire of some people to get around town without the hassles of car ownership, the pollution of cars and buses, the blight of enormous parking lots, and the swallowing up of green spaces for more roads to alleviate the congestion on existing roads, only to have the new roads fill up as well. Streetcars powered by electricity generate pollution at a remove, to be sure, but as more power plants use renewable energy sources, that problem should lessen. Meanwhile, building out more mass transit infrastructure should take off the road some of the oversized vehicles too many Americans appear to love, and which the automobile makers and the fossil fuel industry love turning out for them since they are highly profitable. It has taken a century for Americans to learn anew the value of mass transit options like streetcars, and perhaps soon, before we reach the end of the line, gridlock on the roads will clear, and so will the air everywhere.