2120 Hindsight: The Road Museum

13Jun09

I went to the Road Museum today.  It’s Saturday, and I had some time, so why not?  I’ve been hearing about it, just never got around to checking it out.

Like museums have probably always done, they used virtual enhancements for their main exhibits.  Of course, you couldn’t tell at all.  It really felt like we were “driving” on famous old American highways.

I participated in several of the exhibits.  One was called the Cross-Bronx Expressway.  What a pretentious name.  But yeah, the roboy curator assured me there had really been such a thing.  There was another, an interregional — no, interstate, they called it — Interstate Highway Number something.  85, maybe.  95.  I’m not sure.  Everything had numbers back then, and complicated names.  Or I guess 85 or 95 was the number for the Cross-Bronx Expressway.  It was a little confusing.  But you get the basic idea.

Driving, itself, was pretty intense.  You’re in your own private car, basically a steel box on wheels, going down the road next to all these others (and sometimes zipping right by some that are going the other way).  Make one mistake, and you and everyone in your car can die.  I tried it once, by myself, and wrecked my “car” almost immediately.  Some of the other muesumgoers had done this before, so I rode along with them.

But there were still some crashes.  And these highway deaths are no ordinary deaths, just turning out the light as we know it.  You’re out of control, going sideways or upside down.  Everyone is screaming.  Things are hitting your car very hard, very fast.  You experience this enormous pain — we didn’t actually get the full treatment, obviously, but we felt some of it — definitely enough of it!– and we saw the Xs and we knew what that meant.  It was really just unbelievable.  The pain goes on.  Different parts of your body are feeling different kinds of pain.  What makes it scary is that you don’t know how long it’s going to go on, or how much worse it will get.  At the same time, you are having these intense feelings of instantaneous guilt and stupidity, because when it comes to pain you’re always wanting to back out, go back and redo it, in this case choose someone else to drive the damn car.

No wonder people were so afraid of dying.  It had to be fricking horrible.

Along with the famous highways, they had some famous street scenes.  Like, we got to ride in the car immediately behind President Kennedy, when somebody shot him, back in the 1900s.  They also had some more or less anonymous exhibits, where you were just experiencing what it was like to drive down some random country road in a car with the windows open, wind blowing through your hair, smelling some weird plants.  No guarantees that it was actually like that — obviously, they were relying on some old video to reconstruct the audio and visual portions of the exhibit; and for the olfactory portion, they tried to piece together the smells of a prairie that supposedly grew there.  Rebuilding the scent of an entire prairie by using synthetic plant oils based on old seeds — well, I bet it didn’t really smell like that.

Overall, though, I think it’s a good museum.  I came out feeling like I really had been visiting a different world.  Hard to imagine — streets and roads everywhere, huge amounts of digging and blasting and concreting, millions of vehicles running every which way, sometimes just sitting there waiting on each other — and the whole thing making an unbelievable amount of noise and dirt.  It’s hard to believe that people really had nothing better to do with their time.

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