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Hack the City
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okay okay no blood for oil and i miss my bike a LOT..
but when you drive in a city you are as burroughs said participating in a secret conversation, the landscape talking at you in a second language beyond english words- everything in the city is telling you something and giving you a common point of reference to your fellow prisoners in these cages of iron and oil. the gigantic cellular automaton that is the traffic grid is one of life's easiest object lessons of the irreducibility of all of the great problems of the universe.. you can't know what the grid will look like in an hour without going thru the next 59 minutes anymore than you can know what the universe will look like in a hundred years- you can't know, but you can figure out some of the rules.
if hacking beyond computers is merely obsessively finding out as much as you can about any sort of system and using it in ways that nobody else ever thought of/intended, then driving in cities is the lowest common denominator lexeme to everyperson's innate desire to hack- not everybody picks locks or programs their tivo, but many people scheme on how to cut minutes off their commute and memorize traffic patterns, sometimes even for multiple cities.
san francisco, where the psychotic boom and bust economy affects manmade and natural creations.. the traffic patterns mimic the sudden salinization of the formerly freshwater Lake Merced- to avoid gridlock, you would never take a highway out of the city in the morning, until a few years ago when that policy mysteriously reversed itself during the dotbomb.. i miss you san francisco- biking up and down your hills for sweat, but usually lazing in the ideal sunny flatopia of the mission district, almost knocking into hottie redheaded bikers while reading the holy grail of the bike coalition bike lane map.. but driving? my old roommate matt was a cabby for luxor and i prided myself in comparing routes with him, laughing at my friends' and family's frustrations as it took them an hour to get to the place it took me 10 minutes to get to, and an hour to find parking when i knew enough to park on the sidewalk.
the city planners, growing up near generations of hacker mindsets that reduced circuit components on silicon wafers, knew enough to leave homage through timed lights, one-way streets, delivery zones- secrets that the city whispered in the ears of the cabbies and gas-powered hackers- i miss my free/cheap cars from san francisco and the tickets that would eventually lead to the cars disappearing from their parking spaces but mostly i miss my view of the highways from the traffic free neighborhoods that i always found myself living in, taking ghetto highways thru bayview and excelsior, and the free parking that accompanied the eerie ghosttown quiet of the streets late at night during the week of burningman.
because nobody in san francisco is from san francisco, the driving style was heterogenous- native san franciscans don't drive anyway, so there was no native driving style. the simplest tool for dealing with this is "routing around bullshit"- that chinese woman is being honked at and freaked out at by the indian java programmer for doing some bullshit left turn in an intersection? pull a uturn or pop the sidewalk and get around that shit.. why honk when nobody's right? when we all come with our own fucked up culture and baggage? the california hippie-dippie aesthetic as expressed through driving- why judge others when they gotta WANT to change, "man"?
half of my friends who moved out to SF from chicago stayed and loved the legal weed and built up the dope noise music scene- the other half couldnt deal with the bullshit where nobody's wrong and nobody's right and hightailed it back to homogenous driving style-land, that snowy prairie megalopolis chicago- algren says it was populated by scheming conmen who kept going west til they found the first settlement without a sheriff. luckily for auto hackers, they burned the whole thing down and blamed it on an old lady's cow so they could land phat road and building construction contracts.
so let's all start over from scratch, eh? build the perfect city grid, then build the perfect drivers.
when i learned how to drive in driver's ed, they'd wait til the icy winter, take you to a suburban mall parking lot and put you into a skid so you'd learn how to get out of it. i would think of this often during san francisco's rainy month, when clearly everybody had different strategies for freaking the fuck out during inclement weather.
99% of people who claim chicago are from the suburbs- and when two midwest megalopolisoids meet, they pinpoint each others exact chicago location and degree of more-hardcore-than-thou through street addresses. the whole thing's a grid/wheel spoke, so 6043 winthrop means right near loyola in edgewater bordering roger's park, and 1048 damen means the post-hipster ukranian, hell practically humboldt park.. a simple grid for everyone to figure out and not fuck it up. if you don't drive like a total thug in chicago, you -will- get the punishment honk. take the sidestreets like a good girl, jump across the grid with the huge diagonal streets like milwaukee or the interstate, and for god's sakes when it's Boot Day in your neighborhood, make your shit scarce. And when you drive in the suburbs? Let them know you are from the city (disregard this last one if you have a melanin count of higher than 1000 cpmm2).
I only drove a few times in new york but from what i remember it's just like walking on the sidewalks there- just close your eyes and trust your immediate neighbors' bumpers.
Driving down to mexico was my favorite driving- road trip driving. 3700 miles in a week. Popping into one reality, hanging out and peeping the scene, then a grueling day of driving oblivion that serves to shake your etch-a-sketch and let you start over in Albuquerque, Austin, Zacatecas.. everybody in the new city has a totally different trip, they all read different books or dont read at all and if you're lucky the radio stations arent all clear channel'd up and they actually play different shit- best to stick to AM.
Now we are in Guadalajara and the car has fallen apart and demanded more money and more knowledge and mastery but it will probably make the trip home. I've gone native when it comes to driving. Everyone drives, so the pollution here is so awful that Ali's childhood asthma came back. In the capital city of D.F., they restrict weekday driving to certain license plate numbers per day- of course the residents that could afford it just went out and bought 2nd and 3rd cars. All this in the most populous city in the western hemisphere (15 million? 30 million?), surrounded by mountains that don't let any of the CO out.
Guadalajara is only a measly 8 million, but the air's still bad and people still drive like maniacs. Learning the new city is amazing- there are turnabouts aka glorietas everywhere (sorta like boston), the tenthousands of buses are all total pricks, and jeeps full of cops driving around with assault weapons apparently don't give a fuck. One way streets are suggestions (like SF) and we have yet to be pulled over for anything, probably due to the aforementioned low melanin count.
Everytime I see some other driver do some crazy shit, like say pull onto a highway through the exit ramp, i almost shit myself "holy fuck! you can do -that- here? Yess!!" another trick added to my oeuvre.. red lights and stop signs? there to color up the scenery. pulling across lanes of oncoming traffic to turn left? i think there's something about it in the national anthem... i saw glimmers and hints of this driving technique back on mission street, like a mural depicting some better mural thousands of miles away.
It's a formidable city to figure out, with no real grid, lying street signs, streets that change names three times during their course across the city, and of course dirt streets with 3 year old children selling chiclets or juggling oranges for a peso or two (9-18 cents). People sell shit at every intersection, and most of the food is delicious- if you're a thick white cow person from the midwest who doesnt eat burritos every day, you get the shits- but if you've lived in SF, your body has developed latino ecoli which make everything okay.
The busses are the most crazy- very cheap although a recent fare increase pissed a lot of people off. Tricked out on the inside with airbrushed murals of hot bitches , christ on the cross, and the omnipresent virgen de guadalupe- pretty much the fastest, if not most reliable then most entertaining mode of transport in the city. These flaming chapels on wheels operate on commission, so they race each other thru the city, blowing past the paltry
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elaine: 17th Apr 2005 - 06:39 GMT
Fab! I love this. Also the idea of finding cut thrus as a version of hacking. There are people who never do that, and, horribly, people who can't do any kind of urban orienteering because they have no north
Marc: 17th Apr 2005 - 06:48 GMT
Re: Hack the City
elaine: 17th Apr 2005 - 06:56 GMT
i have always found drivers here very kind... but then I am blonde
Marc: 17th Apr 2005 - 07:14 GMT
Re: finding no north
elaine have you read iain sinclair's lights out for the territory? about having walkabouts thru london.. reading bits of it right before bed makes for amazing dreams. pretty amazing writer.
elaine: 17th Apr 2005 - 07:41 GMT
no, I must read him, I seem to have managed not to for some reason. I have been told recently that I must read downriver as well. what i always loved was soft city by jonathan raban, and then i read all his american books too. I think I always lumped Ian sinclair in with peter ackroyd as too heavy, but I like ackroyd's central ideas, and loved his watered down TV thing...
elaine: 17th Apr 2005 - 07:44 GMT
Re: north - incidentally, did you know, the french have a saying about 'losing north', i dont know if it's about total madness or what the boundaries are of the metaphor, but I like it
Vauna: 17th Apr 2005 - 07:47 GMT
Re: Hack the City
Having personally experienced the driving in Mexico with you, I relived the noise and aberant driving behavior of individuals in Chicago, San Francisco and Guadalajara while you were at the steering the car and fighting for survival and I was in the back seat clad with my bracelets to prevent motion sickness after which I thanked my lucky stars for dry underwear.
Marc: 17th Apr 2005 - 07:52 GMT
Re: Sinclair, Ackroyd..
yeah if you google for sinclair, ackroyd.. "heavy-duty version of ackroyd", "highly derivative work 'Hawksmoor' based on sinclair's poem".. havent read ackroyd myself but i love a good literary pissing match!!
elaine: 17th Apr 2005 - 08:03 GMT
ackroyd's main idea, apparrently, is that london is like a volcano and some bits are fast flowing and some are fixed, and that over 2000 years there are areas which have stayed the same, for instance, there are still whores on the street at aldgate, much as there would have been in Roman times. This stops working when you completely bulldoze, like the original chinatown at limehouse, which is an underpass now. See, now I know that I can't be arsed reading those big thick books, and as I say, the dumbed down TV series was really good!
Peter: 18th Apr 2005 - 14:29 GMT
this is a great entry, marc. thanks for showing up on this site...
im fascinated by much of what you wrote, and indeed, couldnt have put it any better in regards to hacking-via-transportation... ive often thought of speedy travel in similar terms while cycling. every day i could shave a few moments off my 6 mile morning ride to work was a day i had a huge smile on my face.
when i first moved to nyc, i used to appreciate the cold logic inherent in the grid-system here, which as you know, demarkates almost 30m^2 of manhattan (well, and other boros too i guess) into neat little quadrants, save for some of the pre-grid streets of yore that languish downtown, south of wall street, in a tangle of one-ways and dead-ends. then i started getting out into that grid, and realized the sublime clusterfuck its all become...
...and i think this is largely due to automobiles. im not trying to go off on some anti-automobile tirade here (though i do sometimes, as a hot-headed cyclist, heh), i think its simply that the city streets, as well as its parks and open areas, were not planned with the auto in mind.
enter lots of rambling about robert moses and his henchmen and the visions of f.l. olmstead a'la pbs' "new york: the documentary", the biscecting of public parks with highways, rendering them inaccessable, the maniacal quest to inject roads and automobile-navigable thruways into the far reaches of every boro... yes, its fascinating indeed.
i appreciate the thoughts you took the time to put here, and am having fun considering all the tangents i could go off on. thanks!
jeeff: 18th Apr 2005 - 14:46 GMT
i like to hear about several places all summed up together. it adds a dimension. interesting approach.
elaine: 18th Apr 2005 - 17:36 GMT
Re: Sinclair ref. thanks for that, I just got my mitts on it, and read the first bit sitting in London Fields - a double whammy, not just because here I am reading about where I am because you told me to from mexico, but I had just put up a cod julie andrews explanation of grafitti translating an earlier comment someone made about bombing, and it's basically what sinclair opens with, though not in the julie andrews stylie, obviously. anyway fanx
Marc: 18th Apr 2005 - 18:56 GMT
peter, hopefully i will post some pics of guanajuato soon- it's the cradle of mexican independence, a very italian looking town, many hills and mines and mummies, and most of the car streets are underground (where they belong)- definitely quicker to walk anywhere. something about hill/mountain cities makes me feel like an immortal when i walk in the middle of the street because i am struggling against gravity more than that car, so they have to let me pass..
moerex: 18th Apr 2005 - 19:27 GMT
A perfect distillation of the secret language of urban driving. Reminds me of the year I spent living in Manilla as a kid, where my father learned what he later came to call (once we moved back to The States) "Filipino Driving Tactics." I'll always remember the way my school bus driver used to race the other school bus drivers along their route in the late afternoon, all the children shrieking and laughing and egging him on, the busses kicking up clouds of dust as they passed sleeping dogs in busy intersections, gaudily decorated jeepneys, and pedicabs, miraculously always delivering their charges intact and never hitting even one beggar along the way. (Have made notes to look into Sinclair & Raban--the names are familiar, but I've not read them as far as I know....)
elaine: 18th Apr 2005 - 19:42 GMT
Re: Driving... and Parking. Maybe part of the mojo for me is driving old wrecks, because people are often kind even at night, or maybe my own good will radiates out, but I really pushed my luck once when parking in a space too small for my car and in a hurry and I thought well, what are bumpers for? Unfortunately after a few bumps a bloke rapped on my window and informed me I had bashed into his car 3 times. I apologised profusely. that was, honestly the first time in my life I instituted the mantra"please notice I'm blonde, please notice I'm blonde". Bad.
kobe: 19th Apr 2005 - 18:23 GMT
this thread is one of the most intelligent things ive read online in a long time. thanks, marc, for keeping the flow going. looks like you guys all have alot to say on the topic.
Power: 16th Jun 2005 - 01:20 GMT
I am going to Guadalajara in 2 weeks Yikes! I have driven all over and think they are typical SA drivers ! If special I will know !
JAz: 10th Nov 2005 - 10:10 GMT
Son una bola de idiotas al penar que debe nacer aqui el pedo del hack la verdad el sistema viene de otros lados, aqui no existen las herramientas ni el respaldo para hacer esto. Yo creo que deben comartir un poco de su computetes.
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