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In praise of English restraint

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
June 23, 2003


It's hard to imagine how cultures so closely related can be so very different. After spending a week in England I have come to the conclusion that whereas we do have a shared history, it is here, at the beginning of the 21st century, that the United States and Great Britain will soon find themselves on divergent paths. Mainly due to the fact Prime Minister Tony Blair is about to be kicked to the curb, and his sycophant relationship with George W. soon ended.

Oh, sure we speak the same language, to some extent. Both federations embrace multi-ethnic populations, to varying degrees of success, and like the rest of the world , England and the U.S. are littered with Walmarts, McDonalds, and other evidences of the growing jihad of corporate oppression. But that is where the clear similarities end. Suffice it to say the British people are the better for it.

After spending a day in transit, on crowded planes and in sweltering airports, JFK in New York was for all purposes a sauna due to the fact Mayor Bloomberg decided turning off the air conditioning was a good way to save money during an economic crisis, we boarded a train to Victoria Station at the beginning of the morning commute.

The first thing that caught my attention was how the majority of London commuters, say 95%, read, newspapers to be exact, on their way to work. Also of note was the variety of people on the train. Hipsters and suits, working girls and blue-collar workers, young and old, black and white, and townies and tourists, coming and going as if automobiles had never been invented. As I am sure you can imagine I was totally in my element.

This is not to say London doesn't have an automobile problem, they do. Traffic is such a nightmare, the British government has instigated fees meant to discourage drivers from commuting into the city's center. Considered to be an anti-congestion tax, it is unclear how successful this has been. On average 2000 motorists are fined every day for failing to pay the traffic assessment.

I will never forget the chaos of Victoria Station people rushing in every direction, seeking to meet their connections before collapsing under the toxic weight of the diesel emissions polluting the station and the surrounding area. If there is time before catching the next train, there are plenty of places to eat and shop. There is also a place to shower, book a flight, or throw back a couple pints. As it was only seven in the morning I settled for an English breakfast of tea and tomatoes.

In perfect Harry Potter fashion we headed North out of King's Cross Station, with muggles of various nationalities. It was a beautiful day to travel, with blue skies and green fields reminding me what life is like beyond the reach of suburban sprawl and the ignorance of smart growth. The amount of open space in England was a welcome relief from the high-density humanity of the London area. The train traversed the length of the country in a little more than two hours, delivering us to Newcastle in time for tea. No Cars. No cares.

The four days spent in Northumberland were an ideal way to ease out of an "American" mindset of "Rush, rush, rush" to transition into a more relaxed way of being. Dinner at nine is not a problem when the sun doesn't set until 11:30. Of course it takes a bit of time to acclimate to the physics of the eastern hemisphere, and I can't think of a better place than with the sensibly sane Geordies of Northern England.

Now, had this been San Diego all of the green space would have been covered in cement years ago, and the cancer of modern progress would have buried the rural charm under decades of free market frenzy. Remember, it wasn't long ago when San Diego County was a rural backwater noted for it's open space and laid back attitude. And that was a mere 30 years ago.

While traveling, I'm making a concentrated effort to compare life in the land of sprawl and crawl, with cultures and communities considerably older than our own. For example, when riding trains that were crowded, clean, and remarkably on time, I couldn't help think about the knuckle-draggers back home who are trying to torpedo the North County Transit District's east/west Sprinter line.

Sadly, it is too late for Americans to learn the obvious lesson evident from the window of a high-speed train. From here on out it is simply a matter of triage resulting from a lack of rational choices.

But then what else is new?

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