The 2012 calendar by MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is an odd promotional campaign. One might think that organization would create a calendar of horrendous car crashes of the kind that newspapers used to publish on the back page of the Saturday edition. Or perhaps scenes in the hospital emergency room as accident victims and their parts are gurneyed into the trauma room.
How does an organization allied against drunk driving pitch a calendar, one that people might look at, connect with the message and at the same time not lose their cookies?
I don’t know whether MADD intended the message they sent with the 2012 calendar or that it just worked out artistically. The calendar, January through December, is of roads. Every month another road segment: Crater Lake, Hood Canal, the Navaho Bridge, Cades Cove Tennessee, Smokey Mountains National Park.
The bridge from Washington, D.C., to Arlington; there’s one of Whitman County Washington; the road disappearing into wheat; Boulder, Colo., Annapolis; the Blue Ridge Parkway; the Little River Tunnel in Tennessee; and for December looking downhill on a snowy morning from Beacon Hill Boston.
Many of these scenes are known tourist destinations that people drive distances to see and in particular… drive that road. If the automobile and the motorcycle have done something good for landscape it is the sensory pleasure some roads bestow; their curves, the canopy of trees, the overlook; to this list I would add barns.
The thing I found intriguing about the MADD calendar was that most scenes included a curvy stretch of roadway. Exactly the kind of feature most road engineers try to eliminate from their construction. Minimal curves and long boring straight roads, the straighter the better. From a strict engineering sense the straight road is energy efficient allowing higher velocity, less driver attention and to maximize drive train efficiency.
Over a lifetime an I-System road saves an enormous amount of fuel, besides being remarkably fast. The root source of our modern commerce, just-in-time delivery of foodstuffs and machine parts, is built on the efficiencies of I-system. The average American household is said to have but a two-day supply of food, so efficiently are our grocery shelves replenished. Walmart could not even exist much less be the dominant force it is without the I-system and its straight, level and soulless roads.
So why did the MADD 2012 calendar highlight crooked, curvy roads, other than they are intrinsically photogenic? Unless you’re Mario Andretti you don’t burn through the Blue Ridge Parkway. This road is just too pretty to drive to do justice to a Porsche. The car you want here is small, nimble and slow. Perhaps a classic VW bug convertible or a 1948 Studebaker pickup truck or Willys CJ2 with the flat-head four-banger good for 40 mph tops.
Myself I think a John Deere Model B tractor might be the right device for the Blue Ridge Parkway and the chance to absorb the vistas. To think one might start a tractor concession nearby the same as when people rent canoes and kayaks for an afternoon on the Plover or the Tomorrow. Where the road equation is about something other than getting there; instead, it’s about being there.
Perhaps the secret message in the 2012 MADD calendar is that drunks can’t steer. As soon as a road has some degree of complication, being inebriated isn’t a good idea. I don’t suspect MADD as taking this to what seems a logical conclusion, that road design itself can effect social and personal values. That one way to eliminate the drunk driver or the cell-user is with a roadway both complex and demanding. Not long ago on I-39 I watched as a driver used one hand to talk on his cellphone and the other to text on a second cellphone. What body part was attached to the steering wheel I can only imagine, not realizing that feet or whatever could be so well trained.
I did not initially intend to write about Mothers Against Drunk Driving, whose calendar came in the mail with a return envelope for a donation; this the organization that has been acting on the American conscience since 1987. To realize what makes a road photogenic… is the same thing as makes a woman photogenic… such is our inherent pleasure with curves. As Einstein might have said, it’s always about geometry. And as to the modern I-system, I live and die by the market proximity that straight, flat, ugly hunk of concrete brings to agriculture, even if it’s not particularly pretty to look at.
In the end there are those compromises we can make between efficiency and being pretty to look at. Once a cow barn had a way of fitting the landscape, to wonder if there is another kind of efficiency to achieve.