I Don’t Understand How It Subtracts

“I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”
Richard P. Feynman

Mural by Sour Grapes Crew (detail) Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas (taken from Dallas Streetcar window)

Nothing So Mystical

“If there is a life force operating in Nature, still there is nothing so analogous in a bureaucracy. Nothing so mystical. It all comes down, as it must, to the desires of individual men.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Reunion Tower, taken from inside the Dallas Streetcar. On my way to Bishop Arts for a discussion of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Lower Pantograph

“My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.”
― Nikola Tesla

Signs at one end (downtown) of the Dallas Streetcar

 

I am always looking for “found poetry” – especially on posted signs – these are messages that make sense to the person putting them up – and maybe to the intended viewer – but are utter, strange nonsense (poetry) to the average passer by.

Waiting for the streetcar, I saw the sign “Lower Pantograph Before Departing Stop.Poetry.

It isn’t hard to figure that one out, though. To me, a pantograph is a simple mechanical device consisting of linked rods used to enlarge drawings by hand.

Pantograph Animation

But it has an alternate meaning (at least one). It’s the device on the top of a streetcar used to connect to the overhead wires.

Transport Pantograph

But what does “lower pantograph” mean?

Well, the Dallas Streetcar has one unique property. One mile of its journey is across the Houston Viaduct, which has a historical designation. That means they could not install poles and overhead wires along that stretch of track. The streetcar uses internal batteries for that stretch, charging them with overhead wires the rest of the journey. Therefore, the “Lower Pantograph Before Leaving Stop” and “End Of Wire” warning signs to remind the operator that the vehicle was about have to go on battery power.

I still think it’s poetry.

View from the high point of the Jefferson Viaduct Cycletrack, Trinity River, Dallas, Texas.
The closest bridge is the Houston Viaduct, where the Dallas Streetcar runs. I took this photo in 2012, the whole area looks different now – I’ll have to ride my bike down there the next sunny day and take an updated shot.

A Streetcar Named Slothrop

Displaced Person’s Song

If you see a train this evening,
Far away, against the sky,
Lie down in your woolen blanket,
Sleep and let the train go by.

Trains have called us, every midnight,
From a thousand miles away,
Trains that pass through empty cities,
Trains that have no place to stay.

No one drives the locomotive,
No one tends the staring light,
Trains have never needed riders,
Trains belong to bitter night.

Railway stations stand deserted,
Rights-of-way lie clear and cold,
What we left them, trains inherit,
Trains go on, and we grow old.

Let them cry like cheated lovers,
Let their cries find only wind,
Trains are meant for night and ruin,
And we are meant for song and sin.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Dallas Streetcar

 

I enjoyed the initial meeting of the group that was to read Gravity’s Rainbow. My only problem was the distance. The drive, on a Wednesday evening, from my work, across town, fighting traffic all the way and back – was no fun at all. It made me doubt my commitment. Plus, one of my goals for the year was to reduce my (for me) already low driving mileage. A there-and-back-again trip across town every week would add to (maybe double) my driving.

But after thinking about it and then a good consultation of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit website I realized that I could leave from the LBJ/Central DART train station near my work, ride downtown on the Red line, and then after walking a couple short blocks, ride the new Dallas Streetcar across the Trinity River Bottoms to Bishop Arts – only a couple more blocks to my destination – The Wild Detectives.

So that’s what I did – I filled my book bag with my tabbed copy of Gravity’s Rainbow and my copy of Zak Smith’s Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow (for reference and grins) and headed for the station.

LBJ Central DART Train Station, looking at my book while waiting for the train.

The ride was enjoyable – or at least better than fighting the million other cars that are going somewhere at the same time as I was. Something about sitting in a train, relaxed, looking out the window at the miles of cars sitting still, on freeway and cross streets, all the white lights lines up on the left and the red ones on the right.

Woodall Rogers Expressway, Dallas, Texas

The streetcar is pretty cool. It crosses the river where there are no overhead power lines, so it is the first streetcar to rely on batteries to bridge an unelectrified stretch.

The trip isn’t fast – it took an hour each way… mostly spent waiting on a train or streetcar. The walks at each end or between stations weren’t bad at all, though.

Oh, and the discussion was enjoyable and cool. And someone brought banana bread.

Accept the Inferno

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Downtown Dallas, Texas

The yellow streak in the time exposure above is the streetcar going by. Invisible.