Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich's new book title reveals the power of cars

October 26, 2011 - 09:54 AM
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(Photo: BenBella Books)

Politcos, a new book will be hitting the shelves December 6 — Turn This Car Around: The Roadmap to Restoring America.

The author of this 288-page tome is former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich, one of the few Republicans elected to high office in our neighbor state. He took the wheel in Maryland from 2003 to 2007 and now releases the following piece of writing that, according to its product description, "urges the American public to make a real change and address (with him) the issues of union strangleholds, Obamacare, a failed stimulus package, soaring energy costs and high unemployment, the race-card, the Living Wage war, bipartisanship and other heated topics." Sounds positively dramatic, no?

But I'm less interested in the content of the book and more drawn to the title. "Turn this car around," Ehrlich advises on the cover his book. He wants to provide with a "roadmap" for America's restoration. Now, I point to this language not because it's anything so unusual. These metaphors of transportation fill all our language. But what struck me as I considered the former governor's book title is how many of these titles unconsciously revolve around the automobile, that vehicle that so many transit-oriented folks want to steer us away from. How did our culture cruise to this point of so many casual car references? In part the reason goes back to what D.C. director of planning Harriet Tregoning alluded to when at Rail~Volution she brought up the billions in advertising the car industry purchases. Such advertising, kicked into high gear over the course of the 20th century, affects the frames with which we see our world. As a conservative, Ehrlich also evokes a broader tapestry of political battles surrounding transportation by tapping car metaphors for his title. As I've talked about before, certain Republicans such as GOP House leader Eric Cantor are less than enthused about the notion of public support for Capital Bikeshare and other transit-oriented, pedestrian-oriented projects. Will we ever hit the brakes when it comes to this car-central culture? Ehrlich's book title presupposes the idea of America itself as a car ... and it's hardly the first instance. It was Jack Kerouac who famously wrote, "Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?"

Beyond advertising, however, the dominant mode of a culture's transportation creates these omnipresent metaphors naturally. A hundred years ago, metaphors revolved around the saddle and trains. Where do you think "hold your horses" came from? That psychological power speaks both to how intimate and serious our transportation modes are to our everyday lives as well as raises the question of how it influences our thinking far beyond our commutes. Who knows what language we'll embrace in the future, though. The future is an open road.

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