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A Nervous Hiatus
James Howard Kunstler

“Having lived through a reality-optional period of history, it will come as an ecstatic shock to learn that the world requires us to pay attention to what is really happening and to act accordingly.” —JHK

On Easter Sunday, fate put me on the Jersey Turnpike at 5:30 in the morning. I was motoring home from our nation’s capital where I traveled for the memorial service of a favorite aunt who passed away last month at ninety-five after a richly rewarding life. Her husband, my favorite uncle, enjoyed a long and colorful career in America’s Intel Community, and passed-on back in 2002. They recruited him at the founding of Spooks Inc in the late 1940s, since he came out of the army intel corps in Southeast Asia during World War Two.

In the 1950s, Uncle “B” and his family were posted to Africa, first Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. In the early 1960s, with colonialism crumbling, “B” operated all over Africa, making subtle arrangements in one new country after another for things to come out in America’s favor. For all his spookish doings, “B” was an artistically inclined soul. On one assignment to West Africa, he noticed the hotel staff were pilfering some of his belongings. He took some rocks up to his hotel and, cognizant that magic ruled in the region’s culture, painted eyes on the rocks and deployed them around the room. The pilfering stopped. “B” was famous for such insights about the world’s exotic peoples. (He also played piano capably, specializing in the tunes of Gershwin and Cole Porter.)

Periodically the family sojourned in New York. With each US presidential election, the IC brought some spooks back to the homeland as the new team reassessed the global game-board. One Thanksgiving around 1961 after JFK came in, we were all gathered in the family’s rented Greenwich Village townhouse when three mysterious African gentlemen, ostensibly “from the UN,” were admitted briefly to the proceedings for a confab with “B”. I learned later that they were a delegation from Angola, where a war of independence from Portugal was catching fire. The men were in New York seeking help from our side (that is, weapons).

After that year, Uncle and the family enjoyed long deluxe postings in Rome and Paris, where “B” followed a career, he would tell me, in “public relations.” My three younger cousins were privileged with colorful childhoods overseas. After Richard Nixon came in, “B” was permanently brought home and posted to Spook Central in Washington, where he completed his career. In retirement, he turned to painting full-time and often played piano for his fellow retired spooks and diplomats at their hangout, the Cosmos Club on Mass Avenue, Washington’s Embassy Row.

My cousins, all aging baby boomers now, all turned up, of course, at Auntie’s memorial service, a warmly graceful affair, well-attended by the network of friends she maintained so late in life, and my cousin’s children with their own children, and all the flowering trees in bloom, and lovely spoken remembrances of the great lady. The crowd was very largely of the Washington insider liberal Democrat persuasion, you understand, but there was close-to-zero political chitchat in the cocktail session that followed. Back during the 2020 election, all three cousins had sent me archly opprobrious emails objecting to my support of Mr. Trump against the charming and dynamic “Joe Biden.” They were super-pissed off that their writer-cousin had turned into a right-wing extremist. But all that was put aside, possibly even forgiven, this day of sweet memoriam.

That out of the way, my more pertinent point du jour is about the journey from where I live in upstate New York to Washington DC and back. I made the trip by car because the affordable airplane routes all involved absurd hours-long connecting layovers in far-flung cities at fantastic prices, and there were no seats left on the soviet-grade Amtrak train service at any times that worked. It’s been a while since I traveled the New York to Washington corridor on-the-ground in a car, and the experience was maximally horrifying.

The various Departments of Transportation of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland are working out there at heroic scale to upgrade their stretches of the interstate highways involved. The amount of concrete, steel, and asphalt getting laid down now boggles the mind, considering the essential bankruptcy at all levels of government. But more to the point, they are doing this at the very time when the age of mass-motoring is drawing to a close.

Government itself is now militating against it, with its poorly thought-out crusade against the internal combustion engine and its promotion of electric cars that Americans can’t afford to buy, while the electric grid can’t possibly support all that proposed battery-charging at the mass scale. (Let’s leave aside for now whatever nefarious influence the World Economic Forum exerts on all this.)  In any case, the standard of living is crashing in Western Civ now. Incomes are down, or lost altogether, inflation is up, and with it the price of cars. The car industry has reached its limit for trick loan schemes that enable the tapped-out middle-class to regularly replace their vehicles. Not to put too fine a point on it, the system is fucked.

And yet, here we are, building ever more motoring infrastructure as if none of this is happening. The reason, naturally, is that immense bureaucracies like the DOTs have minds of their own. They are not responding to conditions as they are; they are carrying out plans that were made years ago when conditions and assumptions were different. Those plans have implacable momentum. You can see how all this is going to end badly.

Now, I planned my return trip with a layover night outside Philadelphia, so I could leave before the crack-of-dawn Easter Sunday, when few other cars would be on the road. That proved to be the case. But even nearly alone on the highway, and with pretty good navigational skills of my own, plus the help of GPS, I made several wrong turns. This was mostly because the signage contradicted the lady robot’s voice issuing instructions, as well as my own geographical heuristics, especially in the long stretch north up the whole length of New Jersey. There were a few times I felt I barely escaped getting killed making last-second turns. There were extended moments when I thought: I’m in Hell.

Anyway, I made it home alive and undamaged. I’d never want to do that trip again, and the way things are going, I may not have to. The Easter holiday was a strange hiatus in a year that promises fantastic turbulence in public affairs, including especially American politics and our wobbling economy. Financial markets and banks managed to levitate through the first weeks of springtime, but there is a bad odor of imminent failure in the air, at the same time that government’s war against its own citizens shows signs of hardening into the threat of digital currency, renewed efforts at censorship, persecution of political opponents, and a growing awareness of “vaccine” caused death. The natives are restless, the animals are stirring. Events creep toward criticality.



James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.


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