‘Bureaucrats’ by Joan Didion

Staying in the car for a moment: the freeway experience, specifically the American freeway experience, and ultra-specifically the Los Angeles freeway experience, is often associated with three (non-American) Bs: Ballard, Baudrillard and Banham. Didion’s short take is one of the best, though, considering not only the “total surrender” and “narcosis” of Los Angeles freeway driving, but the difficulties in monitoring and regulating such a system. From inside the hushed, windowless Caltrans control room, she watches officials grappling with what should be a simple bureaucratic matter of infrastructure management, but are unable to comprehend its emotional dimension. The technology of the 20th century runs into the problem of the 21st.

Collected in The White Album, Simon & Schuster, 1979

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