Door to Door: A book review by Bob Morris

Door to DoorDoor to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation
Edward Humes
Harper/An Imprint of HarperCollins (2016)

Carmageddon or Carmaheaven? That determination could be made by “titanic enterprises” and/or “small choices”

Frankly, I had no idea (or any interest in knowing) what’s involved in transporting a small package from Boston to Seattle, much less transporting that package from a door in Peoria to another in Hong Kong. The transportation infrastructure for domestic and international shipments is one of the focal points of Edward Humes’s attention. He makes brilliant use of several extended metaphors that enrich a rigorous and enlightening examination – indeed an exploration – of “the magnificent, maddening, mysterious world of transportation.”

One of the most effective metaphors is what he characterizes as the “three-million-mile commute.” In Chapter 9, he asks, “So where does the [daily] commute begin, if not in our driveway?” His answer: “More than anyplace else, the starting line can be found high atop the windswept Pacific bluff of Angels Gate where, seven days a week, the most valuable shopping list in America is created. There, inside the whitewashed, antennae-studded headquarters of the Marine Exchange, a very pleasant, very busy mother of four by the name of Debbie Chavez crafts the Magna Carta of the buy-it-now, same-day-delivery world: the Master Queuing List. With it, Chavez holds the lion’s share of America’s consumer economy in her hands.” (Pages 193-194)

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Humes’s coverage:

o Carmageddon (Pages 1-6, 14-15, and 151-153)
o Mass transit (4-5, 79-81, 242-243, 255-257, 302-304, 309-3e112, and 311-315)
o Master Queuing List (7-8, 194-196, and 199-200)
o Commuting (12-15, 142-143, 274-275, and 301-304)
o Smartphones (19-27, 100-106, 244-245, and 252-254)
o Cargo and container ships (57-58, 133-134, 169-173, 180-184, and 194-226)
o Carbon emissions (86-88, 1q81-182, and 312-313)
o Car accidents and pedestrians (96-97, q106-112, and 127-128)
o Drunk driving (119-123)
o Car centrism (129-130, 251-255, and 291-294)
o Overload (134-135, 149-152, 157-159, 196-199, 203-210, and 240-241)
o Trucks (139-140, 183-185, 189-191, and 226-227)
o Google self-driving vehicle (140-141, 263-272, and 281-284)
o Railroads: Significance (143-144, 154-156, and 172-174)
o United Parcel Service (231-235, 244-249, and 321-331)
o American walking habits (302-303 and 314-316)

In the Appendix (321-331), Humes provides a partial list of fatal crashes that occurred on Friday, February 13, 2015, compiled from media and police reports. They provide compelling evidence of the nature, scope, and impact of human abuse of transportation vehicles, what he characterizes as “Carmageddon.” Here in Dallas where I live, proximately 85-90% of the vehicles on the road have only one occupant, a driver. Media accounts suggest that about 50% of those killed in vehicle accidents were not wearing a seat belt. A high percentage of traffic violations (notably speeding) in school zones are by parents of children who attend those schools. I have no idea whether or not the DFW area is representative of the United States. I certainly hope not.

As Humes points out, almost everything on which a modern society depends is both a blessing and a curse. However, we should keep in mind that there are dozens of countries in which they are few (if any) harbors, airports, and divided highways. All are essential to getting all manner of “stuff” from one place to the next. Here are Edward Humes’s concluding thoughts: “Yes, our brilliant, mad transportation system is at a fork in the road, the path to Carmageddon or Carmaheaven still up in the air. Transformative technologies and be methods are pitted against crushing congestion and the stubborn habits that sustain it. Solutions may well come from the top down, from Washington or Google or some other titanic enterprise. Or perhaps the real transformation will lie in the small choices we all make each day in how we consume and work and move door to door — choices that, like many small steps, add up.”

It is possible but unlikely that there will be a consensus of agreement on the choices that need to be made by residents of Nashville or Tacoma, much less by residents throughout Tennessee or Washington. However, many of those who read Door to Door may follow Dr. Pangloss’ advice to Candide that “each of us must cultivate our own garden.”

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  1. Rick Mueller on June 2, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Great review which presents an intriguing proposition written in a most provocative way.

    The implication here is that change is not just inevitable, but imminent.

    Sort of makes me thing that Jeff Bezos (among others) should be buying and distributing copies of this book for every congressman and senator – and perhaps each of his customers as well.

    • bobmorris on June 4, 2016 at 4:44 am

      Has Bezos read it? Probably. Ever wonder why our nation’s infrastructure (e.g. bridges and harbors) is in such disrepair? The U.S. Congress is our nation’s version of the Bermudas Triangle. In there, members don’t even read the legislation they vote on. United Stasis of America. I think change really is inevitable. I also think it is constant, with or without Congressional approval, but unevenly distributed. End of rant.

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