Page 45 Review by Stephen
Do you drive a car? Please read this book.
A heart-felt, eloquent and gripping indictment of our obsession with cars, our behaviour on the roads and the vulnerability of the pedestrian, this is as the incomparable Paul Gravett observes, "an extraordinarily human book... without showing a single human being."
That very exclusion forms part of Woodrow's argument that pedestrians have been relegated to dehumanised second-class citizens whose rights are as nothing compared to those of us enclosed in thousands of pounds worth of hard, heavy metal. We need to get where we're going far more urgently than you lot on foot, so don't you dare cross the road until you're told to, where you're allowed to.
I never understood an old mate so concerned for his children on board that he turned on his headlights in broad daylight, yet answered his phone whilst driving along, one-handed, distracted. For my own guilty part I've lit so many cigarettes over the years while driving. Yup, the first one to put his hand up is me. I'll never do it again, and nor will you once you've read this. I feel wretched.
As Woodrow navigates motorways, turns at junctions and admires the view through his windscreen he muses on our self-delusion when it comes to safety, our attitude to death by driving (you kill someone by any other means and you're in very deep trouble; in a car, not necessarily so much), the horrors of the pedestrian underpass, the weirdness of an empty retail car park, and the absurd SUV 4x4 family arms race. It's even poetic in places, pared down to level-headed wake-up calls like this:
"There is a dreamlike quality built into the experience of driving. A car windshield is a big window. And also a screen... Locations unwind on the other side of this rectangular glass almost as they do on a movie screen. The constant, smoothly unrolling scenery. The continuously changing vistas. It's like the ultimate cinematic presentation. With you, the driver, as both the director and the star."
It can be mesmerising. "It's an intoxicating feeling to have the power to govern every aspect of your private world. You sit cocooned in your cabin. You control the temperature of the interior and you listen only to the soundtrack you have chosen. Everything outside your windows is contained, the rest of the world an arm's length away." But no more than that for BMW drivers who tailgate.
Phoenix assesses what your car says about you, why some wankers refuse to budge out of middle or even outside lanes regardless of the speed they're doing, and quietly relates some very real incidents of fatal failures to give a damn about cyclists or those on foot. Please at least indicate. It is the law.
And so we come to the art: loads and loads of roads. And rorries. The chevrons here are as hypnotic as they are in real life, and therein lies a point. There's also a small procession of human beings reduced from individuals to the faceless figurative forms that symbolise human beings on pedestrian crossings; and you'll never take those for granted again, either. Best not think of all those actual lives now snuffed out: people who woke up and went for a walk but will never come home again.
Originally published in (and still available as) as RUMBLE STRIP by Myriad Editions in 2008, this American version comes with a new essay by Woodrow Phoenix who also notes: "CRASH COURSE is 206pp to RUMBLE STRIP's 160pp with 106 of those pages being completely new US-specific material - and much of what remains tweaked/updated."
Additional resource: Tim Hayes reviews CRASH COURSE with a great deal more attention to Phoenix's artistic decisions at http://www.tcj.com/reviews/crash-course/