Machine Town

May 19, 2022

My mouth is dry, like licking construction paper. The sun is doing her show in the sky with reckless abandon- it’s to the point of being gaudy. I try to keep running, but these streets have informed my legs that this is no longer an option. The city is providing no quarter on this Sunday afternoon. 

It’s not early enough or late enough for shade. Full sun is the only option. The trees that should be lining these streets, decided years ago it wasn’t worth it. They organized, pulled up their roots and migrated to a better neighborhood, leaving only more heat in their absence. I beg they return. 

I am a fleshy ambling island in a sea of asphalt and concrete. I have regrets. I made a wrong turn and ended up in downtown. Not the adorable little downtown you’re thinking of, where I could have found solace in the bakery or the pizza shop. Not that type of downtown at all- but the lifeless glass and steel and parking deck downtown that haunts every larger city in the country.

Once there was a real neighborhood right where I’m perspiring. Townhomes and shops. People and trees. Children and noise. In this very spot there once was life. Such is progress and people need office towers if they are going to make business. The bulldozers arrived and  scraped the life right off the dirt it had been shading for years. Those townhomes sit at the bottom of landfill next to Whopper wrappers and Keurig cups now.

It’s impossible to say who designed this place in which I am currently suffering, but surely it was not human in nature or origin. A human could not be so devoid of humanity to design a place that no human would ever want to inhabit. It must have been a robot or a car. A machine does not seek out water, or shade, or beauty or comfort or whimsy or life. A machine designed this place because a machine does not think or feel, it seems to be the only explanation for this block… and that last block, and the next four blocks. 

Someone built a machine to design this place, but forgot to program the machine in regards to humanity. The machine didn’t know people might seek out shade. How is the machine to know that humans exist on water. How would a machine know that when humans consume water they also might have to relieve themselves of that water? It’s not the machine’s fault that it doesn’t understand these concepts. You can’t program AutoCAD to appreciate cute.

I need out. There must be an escape. I am surrounded by tedious totems of finance, all stretching to the sky like middle fingers to my sense of dignity. I am trapped in the neighborhood of the machines. 

There is no way to escape the Virginia sun and it’s pissed about something. The asphalt is starting to sizzle and the sidewalk may melt. I consider lying down and letting nature have her way with me, but realize- this is car habitat. No Nissan is going to call for help, or in the least, report my remains to the local authorities. There is no wildlife that might come along and gnaw on me. My body would simply mummify in the heat and fuse with the Wachovia bank plaza, which is fate I can’t bare. 

I trudge on. Hopeful I may be allowed to pass through this alien landscape, but fearing I am being put to the test. Is this my urbanism punishment for visiting Target and ordering on Amazon? Is this what happens when I don’t shop local? 

We need to stop calling the corporate high-rise, car storage, anti-person, brutally unusable and hideously ugly part of town, downtown. Downtown is not this. This should be The Auto District, Machine Town, Little Finance, Corporateville, Parkinglandia. Something to give people some context before they end up mistakenly attempting to pass through. Something to let them know that this is not for them, that this is not a people place, but a corporate place. A machine place. A lifeless place. 

I hear a bird off in the distance, calling me to safety. The trill informing me that all is not lost. This means there must be a tree or a shrubbery of some sort nearby. This means shade, it may even mean civilization, it could be my salvation. Maybe even a human, a real person available to guide me to water. There is reason for hope. 

I head towards the call, but I am rebuffed by concrete barriers. I’ve come upon a government building and the streets surrounding it are impassable. This building ‘for the people’ is strangely bereft of the people. Frankly, it appears to have an issue with the people. Fences and gates let me know that this particular building despises the people. It’s a dead-end, I must backtrack. Hope is in short supply. I am succumbing to my surroundings. 

My resolve not to perish in the campus of angry urbanism is starting to wane. I fear my last moments will be spent face-up in a loading zone, staring up at the smooth, unending ribbons of concrete and glass, as they reach unfathomably up into the sky and when they finally achieve their zenith, I gaze upon the final words I will ever set eyes on. High in the heavens, unblinking in backlit vinyl bold blue and red lettering, tastefully in Franklin Gothic Condensed Font reads those four words I will take with me to my grave, Bank of America Center.

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