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The 1959 Project

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1969 is getting all the attention right now, as huge historical landmarks celebrate their 50th anniversary. But what about 1959, and all those 60th anniversaries? 1959 was particularly a landmark year for jazz, and it’s those milestones that are celebrated by an amazing blog called The 1959 Project. Helmed by Natalie Weiner, a sportswriter and history-of-jazz superfan, the premise is simple: every day, a snapshot of the world of jazz sixty years ago.

In the 2 1/2 weeks since the site’s been active, it’s already overflowing with musical goodness. I especially love this deep dive on Ahmad Jamal, an artist I didn’t know much about until my 15-year-old son, a hip-hop head, turned me on to him. There’s also plenty of Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, as well as vocalists like Muriel Roberts, Dakota Staton, Susan Hayward, and Lorez Alexandria.

It’s already one of the few sites that I read every day, and it only promises to get better as the year goes on.

Tags: 1959   jazz   music
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10 hours ago
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Parliament’s Brexit game

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Someone may have done this elsewhere and probably with more accuracy, but I hadn’t seen it so I thought I’d work through the numbers myself. Suppose parliament breaks down into five main factions, with a very approximate indication of their size.

Brexiters - No Deal         100
May loyalists - No FoM   200
People’s Vote                 150
Corbyn bloc                    30
Soft Brexit                      150

You can see how Tuesday’s vote worked out. May’s block alone voted for her deal, while all the other blocks voted against. Note also that the soft Brexit block have no quarrel with the Withdrawal Agreement as such. It is the political declaration about what the UK tries to do after Brexit that they want to change.

The unusual feature of this game is of course that if no other block can get a majority by the end of March, the Brexiters win because the UK leaves without a deal. So the race is now on to get a majority. As we have already seen, May’s deal which effectively ends Freedom of Movement cannot get a majority, because the Brexiters who she courted for two years have turned against her (as they always would).

If May really did try and get a deal for a softer Brexit she would probably get enough, although many Labour soft Brexiters might be reluctant to sign up to anything that came from her. In addition the DUP could end their support for her government, and she might lose a few from her block. A more subtle move is to release her block to vote for something organised by Labour and Tory MPs. That is probably the best chance for a winning coalition, but May has until now proved too stubborn and too partisan to try it. Alternatively she could agree to a second referendum between her deal and Remain, which the People’s Vote block would vote for even if the proposal came from her, but she might still lose the DUP’s support. Sam Lowe and John Springfield have a discussion of May’s options here.

Another possibility, raised in my last post, is that the soft Brexit group and the People’s Vote group unite by offering a Remain vs Soft Brexit referendum. This would have a chance, particularly if Corbyn supported it. It seems clear that the second referendum block cannot win on their own (despite my best efforts to suggest that is the right way forward) while the soft Brexit possibility is still around.

That will be one reason why Corbyn will not declare quickly for a second referendum. So if May remains stubborn and if soft Brexit and People’s Vote fail to combine, we get into a war of attrition. To see which blocks are most durable, we need to think about what happens on the week starting 25th March. [1]

At that point, if no majority is formed over that week, we get No Deal. That tells you that the Brexiter block is the most durable (something May seems unable to understand). In that week May will undoubtedly try to push her deal through as the ‘not a No Deal’ option, but equally MPs will counter with a revoke A50 amendment. The latter possibility tells you that the People’s Vote group and May are more durable blocks than those advocating soft Brexit, because they have something to hope for in a last minute panic. That in turn means that the Soft Brexit block need to get a winning coalition sooner rather than later.

All this assumes that No Deal remains on the table. The only way it could get taken off is for May, or parliament, to commit to revoking Article 50 at a date close to leaving. If that happens we get a new game, because most of the Brexiter block would revert to May's corner, but equally other blocks would become more stubborn. But if this analysis is correct, it suggests she has a better chance of getting a majority for a slightly softer version of her deal if she took No Deal off the table. 

This is almost certainly wrong and incomplete, and I’m more than happy for people to tell me why. 

[1] It would probably be before that date, because whoever wins and stops no deal will need an extension of A50, and the EU may need some time to agree to that. But the EU will probably not grant an extension unless the UK has made up its mind, if only because they believe the threat of No Deal is needed to get the UK to make up its mind.

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Western at peace with itself

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I am in the Western Region on duties, not usually associated with my everyday activities.

(At a suitable time, I shall write about what has brought me here).

 As they have never shied away from saying, I have been hearing “the best comes from the west” over and over again in the 15 hours since I arrived here.

I suspect I shall be hearing it throughout the one week I am going to be around here, going through all of what is left of the old “Western” region and the incoming “Western North”, and if you have heard of a clumsier name, I would like to hear it.

I am told there is a movement to change the Western North into xxxxxxxx.

 I haven’t met anybody yet here in the Sekondi-Takoradi area who seems uncomfortable or unhappy about the referendum that has sliced off a big chunk of the Western Region.

Thus far, when they talk about Ghana’s riches coming from the “Western Region”, they refer to the whole of the old “western”, and when they say that they “carry most of the weight of Ghana” on their shoulders, they refer to the whole of the “old western”.

And when they say that they have not had the development that would be commensurate with their contributions to the wealth of the nation, they refer to all parts and not just part of the Western Region.

Nobody has suggested that slicing the region in two indicates a sinister plot against the people of the Western Region; nor has there been any threat of war.

 I am sure not everyone is deliriously happy about Western North, but they certainly don’t think that the two regions would now be enemies because of the referendum.  

I have also met two of my favourite people. The Regional Minister, Dr Kwaku Afriyie, who is a Western North man and is not likely to remain as the Regional Minister for the old, new Western Region, or whatever we should call it.

I don’t know if he is going to be appointed Regional Minister of Western North, but even if he is not, he will probably be content that this long hoped for and long fought for region has become a reality.

What is more, having finally made it into parliament, after having tried for so long, he is enjoying being a Member of Parliament (MP).


There are two reasons why he qualifies as one of my favourite people: the first reason is he farms nutmegs.

 He is a successful medical officer, a politician; he has made it into parliament at the fourth time of asking, a hotelier of sorts, a successful cocoa farmer, but it is growing nutmegs that makes him attractive to me.

It takes eight years after planting a nutmeg plant for it to start fruiting and it takes someone with courage, patience and a determination to take a long-term view, to undertake nutmeg farming at the time he started.

He now harvests and sells nutmeg. Something tells me he wouldn’t be amongst those who took their money to Menzgold.

 If you grow an exotic spice like nutmeg, that is a good reason for you to be a favourite person of mine.

A second reason goes back to when he was Minister of Health in the Kufuor Administration.

We were in the middle of difficult discussions about the budget, the kind of arguments that you have when the baseline is: there isn’t enough money to go around.

In the midst of the heated discussions, Health Minister Kwaku Afriyie said he was ready to give 10 per cent of his budget to the Roads Minister, because, according to him, if the roads are in a good state nationwide, everyone can reach a health facility within 30 minutes.

He can then concentrate on the training of medical personnel and equipping the health facilities that we had, instead of trying to build one in every village.

 I don’t recall that his suggestion had universal acceptance, but it qualified him as a favourite person of mine. I have enjoyed his company this first day in the Western Region.

Courtesy call

My first day here also entailed being in a group that paid a courtesy call on Nana Kobina Nketsia V, Omanhene of Essikado.

 Now, that is another favourite person of mine. He and I go back a long way to my North Labone days and the start of our arguments when he was not a chief and I certainly had no idea he would ever be a chief.

On Monday, he continued his argument about cultural illiteracy.

I think he mentioned the referendum but there was nothing to suggest there had been a traumatic event with half of Western Region being taken away.

I will have to go to Brong Ahafo and Northern regions to see how they are handling it all before I make a definite conclusion on Western.

Nana Kobina Nketsia had his favourite subject of cultural illiteracy on his mind.

 He is persuasive but I had decided long ago that on the subject of Kwame Nkrumah, he and I would go on our divergent paths.


Today he said he was not an Nkrumahist, but a “Sekyist”. I would sign up to a Sekyist any day, even though I must say that today Nana Nketsia was not the star.

The star was his 96-year-old mother, who was buried in the day’s newspapers when I was shown into her room.

Her grip was firm, she said we needed to have women in critical areas of governance and the economy.

 I knew she was on top of things when she started lobbying a very important personality for a job for “a good woman” and she had the CV ready on her side table.

Nana Kobina Nketsia V gave me a copy of his tome, ‘’African Culture In Governance and Development, The Ghana Paradigm’’.

 I have a very good reason not to start on his book yet. This Christmas, my friend Mary outdid herself in her usual impressive hamper.

Apart from all the usual goodies in the hamper, Mary gave me two books: ‘’Fighting Corruption is Dangerous’’, by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Michelle Obama’s ‘’Becoming’’.
I have brought both books with me and I am hoping that by the time I get back to Accra I would have finished them.

 I am expecting the other stops on the trip to be as stimulating and provide the background for the books.

There will be stops in Half Assini, Nkroful, Axim, Agona Nkwanta, Prestea, Tarkwa, Wassa Akropong, Enchi, Asankragwa, Sefwi Juaboso, Sefwi Debiso, Sefwi Wiawso, Diaso and Bibiani.

I can’t think of a better way to start the year than with people who appear, at least to the outside eye, to be so much at peace with themselves.                

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Paris Pastoral: a City Recultivated

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Located just north of Paris, the administrative department of Seine-Saint-Denis is France’s poorest and most ethnically diverse. Its Brutalist public housing complexes, once triumphant monuments to socialist modernism, are now sites of social marginalization. It’s the last place one would imagine seeing wandering shepherds tending their flocks. Yet here, and elsewhere in metropolitan Paris, an urban agricultural revolution is taking root. When I walked with the sheep of the Bergers Urbains on their migration to winter quarters in the Parc Georges-Valbon a few weeks ago, a group of young men stopped to take selfies with them, and a shopkeeper called out an offer to buy one for 600 euros (they’re not for sale).
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Walalo Citizenship and Kenyan Citizenship are Entirely Different

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I can’t quite remember the first time someone asked if I was a Walalo. I know I was too young to be bothered by it, but not too young to feel the term didn’t quite sit right with me. As I grew up, I heard it at the salon as the lady braiding me would talk about my Walalo hair, and I heard it from the kids at school who didn’t know my name but wanted to ask me to play with them. And even occasionally from my mum’s distant relatives when they talked about my dad’s side of the family.

Walalo holds the history of Somalis in Kenya. It distinguishes Somalis from Kenyans, continuing a process that lies at the heart of Kenyan history and identity. While Somalis arrived in Kenya prior to the politically dominant ethnic groups, the Kenyan state has treated them like outsiders. Attempts by Somali-dominated regions to secede soon after Kenya attained independence in 1963 were met with violence by the Kenyan state, during the so-called Shifta Wars. Since then, regions with significant Somali populations have been subject to multiple massacres by the state.

Even Somalis born and raised in Nairobi experience discrimination. Most frequently, young men are profiled and harassed by the police, who will detain them in holding cells until friends and relatives can bail them out. Perhaps the best example of this discrimination was when Kenyan security agencies held a “vetting exercise” in 2014, ostensibly to weed out undocumented Somali immigrants. The government turned one of Kenya’s major sports stadiums, the Moi International Sports Stadium, Kasarani, into an open-air prison, and detained hundreds of people. Even though family members of detainees carried birth certificates, national IDs, and passports to prove their kins’ nationality, the detention persisted for several weeks. Most detainees were released following organizing efforts by human rights organizations and public outrage on social media, but we got the message loud and clear: Walalo citizenship and Kenyan citizenship are two entirely different things.

My father is Somali and my mother Kamba: he comes from a politically minoritized community while she belongs to one of the politically central communities; while his citizenship is always questioned, hers is unassailable.  A majority of the Akamba people ascribe to Christianity while most Somalis are muslim. My father isn’t present in my life, but I look like him: my hair, my skin, my teeth. But perhaps the biggest burden I have is his name. His name means I have to fake a laugh anytime a guard or interviewer or superior sees my identification and asks me jokingly, “wewe ni Al-Shabaab?” Based on my name and appearance, I am assumed to belong to or support Al-Shabaab, presumed an enemy of the state.

When people ask if I’m Walalo, I never know what to say because it doesn’t sound like something I should own. When men catcall me using the term, I’m not sure if I’m mad because I feel harassed or because I feel harassed AND offended. Accepting the term Walalo would mean accepting all the stereotypes that come with it. It would mean I was born in Somalia or Dadaab refugee camp and somehow snuck into Nairobi. It would mean that parts of me silently aspire to one day be an Al-Shabaab commander’s wife. It would mean that my love of Islam had to be apparent in the way I dress and talk, in the places I visit and the company I keep. On a lighter note, it would mean that my family owns an electronics shop on Nairobi’s Luthuli avenue or Eastleigh neighbourhood.

I turned eighteen a few days before finishing high school, so my first task upon getting home was to get a national ID. It’s a legal requirement that all adult Kenyans have a national ID, but beyond the legality of it, getting one would allow me to drive and drink. I was looking forward to the drinking. The requirements for getting an identification card are simple: present your birth certificate and copies of your parents’ identification at your local chief’s or district commissioner’s office, get your biometrics taken, go home with an interim ID, and return to the office after two weeks to collect your identification card.

My mom dropped me off at the DC’s office on a slow Monday morning, and I joined the long queue extending outside the office into the mercilessly hot sun. Most people on the queue were on their phones, some were trying to powder their faces to keep the sun from melting off their make-up, and others were lost deep in thought. Few of us were making small talk. As the line moved, I started observing what was happening inside the office so I could get a better idea of what to expect. There were three desks: at the first, a clerk would verify your documents; at the second, biometrics were taken; and, at the third, interim IDs were issued.

After hours in the sun, it was finally my turn.

“Wewe ni Walalo?” the clerk asked. I didn’t want to say yes, but I couldn’t lie to his face when he could see my name and my fathers’ place of birth, so I kept quiet. “Itabidi uende vetting,” he said. I was dumbfounded at first, then I gathered my thoughts and asked him why I needed vetting. He said they needed to prove that I was Kenyan.

As calmly as I could, I pointed out to the clerk that I had complied with the legal requirements: I had provided my birth certificate and proof of my parents’ identities. He was unswayed. Finally, in a fit of desperation, I told him that even though my father’s citizenship may have been questionable, my mother was Kamba. That didn’t work: I was clearly clutching at straws and my last name and features worked against me.

The clerk sent me home with a list of additional documents I would need to prove I could be legally Kenyan, to counteract the Walalo in me. The documents included a complete history of my schooling, from primary through high school, including letters of admission, leaving certificates, and academic transcripts; my parents’ complete employment history, including letters of appointment and termination; and my immunization card. All the requirements were absurd, but the immunization card was especially absurd, as the last time I received an immunization I was six years old. My saving grace was my mother’s extreme organizational skills and her hoarding tendencies.

I went back to the DC’s office with everything. It still took three months of almost weekly visits and interviews to finally get my hands on that little piece of plastic. The clerks would look at my documents, and then send me back for more. More copies of the same documents, more transcripts, more letters of employment. The evidence never seemed to be enough. They would set appointments with me and then be away from the office when I arrived. They would ask me questions few children born in Nairobi would know, like my parents sub-clans. On two occasions, my mother came down to the DC’s office and read them the riot act.

Of course she and I both knew a bribe would ease the process, but we had agreed we would not be extorted. It was simply a matter of principle.

Meanwhile, my peers got their identification  in two weeks and raved about how surprisingly efficient the process was.

Months later, after many delays and false promises, I finally got a call to pick up my ID. I had received several such calls before, only to rush to the DC’s office and return home empty handed. I delayed going by a week. When I finally left the District Commissioner’s office with that piece of plastic, I was numb for a while and then relief swept over me. I realized a part of me had already accepted that I may not get one. It was only after a security guard at a building asked for my identification a week later that I felt happiness. I don’t think anyone has ever been prouder to whip out their purse and pull out an ID than I was that day.

Three years later, my brother turned eighteen, and it was his turn to go to the DC’s office and jump through the same hurdles. His process was tougher, because Somali men are often stereotyped as potential terrorists. His vetting process took 6 months. Worst of all, we had it fairly easy compared to a lot of other Somali young men and women, many of whom go into their mid-twenties without identification.

As I went through the process of getting a national ID and then witnessed my brother go through an even more difficult process, I understood how the term Walalo describes a relationship between Somalis and the Kenyan state. It is not simply a descriptive nickname—it names, instead, a series of obstacles. In fact, it names Somalis as obstacles to Kenya’s idea of itself.  I lost all sense of the term as benign.

I hear the word Walalo less and less these days, and that makes me truly happy. My paternal grandfather passed on last year after battling lung cancer. As a child though, I enjoyed watching him lose his marbles whenever the word Walalo was mentioned. He would use his walking stick as a cane to chase off and beat anyone he heard using the word. As children, we found it funny, but as adults we understood. The Kenya he grew up in—the Kenya of massacres, discrimination, and profiling—didn’t leave much room for anything other than bitterness, much less tolerance for the word Walalo. Many non-Somali people of his generation and my parent’s generation are also ditching the term. Maybe it’s just fallen out of fashion. Whatever the case, I’m glad not to encounter it as often as I used to.

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Mariam Bishar

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Welcome to Crystal City, Amazon workers! Soon you will be confused by all of the manifold, wonderful ways to navigate Northern Virginia’s aging transportation infrastructure, affordable housing shortage, and endless sprawl; soon, you will join us in the delightful, endless knots of crushing traffic. But I am here to help: if the locals ride their horn behind you on the road, it’s nothing serious; it’s just that we’re all tired of sitting in traffic, of the construction that never alleviates congestion, and the fact that we can’t afford to live where we work, something your presence will massively exacerbate.

But look: welcome.

Let me help you orient yourself. Until December, I lived in Stafford County, just north of Fredericksburg, and soon you will too. This once-sleepy pastoral college town–more than 50 miles outside of DC–has become the District’s southernmost suburbs, and since 1980, the population of Stafford county has almost quadrupled. Developments along the 95 corridor keep going up because the price of living closer to DC keeps going up; as long as there are people who want new, large houses with yards and good schools, the District’s orbit will only keep expanding. And though Stafford is already the 20th richest county in the country, those 2017 numbers will no doubt rise with your arrival, along with housing prices and shortages.

(Welcome, again!)  

But how, you are asking, am I going to get to my job in Crystal City?

Well! There are so many options. If you’re driving, be prepared to wait in traffic (and wait and wait and wait). The 95 corridor is the worst in the country according to a “cloud-based” traffic analytic service; I confess that I’ve lived and driven in Southern California–so I wonder about the accuracy of that statement–but who am I to argue with the cloud? The cloud knows all; the cloud will save us; put it on the cloud! Let me again take this opportunity to thank you for coming to this community; without cloud-based services such as provided by Amazon, how would we ever know how bad the traffic is?

But I’m getting side-tracked; in traffic, your mind wanders. One option is to pay to drive in the parallel EZ-Pass lanes: after you get an EZ-Pass box in your car (available either by mail or at most 7-11 or Giant locations), it can cost about $30 one-way to drive in the EZ-Pass lane, which is a deal compared to the $1000 fine you’ll pay if you don’t have an EZ-Pass box and get caught. But that’s an option, too; you can choose!

Another option is to avoid the cost by having three people in your car, having an EZ-Pass “Flex” box in your car, and setting it to “Car Pool,” then the trip is free. But what if there are only two of you? What if just one person could make the difference between free and $1000 fine?

Well! The solution is called “slugging.” Lining the 95 corridor are “slug lots,” maintained by VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) where commuters park their cars, and then wait in an orderly line for drivers that would like one or two extra passengers to take into DC. There are helpful signs indicating destinations–typically central locations with metro access–and then, at the end of the day, these same people wait at designated pick-up points corresponding to the lots where they left their cars.

A web-site devoted to the practice calls it “the most efficient, cost-effective form of commuting in the nation.” But despite the language, take a look at those antiquated graphics: you are NOT reading copy for a Silicon Valley startup. It is true that some people do seem to have hacked the system: A friend’s father in Northern Virginia works for the government, on the edge of retirement, and he has never driven to work a day in his life. But I have dreadful news for you: though Uber is reportedly working on an app, this ride-sharing is not (yet!) being  monetized.

(Maybe you can help, Amazon? This thing, where it’s just people riding with other people, it’s so embarrassingly pre-Amazon HQ2).

From what I can tell, the practice was a spontaneous response to the problem of government regulations. I know those words don’t mean much to you, but let me explain: regulation is when the government makes rules dictating how people and corporations can behave. (Not everyone just gets to ignore laws they don’t like!) In this case, to help with traffic congestion, the government decreed that special commuter lanes were to be reserved for cars with three or more people. It happened–as that helpful website explains–in response to the Arab oil embargo of the 1970’s, when “gas prices soared [and] the United States adopted a number of measures to curb gasoline consumption,” including the construction of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for vehicles with more than three occupants.” Strangely, it worked: these lanes move swiftly compared to the “regular” lanes, since 18-wheelers aren’t allowed to drive in them and there are less cars, as well as few points of entries and exits.

And so it was that an incentive structure designed to produce a specific result did, in fact, produce the result it was designed to produce: people began slugging. What a depressing story. Governments solving a problem limiting freedom. Uggh! You must be asking: where are the innovators here? Who was the first? Who named them slugs–uggh, what a name!–and how on earth did it catch on without millions of dollars in branding consultancy?

In 2003, a BBC reporter reported that, as “the story goes,” the word came “from bus drivers who had to determine if there were genuine passengers at their stop or just people wanting a free lift in the same way that they look out for fake coins–or “slugs”–being thrown into the fare-collection box.” But where she got this story is as unclear as the citations page for slug-lines.com; how exactly the masses of DC Metro commuters organized themselves in this way–when it became known as slugging and how it achieved official recognition–are questions without obvious answers.

What is obvious is the practice: get in line. if you want to raise a car’s occupancy from one or two to three, you just get in line. If you need more passengers, you get in line.

It took a week of two hours in traffic before I could convince my husband that a stranger in our car was worth it. Like many who have never heard of slugging nor had to make their way into DC from the extended NoVa suburbs, my husband was leary of letting strangers ride with us, especially if they engaged him in small talk. “Don’t worry,” I reassured him, “there is an etiquette to this.” And so we began: we pulled up to the sign for our commuter drop-off and signaled for one; one human body got in, said thanks, and then said not a single word more for the entire ride.

After a few months, we had the routine down: we know the best lots, the best routes, the best times. We were not the only ones; the slug lots are full, and we’d pass car after car with three or four silent passengers riding into DC. They put their headphones on and watch their phones or work or read or listen to music. I’m jealous of the ones who can fall dead asleep, snoring next to me or behind me. My husband and I would try to take the time together to chat, in the extra couple of hours together we didn’t have before. But it’s weird with strangers in the car; we mostly stick with small talk. He kept reminding me that is is only temporary, that I’ll get used to it. But I don’t mind the strangers; I mind that we have to drive at all.

I wish we could ride trains. The VRE commuter train would get us from Stafford county into DC, running parallel to the 95 with stops at commuter lots on the way to Union Station. Before I got my job in DC, my husband took the VRE, and it was convenient for him–he could walk to work from Union Station–and relatively inexpensive. But added to the expense of two VRE passes was the prospect of heat delays when the Northern Virginia summer warps the tracks or the few inches of snow that it takes to stop the train, not to mention broken engines, trees across the tracks, switch issues, and any other number of problems.

The same sort of thing bedevils the Metro trains. When I first visited DC in the late 1990s, I marveled at the Metro that took me from the airport into the Capital district, and then back out to Fairfax; it had carpets, and cushions on the seats, and it was filled with serious-looking people in suits and military uniforms. Today, the DC metro is a poster-child for aging infrastructure and lack of investment, as likely to catch on fire as show up on time. But according to this exhaustive deep-dive into the problems with the DC Metro, the challenge of a transportation system split between two states, the district, and the Federal government is that one claims ultimate responsibility. DC is not a state, so they pay Federal taxes, but have no representation in congress (and the official licence plates actually says NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION). But, perhaps more to the point, people who work in DC don’t tend to live in DC; they tend to drive in from Virginia and Maryland.  

(Meanwhile, Metro ridership is down, exacerbated by a massive shutdown for maintenance this past summer; fewer passengers means less money, which means less support, which means it will keep falling apart, discouraging more people from using it.)

Growing up in Montreal, I got everywhere by bus and metro: the mall, swim team practice, school, home, the movies, hockey games, baseball games, the bar, everywhere. But more than Montreal’s superior system, I had the luxury of time: I spent endless hours on metros and buses and trains, waiting to get from one place to another, enjoying the quiet time, listening to my walkman.

Now, time is money (convertible into housing). Time could be spent: spent with my kids, spent writing, spent reading, making dinner, spent on anything but sitting in traffic, on a stalled train, in a metro station.

I don’t think I could be a slug. But maybe you can! Waiting, hoping for someone to pick you up; some days you’ll wait a long time. If there isn’t anyone at the slug lot, I’m still going to make it to work. But if no one picks you up at the slug lot, you’re not going anywhere.

In December, we moved to McLean, on the Silver Line, signing an 18-month lease just before the Amazon announcement. I’m looking forward to feeling less rushed, to not sitting in the car for four hours every day. I’m wary of relying on the Metro, but maybe sitting and listening to books on tape–as well as walking to and from the metro–will help my mental health.

Slugging was an option where there were no good options. But did it remove the impetus to improve public transit? I wonder. The commuter lots are publicly supported, with official Virginia Department of Transportation signage, on and off highways. Parking lots are cheaper than a transit system, and the EZ-Pass lanes are controlled by a private company (with the state getting a cut).

What will you, oh Future Amazon H2 employee, do to our commute? To our ability to pay rent or own a home one day? The infrastructure is stretched far past its limit, but I doubt Amazon will re-invest in infrastructure for everyone; I suspect we’ll see more privatized disruption. We’ll start seeing Amazon buses in the EZ-Pass lane, or they’ll buy up affordable housing and turn it into Amazon dorms. I worry about the already-squeezed working class, here, about who will be able to afford to be a part of government; I worry about the lives stretched along endless lines and slowdowns. I worry, but I don’t wonder what will happen. It already has, after all. Why else did you come here?

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Lee Bessette

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