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I had a meeting this afternoon in a place called Ashburn Virginia.  Of course you have never heard of Ashburn, Virginia, because Ashburn, Virginia doesn’t exist.  It is not a town, it is not a township, it is not a city or a community.  It is a “Census Designated Place.”  It is 30 miles northwest of DC.  It is an indiscriminate collection of subdivisions and corporate campuses (and renta-corporate campuses) and condo developments and strip malls.

My meeting was at two this afternoon.  At two I waited in long lines of traffic on a road called Route 7, which is three lanes in either direction, one or two red-green cycles before I got through the traffic lights, of which there were many.  At four when my meeting ended I waited in a continuous line of traffic, two or three or sometimes four cycles before I got through the traffic lights, of which there were many.  All the way to Leesburg.  At Leesburg, I got off onto a route called 15, and I waited through many more cycles of many more traffic lights.  This was 40 miles from DC.

And I thought, what have we done to this beautiful country of ours.

From Route 7 you could turn off at any one of a hundred driveways and shop at any one of a hundred strip malls where there was a Best Buy, and/or a Target, and/or a Famous Footwear, and/or a Marshalls, and/or a Sports Authority.  A Wal-Mart.  A Bed Bath & Beyond.  Take your pick.  Any one of ten dozen stores identical to the same ten dozen stores you can find in any strip mall suburb in America.  If you were hungry, you could get something to eat at a Panera, and/or a Chilis, and/or a Red Lobster, and/or a P.F Changs.  At any one of ten dozen restaurants identical to the same ten dozen restaurants you can find in any strip mall suburb in America.

And I thought, what have we done to this beautiful country of ours.

Looking across the valleys you could see hundreds of acres of townhomes.  They used to be called townhouses, but someone must have decided that “townhomes” makes them sound more like a home, and less like a piece of mass-produced tract structure plastered onto the landscape.  Looking across at the ridgelines, you could see the ridgelines crenellated with more and more townhomes.  From the low 300’s.  If they were not townhomes, they were fake mansionettes, brick veneer over 2×4, with their own crenellations to make them look more castle-like and real, less 2×4 and temporary.  From the low 500’s.  If you didn’t want to take a driveway into a strip mall, you could take a driveway into a tract development called Ashmont or Brambleton or Belmont Greene (I do not know what a Greene is, so don’t ask), or even The Village of Waxpool (I do not know what a Waxpool is, either).

And I thought, what have we done to this beautiful country of ours.

I sat in traffic and I wondered, in the sense that we wonder at something we cannot understand:  People do this every day.  People sit in traffic, for hours, to go to their townhomes or their mansionettes scarring the landscape like bad acne, and they sit in this traffic, and they live in these places, so they get to shop at Best Buy and Target and Marshalls and Walmart, and eat at Golden Corral or Outback Steakhouse, in strip malls like more and bigger bad acne.  In places that aren’t towns, or communities, but Census Designated Places, surrounded  by acres of unbroken, unabashed black asphalt, and connected only by black asphalt, and held together only by black asphalt.

And I thought, what have we done to this beautiful country of ours.

Every now and then, several times in fact, there was a sign that said “Battlefield Park”.  This part of northern Virginia is where much of the Civil War was fought.  Six hundred thousand soldiers died in the Civil War.  Compared to the U.S. population, that’s as if six million soldiers were to die today.  Six hundred thousand soldiers, and who knows how many innocent others, died to preserve this awesome democracy of ours, in this beautiful land that is ours.

All so that we could pave over their gravestones to build chain stores in strip malls surrounded by asphalt?  All so we could turn their fields into townhome developments built from cruddy 2x4s from plantation forests?  All so we could eat mass-produced food at yet another McDonald’s or Outback Steakhouse?

And I thought, what have we done to this beautiful country of ours.

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