In my “History of American Transportation” class this spring at Emory Univer- sity’s Osher Institute—subtitled “From Clipper Ships to Rocket Ships”—all of the history of transportation can be summed up in five or six words: geology, westward, faster, money, and politics.
Geology controls ocean currents, fertile river valleys that made easy construction of
canals and railways and, later, mountain passes in the West; canal barges were faster
than wagons, and railroads faster than canals, etc. Many of these same principles apply
to insurance claims as well.
If all a visitor to the U.S. ever saw was our network television, then he or she would
think that our whole nation was nothing but car wrecks and plaintiff lawyers. Auto
insurance is promoted like Kewpie
dolls at the county fair: “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Step right up, and get yer
cheap auto insurance now!” Are we to
assume that auto insurance is going to
disappear or something?
Air was formerly the fastest way to
travel, but no longer. By the time one
drives to the airport, parks, figures out
how to produce a boarding pass from a
computerized gizmo, stands in a long line to clear TSA, walks a mile to the departure concourse, awaits a delayed departure or late-arriving crew while jammed into a seat designed
for midgets, and does it all in reverse at the destination—perhaps after a change of flight
somewhere half way across America—one could have bicycled to the destination faster in
some instances. There is a story about a man on a slow train who complained to the conductor about how slow it was. “Well,” replied the conductor, “why don’t you just walk?” The
passenger replied, “I would, but nobody is expecting me until the train arrives!”
The U.S. fusses about
the price of gasoline.
yet, it won’t spend a
penny on mass transit. I
suppose auto insurance
is here to stay.
the omniscient Automobile
The most popular long-distance travel
is currently by automobile, which probably explains why auto insurance is
hawked on TV and claims adjusters are
kept employed handling wrecks. Nobody
uses the back-road highways any longer;
rather, they opt for the interstates. I have
driven on just about all of them in the
country, including the beltways, perimeters, and ring roads, and if any reader
not residing in Boston New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Dallas, Chicago or Los Angeles thinks his or her I-Whatever is clogged and frantic, then he
or she has not been anywhere else.
While bumper-to-bumper trucks,
SUVs, and RVs race along the interstates,
parallel old four-lane highways, like US-
19 between Atlanta and mid-Florida, are
practically empty. In 2010 a number of
high-speed, or at least higher speed rail
projects were proposed by the administration. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida
governors rejected their federal allot-