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Friday, December 17, 2004

Highway Altars

When it comes to religion, Americans are a self satisfied and enlightened bunch. We like to think of ourselves as generations removed from the beliefs in evils spirits, animistic forces, and household gods that captivated our ignorant ancestors.

Well, in a manner of speaking.

Actually, it's the medieval metaphors we can do without, or at least most of them. Somehow in our little noggins a belief in the gods doesn't square with a belief in the saints, evil spirits with evil demons (namely, a little fellow, sitting on your shoulder, tempting you), and rock, tree and water spirits with feng shui. So we accept the euphemisms and word play, and end up satisfied with our superior reasoning, yet keep the superstitions that comforted our ancestors. However, in this new age, we have modern age ways of expressing primitive superstitions.

Enter the road altar.

Road Altars near Route 66

We see them on the medians of our major highways. They are usually next to a big tree, culvert, or gully where somebody's poor uncle Wilbur or teenage son Freddie found their resting space, at 95 miles an hour. Somehow this memory of bad driving skills must be commemorated, along of course with the poor loved one. Thus the road altar was born.

Road altars started out as simple crosses, but death and memory requires a fashion statement. So road altars have sprouted like designer mushrooms. Festooned with flowers, bunting, posters, I predict this embellishment is only the beginning. In the future, I am looking to see mini-obelisks, sphinxes, and temples, all done up with color and flashing lights, like a Christmas tree. As life imitates art, they will provide a diversion while we travel our lonely roads, and hopefully won't distract us too much from our time behind the wheel, and having us, with great poetic justice to end up, well, in a culvert.

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