Jessi Hafer, Fresno Undercurrent, January 2007
I've heard people say, "The only thing the government should pay for is the roads." If you've ever wondered, even briefly, "Well, why should the government even pay for the roads?" then you should read Traffic Life: Passionate Tales and Exit Strategies.
The answers to the question of whether or not public monies should fund the roads are complicated, beyond the scope of this review and even beyond the scope of this anthology. Instead, Traffic Life examines assumptions of the road and the issues of bicycling, pedestrianism, mass transit, and automobiles (the bad guys of the collection: expensive, isolating, nature-ravaging, noisy, and people-killing) through the art of the book's 41 contributors. The haiku, photos, photos of sculptures and paintings, cartoons, poems, short works of fiction, and essays (there's even sheet music for an instrumental entitled "Roadkill.") provide the reader with eclectic approaches and plenty of viewpoints.
As with any anthology, certain pieces spoke to me more than others. One of my favorites is Ray Bradbury's (Fahrenheit 451) "The Pedestrian," a captivating, futuristic piece about a lone pedestrian in 2053. One particularly informative piece is "Documentation: Declaration of the Right to Walk and Roll," by WALK Austin. Once the inherent smugness of the format (fashioned after the Declaration of Independence) wears away, the reader confronts some compelling conclusions on what the automobile has done to society and those who would rather walk in it: "they [pedestrians] have not been considered equals to people driving vehicles, whose turning radius, speed, and freedom from even minor delays have been considered paramount." Ugh! I can just hear someone replying, "Well, that's because there are more drivers than pedestrians," without even considering why that is or when it became that way or if that's even true in all places! Take, for instance, "Documentation: The Right of Way Manifesto," by Right of Way, focused on the disenfranchised majority of pedestrians in New York City requesting an end to lawless driver behaviors.
There's no way around it: the pieces about bicycle accidents make me sad. However, these pieces are few and respectfully done. One that was actually fun is the delightfully rhythmic "Buscrunch," by Dean Wirth.
The book gives its readers an informative and, at times, fun trip. In general, the book is not delicate in its scolding, so I worry that some people that really should read the book would quickly become too defensive (road rage?) to find the book to be persuasive or enjoyable. However, those of us who practice or see the value of alternative ways of getting around will find our viewpoints augmented with the variety and quality of information in this anthology. Even if you stay in your car, Traffic Life may change the way your drive a little and remind you that mobility is for everyone.
Chip Haynes, The Bike Exchange, May 2006
Traffic Life is an anthology, and like all anthologies, it’s a mixed bag. It’s not all Bradbury. As a matter of fact, it’s not even all stories. Sandwiched between its unassuming covers are fact and fiction, cartoons and paintings, even sculpture and music. It’s a mixed bag of mixed bags. The editor, Stephan Wehner, cast a wide net, indeed. He offers no explanation for his inclusions other than offering it all as a counter-point to the prevalent car culture of otherwise “modern” society (as opposed to “civilization”), but the overall theme is one of personal choice, responsibility and imagination in one’s life. The results are interesting, if not all actually readable.
I did recognize more names than Bradbury’s in the table of contents, and recognized at least one story I’d read elsewhere, even if the author’s name was unremembered. Much of the book is what you might call light reading, enjoyable fiction and fantasy - wishful thinking, at least. But not all. For every wonderful bit of wordplay such as Dean Wirth’s “Buscrunch” there’s a long stretch of what can only be called heavy reading, like WALK Austin’s “Documentation: Declaration of the Right to Walk and Roll”. For every story as truly timeless and thought-provoking as Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian”, there’s the nearly unreadable “Traffic Zoology” by Matthew Frederick Davis Hemming.
It was easy enough to tell which stories were a fairly straight forward telling of the tale, but many came across as futuristic or science fiction, even if they may have begun with a sliver of fact. Harlan Ellison’s “Along the Scenic Route” was terrifying in its futuristic reality, and I could easily see Wes Alderson’s “Parking Structure Three” as a classic black-and-white Twilight Zone episode. Robert Gregory’s “First, you buy a car” was wonderfully written, even if it did sound like the baleful voice of experience. None of the stories are labeled as fact or fiction, mind you - you’ll just have to guess as I did. I suspect more were based on fact than the authors might let on. In the end, it doesn’t matter. You read the stories and absorb the intent. Did it work for you? Some do, some don’t.
I think I also need to say something about the non-written portions of this book: The cartoons, the paintings, the sculptures and even the sheet music. I’ve enjoyed Andy Singer’s cartoons since I first saw his work in “Buicks Ate My Planet!” some years ago. I like his style, and his work featured here is all classic Andy stuff. Ken Avidor’s Roadkill Bill is equally famous, of course, and a bit more complex - much closer to R. Crumb, with the correspondingly more “earthy” SoCal underground look. From there, the book also offers Sue Clancy, RedSara, Scott Massey and Jim Hoehnle, with varying degrees of success. Jeff Mann’s sculptures are interesting, but seeing them trapped in two dimensions on a page hardly compliments his style, even if the photos are in color. (Mann’s retro “Automan” looks cool.) Then there’s the matter of Jeff Younger’s musical composition: Two pages of sheet music, a composition entitled, “ROADKILL”, in the middle of the book. I would have liked to have heard this music, and maybe some day I will. (My wife, The Lovely JoAnn, does play piano.) For now, those pages remain silent to me.
Jim Minter, The Rain Review of Books, May 2004
Would it be a better world without automobiles?
Well, yes ... and no.
I love and need my little red 86' Mustang convertible and my old Chevvy
pickup with a camper top. They've both got over 200,000 miles on them,
get 20 miles to the gallon and have allowed me to camp (in each of them)
all over the Far West, the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia---including
the Rockies from Jasper to Banff, Vancouver Island from tip to tip, the
Queen Charlottes, as well as Prince Rupert, and the southeast coast of
Alaska from Ketchikan to Juneau.
Try that with a horse.
No, friends, we love our cars. Ask the Chinese, who are abandoning their
bikes for cars as fast as they can scrape together the down payment.
It's other people's cars that are a pain. All that *!\#\$@ traffic that's
in my way, jamming up the highways, creating suburban sprawl, spewing
pollution into the atmosphere, causing global warming, misdirecting our
wealth and defacing our landscapes. Damn your cars anyway! Why don't you
stupid people stay at home and fry your brains on television? Get a life!
And stop screwing up the world. Don't you have any love and respect for
Well, that's the subject of this excellent and funny book, Traffic Life,
Passionate Tales and Exit Strategies, an anthology published by The
Buckmaster Institute in Vancouver.
A host of young essayists, poets, cartoonists satirists and short-story
writers fling their pens and wits at Car Culture in company with retro
pieces by Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison.
Jeff Guerrero, Dirt Rag Mag, May 2004
If you walk or ride your bike to work...if you cringe at the thought of
spending your morning trapped within a moving metal box...if you're fed up
with car culture--this anthology is for you. Rather than bombarding the
reader with cold hard facts, Traffic Life, edited by Stephan Wehner, focuses
on creativity and inspiration. Within the book's 254 pages are short
stories, poetry, cartoons, illustrations, sculpture, photography and even a
Traffic Life features a story from renowned fiction author, Ray Bradbury, as
well as CARtoons by Andy Singer, but people I've never heard of wrote most
of the gems within.
Greg Taylor's Touched by an Angel? Nope--Whacked by a
Hatchback drew me in immediately, Ken Avidor's Roadkill Bill cartoons
were hilariously poignant, and the first of three stories by Peter Gelman
had me sold on recommending the whole anthology.
While the book is great entertainment for the non-motorized set, it is also
entertaining enough to captivate the average cyclist, and perhaps even spark
the flame of automobile antipathy. Thoughtfully, the book even ends with a
reprint of Carbusters' Autoholics Anonymous Car-Free Pledge, which offers
practical suggestions for people interested in going car-free.
What's great is that you don't have to take my advice about this book...you
can read almost all of it online at www.trafficlife.com. You'll probably
agree that the printed version is more convenient, and besides, your $16.90
will go towards supporting an independent publisher who is honestly trying
to make the world a better place.
The Courier, Centennial College
Imagine you’re making your way
along one of the many busy streets of downtown Toronto.
A bus pulls up beside you, way too close for
comfort, and the SUV on your tail blows its horn continually as if you were
doing something wrong. This is a daily
occurrence for the subculture of cyclists across the continent. Traffic Life is an anthology with the
exterior of exposing this life to the public through the written word, in the
form of poetry and short stories,
as well as through cartoons, songs,
paintings, and photography. This mosaic
of artistry was created by the mind of Stephan Wehner while he was, inspirationally,
stuck in a traffic jam. With the idea of
creating “a book that covers the values, feelings, and addresses the cultural
ethos” of our lives in automobiles, he set about collecting stories that he
felt fit his ideal. “I chose these stories because they fit, I received a
number that didn’t fit, that were actually kind of lame,” he admits “I liked
these stories (the ones that fit) because they were subtle.” He also had the
specific agenda of finding some older and well-known stories to include. For these he found, and attained permission
to include, Ray Bradbury’s The Pedestrian and Harlan Ellison’s Along
the Scenic Route.
From Haiku to Jazz pieces, this
book contains it all. Some notable
contributions include a new Sherlock Holmes adventure by Scott Munn, Salvation
through Car-toons (which contains a great piece featuring Car-Alarm Man) by
Andy Singer, The War for the World: Three Sculptural Views by Jeff Mann
including such pieces as “automan” and “parts”, as well as the graphically
disturbing mixed media on paper pieces of RedSara contained in Point of Rest.
However, the most brutally honest and eye
opening donation comes from the book Honku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage
created by Aaron Naparstek; these short but pointed poems seem to encompass the
absurd reasoning that exists within the mind of modern society.
The culmination of this wide
variety of pieces is a creation that speaks volumes.
Traffic Life has the atmosphere of
passed time reading, yet the messages underlying the basic plots of the stories
speak of a revolution. Perhaps its is the Declaration of the Right to Walk
and Roll created by the WALK group in Austin, Texas that Wehner decided to
include which tells the theme most candidly.
The core theme of this anthology is that there is a much bigger picture
society needs to take a look at. These
stories bring to mind the injustices forced upon pedestrians and cyclists as
well as the environmental effects we as motorists are inflicting on
ourselves. This collection is not simply
stories of road rage and ignorance, but a call out to the masses that change is
needed to protect our future and the rights of cyclists and pedestrians
Jim Minter, continued from left....
Almost 50 creative spirits and
inquiring minds, including bicycle poets and poster artists are presented
by editor Stephan Wehner along with slick color photos of auto-anathemic
paintings, ceramic sculptures, prints and mixed media. There are even
prehistoric cave drawings of bicyclists hunting down a car.
It's great fun. You'll laugh at the many cartoons, especially Andy
Singer's auto-bashing super hero, Car-Alarm Man (where is he when we need
him?) You can sample Zen haikus as an antidote to road rage. Or exult
with the tale of the frustrated driver who shoots his own car before
A bit of fantasy violence against the instruments of so
much death and injury is downright therapeutic.
But Traffic Life is more than fun and fantasy. There are trenchant
indictments of the damage caused by our auto excesses and thoughtful
proposals for taming the beasts. There's also an "Autoholics Anonymous
12-Step Program". If you've read anything by Jim Kunstler or Jane Kay
about auto-sprawl's cancerous grip on modern society, or if you've
visited J.H. Crawford's Carfree Cities web site published from The
Netherlands you know there is a healthy anti-auto counterculture
flourishing in Europe and North America. Traffic Life is a classic
addition to that growing tradition.
Will humor and reason awaken us to the grand absurdity that we have
created? Having wasted several decades crusading for energy efficiency
and sustainability I wish I could say, yes. But I doubt it. The great
majority of us don't really want to change. Our car craziness is too
deeply ingrained in our psyches, our media and our lives. Our
infrastructure and economy are totally wrapped-up in automobiles. We're
auto junkies and we're not giving up our car craziness without a bitter
But resist it as we will, Car Culture is doomed, whether we like it or
Drastic change is coming---and quickly. We are already entering the
beginning of the post-petroleum age. The time of peak oil is upon
us. In the coming decades the private-passenger automobile will slowly
and agonizingly creep towards the extinction of the wooly mammoth and the
Energy, not reason, is going to strangle Car Culture. Why? For a host of
reasons to do with basic physics, the second Law of Thermodynamics and "net
energy" (all of which would take another book to explore in depth), none
of the proposals for "alternative fuels" will save the private passenger
automobile for any but the wealthiest and most powerful as our petroleum
So, quite soon now our auto-centric economies will begin to become much
poorer, and our auto-centric lives much quieter and slower. An exit
strategy that's as certain as death is already knocking at our doors.
But here's the catch: most of us aren't going to like it. And as "Auto
Nation" fades slowly into a fond memory, books such as Traffic Life will
still be around to remind us that our love affair with the car wasn't as
rosy as we'd like to remember it.
Jim Minter is editor emeritus of edesign on-line.
Stay tuned for more reviews to appear shortly.