Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Immortal Class

The Immortal Class, by Travis Hugh Culley
$19.95 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 0375504281
Travis was only twenty-five years old when he wrote The Immortal Class, and it's an impressive achievement for such a young author. Part memoir and part urban philosophy, this book is the autobiography of a Chicago bike messenger.
It's a rough business, apparently. Travis pedals countless miles delivering packages across the city landscape. He's frequently injured in accidents, hassled by the police, and generally abused because of his occupation's maverick status. Chicago is known for its harsh winters. Not a fun place to ride a bicycle for eight hours a day in January.
His reasons for enduring all this is very simple: he enjoys his work and would rather be happy than traditionally successful.
The author is a very bright and likable guy. He's obviously quite an athlete as well, but with a serious rebellious streak.
Biking represents a return to a more idyllic life, even in the midst of the cityscape. It's also a refreshing return to the use of human power for mobility, and it reduces overcrowding and traffic congestion.
Indeed, traffic is a central theme of The Immortal Class. Culley finds little to admire in the proliferation of the car. Rightly so: they're dangerous, cause pollution, and keep our country dependent on foreign fuel.
During the Depression, the federally funded New Deal Program ran the first set of state roads through America. This created jobs for unemployed workers, but it also created a dependency on automobiles in America. The passenger-train industry was forced to make severe cutbacks due to the new "motor traffic".
Today it is understood that 400 square feet are necessary to park a car. This heavily influenced demand for private automobiles soon translated into equally strained demand for space, causing the great migration into the suburbs. 
Very insightful at times, and loaded with wit and wry humor, there's a lot more to this book than the life story of a delivery boy.

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