Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

The View From the Baby Seat

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The Frederick R. Weisman Museum in Minneapolis has a show called "Inside Cars," featuring Bruce Springsteen-related art and music. They decided to throw a poet into the mix, so they asked me to talk about the inside of cars. Springsteen is a great troubadour of lonely highways and cars, and I'm suspicious as hell of cars and lonely highways. He likes to drive and think, I like to be in a coffee house and get there walking, if possible. Nonetheless, I gave it a try because I've been inside a lot of cars so I must know something. At first, I thought that I'd make an inventory of materials used to upholster car seats, such as nauga, which comes from the animal Naugahyde, hunted mercilessly for its fur and nearly extinct because of it. Nauga was followed by velveteen, which was succeeded by velour, and then by pleather, but now all those animals are on the verge of extinction, except for velveteen and pleather, which reproduce wildly and can live on disco sweat and household refuse. I even considered briefly capturing each of those animals to interview them, but I gave it up when I realized that I had a unique vantage point to write from, namely the point of view of The Passenger. I've been a great Passenger (there could be some debate on the word "great") ever since I remember. Neal Cassady was the Perfect Driver, but it was his Passenger, Jack Kerouac, who wrote On the Road, the book that made Neal famous. Passengers, not drivers, write the books. At times, I've been as perfect a Passenger as Jack. But there is an even more interesting vantage point inside the car: it's the view from the baby seat. A baby, trapped there, can see things no one else in the car can see. A baby sees, for instance, all the invisible passengers that Mommy and Daddy can't see. Most people think that they are alone in their cars, but they are not. All the people you've picked up hitchhiking in, let's say the '60s or the '70s, are still in the car. And the people your parents picked up hitchhiking in the, let's say, '40s, '50s, '60s. These passengers, visible only from the baby seat, have been recording all the things you've said in the car (those things that can only be said in the car) and all the things you've done in the car (that can only be done in the car). When you get too old to drive, the invisible passengers move into your children's cars. Most cars are so crowded with these IPs, there is barely any room for the driver. The baby sees them all.

The full text of "The View from the Baby Seat" is posted at www.codrescu.com under "Message du Jour."

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