An Ohio sergeant pulled us over on the way back from New York and we had to make nice with him so he wouldn't do a violence on us. Lily was doing 85 in a 70 and the little picture on her license does not look a lick like her.
“I wouldn’t trust a ‘93 to go cross country,” he exclaimed, laughing from under his big stupid hat as we held our breath. I let Lily do the talking. I would have said something defensive and dug a hole for us. How many muscles does it take to smile? Fifty thousand, I’ve learned, when it’s a cop you need to smile at. We had a feeling our whiteness got us out of that one unscathed.
True, it is amazing how far Lily’s mom’s 1993 Subaru Impreza takes us. The teal hunk of metal is older than both of us. She has a faded bumper sticker from her previous owner that we can’t get off: SINGLE PAYER HEALTHCARE: IT WORKS! (I remind Lily often: that unpeelable sticker could’ve immortalized an infinitely worse slogan.) She groans and lurches and I-think-I-cans over potholes as if she knows what “spite” means. But from NY to IL this dyke-mobile chugs.
On the road we played a game called “What Was Here Before This?” where we’d look out on the crumbling asphalt lanes and cellphone towers and cornfields and speculate. Was it trees? Swamp? A watershed, or plains ripe for grazing? Most of the names on the signs we pass are straight from a native tongue. Someone’s home? Everywhere, we are reminded that there was a not-too-long-ago time before all this litter. I tell Lily that’s what I think of all civilized detritus like roads and overhead lines: it’s a whole lot of litter. Hideous, festering, and choke-holding local habitats.
Back in the undulating hills of Pennsylvania’s country after encountering unmasked Karens in a McDonalds we fell into another conversation we always have: “Why do so many terrible people live in such beautiful places?” I had spent the previous week at my dad’s on Long Island, the home of the Not In My Backyarders, where the teeming Atlantic Ocean rolls onto glittering sand and where segregation reigns (white) supreme. What was here before this? The Canarsee, Rockaway, Merrick, Marsapeague, Secatogue, Unkechaug, Matinecock, Nesaquake, Setalcott, Corchaug, Shinnecock, Manhasset, and Montauk peoples. Green like you wouldn’t believe, I bet. Marshlands and shelly shores, creatures in susurring abundance. I’d rather not fuggedahboudid, honestly.
And now: suburbia. Litterbuglandia. Roads scar the entire island and they’re always backed up. You’re bumper to bumper with ichthyses and MAGAs and thin blue line Punishers, Montauk to Floral Park. There’s litter, and then there’s trash.
Maybe litter is too innocuous a word. The schmuck who invented suburbs didn’t chuck a bunch of pavement and lawn and heterosexuality out his window, oops, and there’s Levittown. It was racist calculation. But I like thinking of the structures that civilization excretes as litter because it denotes impermanence. Litter can be removed. Picked up and composted, repurposed. Incinerated.
Runa (@runaxanders) is a lesbian anarchist and settler colonist living on Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi land, where she spends her time writing, making soup, and staring directly at the sun. She spends a lot of time hating on cars for someone who drives everywhere.