City Paper is not for tourists
Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Justin wrote Iceland, a blog about his band’s American tour. Justin isn’t on tour anymore, but Iceland continues, twice a week, on City Desk.
“Did you see a car on fire back there?” asked the toll collector on the Atlantic City Expressway.
“Yes,” I replied. Driving the Expressway from Philadelphia to the distinguished, gaming-friendly seaside municipality, I had indeed seen an automobile engulfed by flames near Exit 7. For Atlantic City Expressway enthusiasts, I note that Exit 7 is the intersection of the Expressway and the Garden State Parkway, not far from where the famed Sopranos episode “Pine Barrens” was filmed. For Sopranos enthusiasts, I note that the ambiguous fate of the Russian mobster Christopher and Paulie fail to assassinate in “Pine Barrens” is characteristic of series creator *David Chase*’s impressionistic aesthetic.
“Were the passengers still in the car?” the toll collector inquired.
I considered the toll collector’s question. I remembered that another car had been parked uncomfortably close to the immolated vehicle, its occupants gesturing wildly and barking into their cell phones.
“No,” I replied. “Another car was parked nearby, but I don’t think anyone was in the burning car.”
“Well, I called it in just in case,” reported the toll booth collector. “The police will be there shortly.”
“On behalf of the fire’s victims, I thank you for your service,” I opined. “But I suspect the vehicle fire was already called in to appropriate emergency service providers.” Traffic had slowed to a crawl beside the burning car. Undoubtedly, one of the thousands of rubberneckers had played the Good Samaritan and called 911.
“May I have a receipt?” I asked.
“Sure,” the toll collector assured me. She rummaged through her cash drawer, searching for the documentation I had requested. As she searched, I thought of the burning car not two miles from where I now sat paying a $2 toll. A car fire is irresistible attraction for any rubbernecker, I thought. More than any other accident, a car fire reminds us—-in palpable, violent, searing imagery—-that nothing but luck and/or the grace of God prevents us from perishing in a flaming automobile. After all, we routinely pilot two-ton metal boxes filled with flammable gasoline at speeds exceeding 80 mph on the Interstate Highway System, and death awaits us at any given turn. From a Futurist perspective, the car fire is a kind of tour de force—-the aesthetics of industry and speed meeting their fiery, brutal destiny as the rest of us whiz by, hurrying to pay our $2 toll and be on our way. I do not envy the victims of the car fire I witnessed, but, from a post-industrial perspective, their fate is tragic, but apropos.
“Here is your receipt,” remarked the toll collector.