Liquids have a mesmerizing ability to seek the lowest point and become their surroundings – as evenly as their density allows.
When left to our own devices, we humans do this too. However, the more money we make, the less we care about even surfaces and the exhausting of localized opportunity – or – the more legislation we create to prevent others from engagement with those fleeting gaps.
Occasionally the veneer is pulled back and we see what it's like to profit from the gaps wealth so preciously protects.
Since I've been commuting more regularly in the last few months I've finally encountered the Austin traffic everyone loves to complain about. It sucks, yes, but really WE suck.
We restrict our traffic the same way we dam our rivers – creating rules that counter the natural, the logical, and the physical. Travel to any country outside of America and you'll be shocked by the apparent lawlessness of traffic. Oh, but how it flows!
Slide the fear aside to engage and you'll quickly find the logic to it, understanding patterns, learning the signals, and noting new routines.
Frogger level: expert
The basic rules: The bigger vehicle always has the right of way, general physics trumps the transit authority. Conversely, the smaller vehicle always has the luxury to run the gap, to exist in-between the surrounding monoliths of modern machinery. Or in many cases, ancient machinery. It's safer that way. A motorbike is protected by filling the gap, by being different from the larger vehicles around it – specifically and obviously different.
Creating rules that equalize a bicycle, a motorbike, a car, and a bus, is as silly as asking a boulder rolling down a hill to beware of damaging the blade of grass.
It is as though we have forgotten the reality of our our surroundings. A bus is not the same as a bicycle, and the same rules should never apply. Policies that encourage people to take advantage of the gap, the crack in the wall, or the spare lot, allow cities to be diverse, full of life, opportunity and interest.
Folks will surely debate the safety of splitting lanes* on a motorcycle, or bicycles filtering to the front of traffic at a red light, but I'd wager those folks are mostly afraid of flow. They protect themselves from an imaginary world by creating one. Get a bigger car. Get a bigger truck. Get a home further away. Always further away from the possibility of contact.
California is a step ahead here with legalized lane splitting – they want you to shoot the gap. Why? Because it helps everyone by speeding up traffic as a whole... a reward perhaps, for driving a logically sized vehicle into downtown.
Austin is a food truck town. We love them in our bars, on our corners, in our abandoned lots, fields, and trolling the early morning construction site that criss cross our city.
I used to live behind one of the most popular lots in Austin, the Hey Cupcake lot on South Congress. That giant rotating lump of sugar atop the old airstream was a guiding star to many a visitor on their way to my driveway... follow the giant cupcake, follow the giant cupcake....
Most people loved that lot from afar, coming down on the weekends, and grabbing food while slowly walking the loop from Doc's to Wahoo's, round and round. The old wrinkled cowboy singing Dylan and Waylon covers to the hoots and hollers of the passersby. His daughter would sit there in his guitar case all day making mock sandcastles from the tips.
From the S. Congress sidewalk the lot was bustling, full of people and action and noise and good things to look at on a Sunday. A destination. It was wonderful** while it lasted. And then, just like that, it all came to a halt.
Well, sort of. People started hearing rumors that the food trucks were getting kicked out. And they freaked. "You can't take my Mighty Cone away from me" they reeled. Cries of how different S. Congress would be, how many less tourists would come, how it would hurt all the local businesses... you can't just kick them out!
Yes you can. And you should. They have wheels for a reason.
A reporter from the Austin American Statesman wandered down the alley one day and interviewed my friends and I, asking us how we felt about the removal of the food trucks. I said said I'm sure the local restaurants across the street will be elated. Roll-on.
Food trucks exist because of the gap. And that is a beautiful thing.
They are able to take advantage of the vacant lot while it's there. They pay nothing in rent compared to what it costs to lease and maintain a brick and mortar restaurant on S. Congress, and they're able to profit from the same foot traffic... while it lasts. And the only reason we allow it is because they are impermanent.
As a city expands it breathes new life into every corner, opportunities are made in all the empty lots and in-between spaces. Food trucks exist as a symbol of a dynamic, thriving, changing city and we should encourage their impermanence. Some trucks moved down the street, some trucks moved across town, but a new truck shows up every morning now taking advantage of the new construction, and feeding the workers.
As our city expands we will deal with more and more circulation problems, allow us to take advantage of the available space and we will shine. Try to damn the river, and all hell will break loose. That goes for AirBnB, Uber, and car2go just as much as it does for lane splitting, food trucks, and raindrops.
Of course at the end of the day Bruce Lee says it best.
*I'm not endorsing trying to die.
**Except for the fucking trash. You have no idea how much trash was thrown on the ground back there. People, threw styrofoam containers anywhere they could – behind trailers, in piles, on the ground near overfilled trash cans. No one cared. And then once the weekend was over and everyone was back at work it all blew into my yard. Littering and.... littering and....