Distorted Highway


Jazmine Coleman, ’26

Aaron sits in the third to last row of his “Anatomy of Multinational Corporations Involvement in Neocolonialism 405” class at the University of British Columbia and scribbles at his laptop display once every couple minutes. As a political-theory aficionado, he feels confident in his understanding of the material without the need for any rapid-fire note-taking. He looks at the almost comically large 138-in. projector screen and wonders to himself what the need for such a large screen was. He deemed it absolutely gratuitous and as he rubbed his sweaty palms on his jeans, he cursed the university under his breath for such a terrible, borderline-offensive choice in projector-screen size.

However, maybe there was some merit to this choice as he now could see clearly that the pie graph displayed consisted of percentages that didn’t add to 100 and also strangely included Ecuador, a country that has been consistently bought and sold for decades now and isn’t considered an independent nation by most scholars.

Once Professor Deansworth has finished lecturing the class on the environmental impacts Old Spice had in 22nd-century sub-Saharan African countries, it’s time to move on to the student discussion portion of the class.

At first glance, the assignment at hand is very simple: come up with a simplified metaphor for a specific country’s inner workings and culture. 

Professor Deansworth asks if anyone would like to go first. For once in the entire period, there is absolutely zero sound. A single hand is raised; it is Aaron.

Aaron’s classmates make subtle chats with one another and scoff as Aaron makes his way to the front of the lecture hall. Aaron has a history of rambling on about provocative conspiracy theories and generally being a low-life, pseudo-intellectual; someone who was taught by birth that they were special, every contribution they had to a conversation was meaningful and so they don’t ever shut up.

“I’m terribly sorry Professor, but my project requires a visual, can I use the back of the classroom? It appears the front board is completely covered by that large projector you’ve got there”

“Go ahead Aaron”, replies Deansworth.

Aaron places his backpack on the ground and digs through it, pulling out a large, rolled-up poster. The vinyl material makes a strangely ominous whooshing noise as Aaron unravels the print and holds it up to the back wall, securing it with a set of thumbtacks from his pocket. 

He backs away for a moment, revealing the image to the class who begins chuckling and murmuring to one another. Their facial expressions carry the same energy as a confused dog tilting its head. 

It’s a distorted image of a highway at night. The class can’t tell if the distortion is from a printing error or some artistic intent on behalf of Aaron, both of these possibilities seem equally humorous and speak honestly of Aarons’s character. Would it be so hard to think of something relatively normal? Something understandable; perhaps a slaughterhouse with the idea of twisted American ideals propelled by capitalism slaughtering the middle class. Orwell probably had about a hundred of these metaphors in his back pocket.

“What is the purpose of a highway?” loudly states Aaron

The class remains silent.

“Hello? That wasn’t rhetorical”

A group of students begins shouting out answers:

“To transport people in an efficient manner!” 

“To connect large metropolitan areas to more rural communities!” 

“To act as a platform for racing!”

Aaron looks back at the image and again at his classmates. He speaks,

“A highway is a bad idea; a terrible idea even. To take something like transportation and leave it up to the general public, entrusting them with responsibility and safe practice is completely idiotic. Many would argue that if you replaced all the major highways in North America with high-speed rail systems, society would be significantly safer and more efficient. I agree with this sentiment of course, but I’m not gonna speak of this because frankly, I believe most of you have a pretty tight grasp on the issues with North American infrastructure and I don’t want to sound like a broken record. I want you all to close your eyes for a moment and just listen to me. Imagine you’re driving on a highway, it doesn’t matter where you’re going or coming from but it’s night time and it’s very very dark, and you are very very scared. There are no other cars on this highway and you feel a deep sense of fearfulness, fearful that you are all alone right now and there would be no hope for you if something bad were to occur; that you can’t rely on anybody, it’s just you against the forces of nature. The streetlights fly by, your engine purrs softly and your favorite song is playing on the radio, but it doesn’t have the same energy as it usually does. You find this song annoying and tedious, and you wish more than anything to be at home in a comfortable, relaxed environment rather than going 80 miles per hour in an empty realm of space-time.”

The lights in the lecture hall begin to flicker.

Tables and chairs begin to fall over.

“You tightly grip the steering wheel but you feel no connection to the motorized vehicle; it acts as its own animal, swerving in whichever direction it pleases. You’re going so fast that the white dashes on the road blend into one singular line. Your headlights only show you a fraction of what is truly out there, but they’re so eerily bright that it’s hard to look at; it’s painful. Every time the car jerks from side to side, you think of the looming possibility of death; you think of your family, your friends.”

A gaping hole tears itself open at the floor where Aaron is standing.

Nobody does anything; everyone finds themselves completely engulfed by the chaos of it all.

“…You think of the exit you’re getting off at, 37 North Delta Surrey

37 North Delta Surrey

37 North Delta Surrey

You repeat these words over and over and over in your head, but you never see a 37 North Delta Surrey; you never see any exit at all from the infinite stretch of concrete you find yourself on. You’re trapped and you try to come to peace with the fact there is no escape anymore; this is your life, and this is what you do now. You drive on highways listening to music and searching for an exit that doesn’t exist.

The floor crumbles.

Aaron falls in.