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FLATBUSH, FLATLANDS AND HILL CLIMBING CARS

I live in Brooklyn, originally called Breukelen when it was settled by the Dutch in 1634. They called their little slice of the New World New Netherland and had big plans for the place. Well, a lot of people make big plans only to see them unceremoniously derailed and that's what happened to the Dutch Walloons. After only about 30 years here the British took control of New Netherland and renamed it New York in one of the early wars over control of the many colonies European nations were carving out of other people's homelands all over the world in those days. The Americas were not the only chunks of real estate to gain the benefits of conquest, domination and exploitation by the minions of rich guys in powdered wigs and pantaloons.

Clown suits and fright wigs aside, these conquerors weren't all that amusing to the indigenous people on the receiving end of their blunderbusses, broadswords and cannon. The Spanish were especially ruthless and barbaric as they dismantled and completely obliterated sophisticated cultures all over South America to the point of burning all copies of their written languages, stealing their gold, razing their fine architecture and enslaving entire populations, that is when they weren't earnestly burning people at the stake in the name of the Prince of Peace. It was quite confusing to the locals. Sort of traumatic, too.

The Brits, Dutch, Portuguese and the French were no better, although they weren't as honest about their intentions as the Spaniards. They sort of wrapped their bloodthirstiness and greed in noble claims of civilizing the "savages" for their own good, if you allow that working them like draught animals and stealing their national treasure and resources is a viable path to personal growth. Well, the natives did learn about Europeans, I'll give them that, learned quite a bit indeed. The hard way, naturally. They didn't have the benefit we moderns have of the many text books that inform us of the tricky ups and downs of benevolent paternalism.

These backward unfortunates had no concept of the bended knee or the kissing of the bishop's ring. They turned out to be quick studies, though, and in no time at all half the world's population was happily toiling on behalf of foreign kings and their assorted noble minuet dancers. Most of the colonized took it in stride but, truth be told, a lot of resentments did build up over the years, what with the conquered people not really understanding the big picture and the whole notion of conversion by the sword. Working sunup to sundown with a sadistic whip-happy overseer as a cheerleader hardly gave them much time for sober reflection on the greater good.

It's hard to have a detached perspective on the whole affair when you're tied to pole while some toothless lout is lashing you bloody while his buddies have their way with your wife and daughters because you didn't produce enough tobacco for the King this year. There wasn't a lot of thoughtful reflection happening at that point, nor was it the sort of occurrence you'd all get together and laugh about in later years as some sort of unfortunate but amusing misunderstanding. Especially when it kept happening century after century. That sort of behavior eventually wears thin on people and the result always seems to be bloody revolution which for some unfathomable reason always came as shock to the guys in the powdered wigs and pantaloons. Those revolutions really put a damper on a lot of fancy balls in many a palace in the "Mother Countries." They just couldn't understand the blatant ingratitude of the locals.

Be that as it may, back to Brooklyn and the Dutch, who even though they ruled the roost for only 30 years around here, seemed to have retained as a condition of their surrender the right to name everything. Places like Midwood, originally the Dutch Mitwout, meaning middle woods, their first farming community, was purchased from the Mohawk tribe, the purchasing part being a novel concept for conquerors. (No wonder the British ousted them, actually paying for the land! That was an unconscionable breach of conqueror etiquette.) The place was flat as a pancake, ideal for farming, hence the name for the larger community that sprang up around it called Flatlands.

The main road was and still is called Flatbush and there's still all sorts of Dutch-named places around; streets, avenues, parks and neighborhoods called Hendrickson, New Lotts, Van Dyke, Van Wycke, Amersfort, Gravesend, Remsen, Newkirk and Paerdegat (The original occupants, the Native Americans, only got to name Canarsie and Rockaway.). There's still several Dutch Reform Churches still going strong, most notably the big one on the corner of Flatbush Avenue and the aptly named Church Avenue built in the 1600's. It has one of America's oldest cemeteries behind it, representing possibly the only Dutchmen still actually residing in Brooklyn. I can't be sure but I believe most of them moved to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to make egg noodles and cheese.

Even if there are few if any actual Dutch people in Brooklyn nowadays, their Dutch Reformed churches are still in operation. There's also a few of their farm houses still around, carefully preserved and now minor tourist attractions and landmarks. And the place is still as flat as they found it, no doubt about it. There hasn't really been enough time for the earth to upheave and create a mountain chain around here, more's the pity for Jeep owners. The highest hill in Brooklyn is the mountain of garbage alongside the Belt Parkway on Fountain Avenue.

God knows what fountain that street was named for but it's long since buried under a minor mountain of refuse. The garbage dump is no longer in use, thus depriving enterprising mobsters of a convenient place to dispose of the bullet-riddled corpses a gangster accumulates as he works his way to the top of the heap, excuse the pun please. The City of New York is now in the process of paving those piles of trash and rotting gangster victims, covering it with soil and planting grass and trees on the place to make a huge new park. Hopefully, this new set of green rolling hills will come complete with a bunch of roads so that my neighbors can finally make full use of their giant 4-wheel drive trucks.

For some reason about a third of the people on my block own one of these all-terrain cowboy cars designed for Marlboro Country. Unfortunately in Brooklyn the only terrain to be had is a whole bunch of flat streets affording one exactly no opportunities to see what this baby can do when it comes to the all-terrain part of your $30,000 vehicle. What it can do in Brooklyn mostly is wait impatiently at red lights with a bunch of other hill-climbing cars longing for a slight incline somewhere, anywhere so the drivers can kick in the 4-wheeliness of their ride and go cowboy, but that just never happens here. How sad. How very sad.

And I see the owners of these cars gaze wistfully at the construction project on Fountain Avenue when they are stuck in traffic jams on the Belt Parkway, their metal stallions champing at the bit beneath them, begging for a challenge, a chance to run free, to climb, for God's sake! You can almost hear these magnificent machines imploring their owners to let them be the creatures they were born to be, to crunch over boulders and streams, to climb rocky terrain and traverse the raw wilderness, to justify their ridiculously low gas mileage at the very least!

So here's what I'm proposing: Make this new park a 4-wheel drive vehicle playground for grown ups! Alright, it's not the Rockies or the Adirondack Mountains or anything like that, but as far as Brooklyn goes it's Mount Everest and the best our SUV drivers can expect in Flatlands, emphasis on the Flat. Cut some rough, winding roads through the former garbage dump, as steep as the little hills can accommodate and charge ten bucks a pop to let our neighbors finally get to put their vehicles to the test. Sedans and mini-vans need not alpply. Line forms to the left. The revenue can be used to create some swift-flowing streams for the vehicles to drive through, just like in the television commercials. What fun!

All-terrain vehicle owners in Brooklyn will rejoice! Cowboy car fanatics from Queens too, since their borough is unfortunately bereft of a mountain of garbage to convert into a scenic automobile playground. Maybe in Staten Island they will be inspired to do the same with their own giant hill in the Arthur Kill (another Dutch name) land fill. That worthy pile of trash just happens to be the largest man-made hill on the Eastern Seaboard and the largest hill of any sort in New York City, a heady distinction of which Staten Islanders are justifiably proud. The challenge of conquering Mount Staten Island with your Caddy Escalade would be the pinnacle of urban cowboy driving.

The government is also in the process of turning Arthur Kill into a park, even though it produces such a huge volume of methane gas they sell it to the local utility who then sells it to us to heat our homes and cook our food, the leftovers of which are rotting away and producing all that methane. There's a lot of those pesky environmentalist who call themselves "Greens" who don't agree that this sort of recycling is a win-win situation. They are also up in arms over what they say are extremely high concentrations of carcinogens and a host other lethal toxins polluting the soil and ground water near the former dump. Maybe they have a point and it might not be such a good idea to let our children roam unsupervised in such a park for say, I don't know, maybe 2 million years or so? No sense letting our little loved ones turn green too. Those people are just killjoys and pests.

But what's the harm in letting them ride in the back of a giant SUV while Daddy or Mommy get their kicks? Special hazardous materials masks could be provided for the whole family, from baby Loretta to teenaged Bud on up to Grandpa, maybe even having them equipped with alarm buzzers to alert drivers to leave areas with extra-high concentrations of poisons. Shouldn't be a problem for these motorized behemoths to roar out of the danger zones with minimal cerebral damage to little Billy. That little element of risk just adds to the challenge and excitement of the ride. These two former dumps could become tourist attractions, sort of like Disney World without the annoying mascots. But in these theme-parks, the theme will be motorized madcap fun and the rides will be your own, subject only to the laws of gravity!

So what are we waiting for, New York? If we're going to continue to drive bigger and bigger SUV's able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, why not give them a place where they can strut their stuff? Why let Montana and Wyoming hog all the all-terrain glory? New Yorkers are people too, and as Americans have the same cowboy dreams as the rest of our countrymen. Whether or not its that's a realistic outlook on life, it is reality. SUV sales statistics don't lie. So let's build our own personal Ponderosa Ranch and rev up those big old V-8's to our heart's content.

Beep beep! step aside, puny economy sedan, make way for a hard-charging, rough-riding, fire-breathing, Arab-pleasing Big Boy!

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