September 5th, 2002

In our modern, mediated, sterile, controlled life there is little room for magic, the surreal, fantasy. Which is why I’ve alway appreciated flying out of Boston’s Logan International. Logan’s tight affinity with the T is the best airport/subway integration I’ve expirenced in the US. You hop on the Blue Line, and get off at Airport stop, simple. But it goes beyond that. As you follow the twisting corridors of State, or the narrow stairways of Government Center, like Alice, down the rabbit hole, you follow the signs that say “To WONDERLAND ->”.

If you are flying away to remote tropical island (say Vieques for a long weekend with your significant other) this seems a poetically appropiate grace note in a world much lacking in grace. If, on the other hand, you are flying to Detroit, at least its good for a chuckle. Either way, it lifts the flagging spirits, weighed down under a heavy load. (usually my Gregory pack)

Speaking of Detroit

By the way, if you are flying to Detroit, say as a 50 minute layover on your way to San Francisco, do yourself a favor and get off the airplace and explore this little fairytale airport. The very image of a major modern airport, white steel girders, clean, airy, giant windows. The first unusal thing I noticed was the Tomorrowland inspired red monorail that glides along quitely above the concourse. Confused about how to board, I walked to the center of the terminanl where I found a reflecting pool.

The Living Water

Raised several feet into the air, upon a circular ~30ft diameter black marble pedestal, a thin layer of water rippled across its surface refracting subtely among the stainless steel divots scattered randomly acrss the surface like stones in a zen garden. As I contemplated its quiet nature, the pool transformed into a fountain, one of those ultra-modern ones, perflectly regular strands of waters arced from the divots into a forthing center. I tried to stifle my disappointment, and appreciate this new form, but the fountain transformed again on me, the water now sputtered out in quick bursts, creating short cylinders of water that arc through the air in a school of confusion, like a school of drunk flying fish, and seem to slip beneath the water in the frothy center. Its hard to explain how these water elementals lifted my spirits, their joie de vivre was so obvious for their short live span, and who knows what happy world they disappear to down that center well.

The spigots again on their steady streams, creating solid bridges of water, but shut off again as quickly as they turned on, creating the feel that the water has been snatched by something in that dark center (which is now, in my mind, fully equipped with an active underworld) and is being reeled in quickly, the end deattached for its source whips through the air. The quiet reflecting pool repears.

Tomorrowland, and the People Mover

Walking on, happy from my encouter with the fountain (I adore fountains), I found: edible Chicago style pizza, the far end of the terminal, and an escalator up to the monorail. At the top of the escalator I find a platform equipped with digital readout telling me when a train will arrive ( 0:48 minutes) and a map that shows me where in the system each train is.

The train glides smoothly in the station, lining up just so with the double class doors that separate the passenger from the tracks. No danger here of being pushed from the a busy subway platform where you meet ignominious death by rats, rat poison, the third rail, or an oncoming train. The doors open, a voice annouces our desitination, and we’re off. The whole system is pleasingly automated, the acceleration, deceleration, opening and clossing of the doors, all have that graceful precision you only get from a computer. The tracks widen to 2 lanes just long enough to allow for the trains to perform a timed dance of gliding past each other as they move in opposite directions, before continueing their monorail existence.

Illusions and Disillusions and Henry Ford

I ride the train back and forth a few times, back and forth between its three stops, feeling like the kid who spent hours riding up and down the day JC Penny’s opened with Santa Cruz’s first escalator. I’m torn though. Because while part of me loves this slick futuristic monorail, part of me resents that its just a toy. The train only has 3 stops, and uses a simple cable and pulley system for its locomotion. Far from being the basis of a modern transit system, its more like the kiddie rides at the fair, you know the ones you have to be under 48 inches to ride.

Then it hits me, how odd this paen to public transportation is in airport that also includes the “Heny Ford Musuem Shop”. We are in Detroit! Suddely I look around expecting to see little personal golf carts for each person, traffic lights, traffic jams, and smog. The bitter irony of a cable powered people mover in the home town of the very industry that spent millions of dollars killing off public transportation including turning the only real cable powered train system (SanFran’s cable cars) into a tourist trap. The shiny red space age train is just a gloss PR puff piece by the car industry, cute but empty and calculated.

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