My daughters and I just watched a movie whose soundtrack featured the Tom Cochrane song “Life is a Highway”. What an odious, and sadly telling, metaphor.
The complete lyrics aren’t of interest to me, just that metaphor. What does it mean that life is (or should be) a highway? What are the salient characteristics of highways?
Highways are designed for high-speed travel. They themselves are not rife with destinations — attractions only slow people down — but are merely the means to get from one place to another. So, if we say that “life is a highway”, we seem to be saying that life is (or should be) non-stop travel from one place to another. We’re saying that life is constant escape from our current situation. It is all novelty, lacking the intimacy that comes only with stability, regularity, and grappling with the familiar.
I think the highway’s main attraction — to those that romanticize it — is getting somewhere else. It does not hold the same appeal to those who are happy where they are. Romance with the highway is romance with with escape — which arises only with discontent, and which arises more frequently when people have no places worth staying in. Our national love affair with motoring bespeaks the general worthlessness of our communities as places of durable happiness.
The street, on the other hand, is not the highway. A good street is made for people, not for cars. It is full of destinations. It encourages dawdling and loitering. It is full of human activity and things of human interest. It is not a place to escape, but a place to build relationships and community.
Isn’t that what people should have a love affair with instead?