Can you believe I’ve never read a Sarah Vowell book? Or David Sedaris, for that matter?
This was a fun, light read. I can’t quite imagine the experience of reading this without having heard her on This American Life – I could hear her reading it aloud in my head. Her writing is pretty distinctive.
It’s a funny book, and yet Vowell clearly cares quite a bit. I respect that. There’s one passage that I want to quote at length, because it spoke to me, and expresses one of the reasons I’ve decided to change careers:
Once, headed uptown on the 9 train, I noticed a sign posted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority advising subway riders who might become ill in the train. The sign asked that the suddenly infirm inform another passenger or get out at the next stop and approach the stationmaster. Do not, repeat, do not pull the emergency brake, the sign said, as this will only delay aid. Which was all very logical, but for the following proclamation at the bottom of the sign, something along the lines of, “If you are sick, you will not be left alone.” This strikes me as not only kind, not only comforting, but the very epitome of civilization, good government, i.e., the the crux of the societal impulse. Banding together, pooling our taxes, not just making trains, not just making trains that move underground, not just making trains that move underground with surprising efficiency at a fair price—but posting on said trains a notification of such surprising compassion and thoughtfulness. I found myself scanning the faces of my fellow passengers, hoping for fainting, obvious fevers, at the very least a sneeze so that I might offer a tissue.
“If you are sick, you will not be left alone.” Is there a more important promise a government can make its people? Good stuff.