Ottawa LRT Stage 3 maps

As the Stage 3 plan is neither complete nor funded, there isn’t a lot of definitive detail.

In Stage 3 Ottawa may extend commuter rail west to Kanata and south to Barrhaven, both from the west side of Line 1 (the red line, also called the Confederation Line).

It may also extend rail to Quebec over the existing but currently unused Prince of Wales Bridge, although there is also a Gatineau proposal to create a west-end rail system in Quebec that would run across the Prince of Wales Bridge.

To some extent you can get a sense of Stage 3 from the transportation network in the 2013 Transportation Master Plan.  (The Transportation Master Plan normally would have been updated in 2018, but the city wants to complete Stage 1 of the rail system first.)

This map is a vision for the future (roughly 2028-2031 timeframe).  The actual network will depend on many different factors including funding and route optimisation.  Red is rail (Light Rail Transit), blue is bus (Bus Rapid Transit).

TMP - Rapid Transit and Transit Priority Network - Ultimate Network - tmp_en

Above from [2013] Transportation Master Plan, page 123 in the full PDF document or separate map download Map 3 Rapid Transit and Transit Priority Network – Ultimate Network (PDF).

Stage 3 is still at least 5 years (2023) from being finalised and started, since Stage 2 has to complete first.  Completion of Stage 3 would be something like 2028 at the earliest.

Kanata (Line 1 West)

Ottawa’s east-west commuter rail Confederation Line (Line 1) is completely grade-separated, which means that it never intersects with car traffic.  This is absolutely the correct design for a high-reliability commuter rail network.  When extending the network into car-designed Kanata, however, it has the unusual result of a recommendation that part of the line be elevated.  Any time you put rail under the ground or elevated above ground level it’s more expensive, but I guess there are a lot of highways for the Kanata extension to cross.

The website is ottawa.ca/kanataLRT

Documents are available from the May 9, 2018 City Council:

There are also documents from August 2018 available from the kanataLRT webpage itself, but rather unusually they’re in DropBox, so caveat downloader:

UPDATE 2018-11-25: The final Environmental Project Report (EPR) is available, dated November 21, 2018 and is also stored in Dropbox:

END UPDATE

Kanata LRT Stage 3 Map

In the map below, the proposed corridor and station locations are shown, with elevated portions of the line in green, at-grade in blue, and underground in yellow.

Kanata Fig 8-1 LRT Alignment and Station Locations

Map from section 8-3, page 168 of the August 2018 Report Draft from DropBox.

Stations heading west and then south:

  • Moodie Station (planned for Stage 2)
  • March Station
  • Kanata Town Centre Station
  • Terry Fox Station
  • Didsbury Station
  • Campeau Station (line turns south after this station)
  • Palladium [stadium] Station
  • Maple Grove Station
  • Hazeldean Station

The diagram below from the earlier May 2018 report to City Council – Corridor Options (PDF) shows the stations a bit more clearly, although to be frank neither diagram is going to win any awards for clarity.

Kanata LRT Fig 4 Preferred Corridor

Barrhaven (Line 1 South)

Barrhaven is new addition to the LRT evaluations, although a rail line to Barrhaven was always envisioned as part of the Ultimate Network.  The line would connect south from west Line 1 Stage 2 Baseline Station.

There is a document from Transportation Committee on October 3, 2018 (also see meeting Agenda):

Barrhaven LRT Stage 3 Map

Barrhaven LRT Stage 3 map

Above from page 5 of the Statement of Work document.  Note that this is a study corridor, it’s not a proposed or final alignment.

Prince of Wales Bridge

You can see in the Ultimate Network at the top of this blog post that there is a plan for OC Transpo’s commuter rail service to cross the Prince of Wales Bridge, but I don’t know any details.  I don’t even know whether they would use Line 1 or just extend Line 2 northwards.  I’m happy to add details if they are provided.

Addendum

These are very early days, so rely on the City of Ottawa for official word on the specific rail lines and stations for Stage 3 LRT.

Ottawa LRT Stage 2 maps

Ottawa’s commuter rail (light rail transit, LRT) gets a lot more complicated in Stage 2.

As a reminder, there are two lines:

  • Line 1, the red line, runs east-west.  It’s also called the Confederation Line.  It uses all-electric trains, running on dual tracks (i.e. separate tracks for each direction).
  • Line 2, the green line, runs north-south.  It’s also called the Trillium Line.  It will use diesel trains, and has segments of single track (meaning that trains have to wait in carefully-managed stops, in order to share the track in both directions).

Line 1 extends east to Trim Station, but on the west side it splits, with part heading west and part turning south.  Line 2 adds stations and continues south, but then takes a rather dramatic turn to the west at the end of line.

Stage 2 System Map

In terms of implementation, the project is separated into three separate parts for the east and west (Line 1) and south (Line 2) extensions.  You can see the planned system in this Stage 2 map, including a Line 1 extension that was added in the west to Moodie Station and the new west turning to Limebank Station at the end of Line 2.  Below map from Stage 2 – Where.

Stage 2 with Limebank Station extension - lrt_stage2_alignment_en2

Black circles with black text boxes are new stations, and the new segments are also shown as thinner.  On the green line (Line 2), two stations are added within the existing Stage 1 segment: Gladstone Station and Walkley Station.  Line 2 also gets an extension to the airport, but my understanding is that this is not a direct train; you have to change to an airport shuttle train at South Keys Station.

The timelines are notional, basically intended to show that one part can be delivered before another.  A general guideline would be a 2023-2025 for completion of the entire system, particularly given the delayed launch of Stage 1.  Note that bus rapid transit (the remainder of the Transitway buses) is shown in grey.

Line 2 Extends South, then West

The details of the plan to extend Line 2 west are available in the Trillium Line Extension Planning and Environmental Assessment (EA) Study – Addendum.

I’ll only look at the end of the line, which is a change to the original Stage 2 plan.

Here is Earl Armstrong / Bowesville Station and Park & Ride

Earl Armstrong and Bowesville Station park and ride

Earl Armstrong and Bowesville Station plus park and ride functional design

Above two images are from pp. 68-70 of the Trillium Extension EA Study Addendum document (PDF).

Here is the extension west to Limebank Station

Limebank Station - extension

Limebank Station - preliminary station functional design

Above two images are from pp. 93-99 of the Trillium Extension EA Study Addendum document (PDF).

Line 2 Stage 2 Train Sets

In Stage 2 the existing Line 2 trains will be replaced with the Stadler FLIRT (Fast Light Innovative Regional Train).  It is diesel powered but can be converted to electric.

LRT2_Boards_48x36_EN_May02_2018

Above from City secures funding to extend O-Train Trillium Line to the heart of Riverside South.

Website

The main website for Stage 2 is https://www.stage2lrt.ca/. Please refer to that website for official Stage 2 routes and station information.

Stage 3

Stage 3 may extend to Kanata, to Barrhaven, and possibly across the Prince of Wales bridge to Quebec.  Details are not finalised; I have done a separate blog post with Stage 3 maps.

STO bus changes after Ottawa LRT Stage 1

This post describes the planned changes to STO Ottawa downtown core routes, to be implemented sometime after the Stage 1 LRT goes into service.  (So don’t expect these STO routes on day 1 of LRT service, but sometime in mid to late 2019.)

For OC Transpo I’ll just give a quick summary about the downtown core, rather than documenting the huge number of changes to OC Transpo bus routes all over the city; their site can tell you what you need to know much better than I can.  See the planned 2019 system map for all the details.

The high level summary of the OC Transpo Stage 1 bus changes from a downtown core perspective is that all of the Transitway buses, like the workhorse 90 series, are gone from downtown, along with all of the direct-from-the-suburbs buses, and Albert and Slater are no longer primary OC Transpo bus routes through the downtown.  Everything moves to a hub model, with the rapid buses going to Tunney’s Pasture Station (west end), Hurdman Station (southbound buses), and Blair Station (east end).  You can see my post Ottawa LRT Stage 1 maps for a map of the new rapid system.

Queen of Buses

The major downtown OC Transpo change will be a focus around Parliament Station on Queen.  All the frequent local bus routes, the 6, 7, and 11, will have a route on Bank and Queen.  This may be interesting considering that Queen has just been narrowed, and Queen will still be open for regular car and truck traffic.  My understanding is this shift will precede the STO bus route changes.

OC Transpo 2019 downtown core detail inset

Above is an extract from the downtown core submap on the lower right of the main OC Transpo 2019 System Map.  The red circles are station entrances, the black squares with letters are station-adjacent bus stops.  Mackenzie King Station at the south of Rideau Centre goes from being a very busy Transitway station to only being visited by the 16 and the 19.  (It will become a very busy STO station as you will see below.)

SIDEBAR: If you like Ottawa transit history, the 6 and 7 echo the route of streetcar line B, and the 11 echoes the route of streetcar line S.  You can see the streetcar routes in a plate from the Greber report.  END SIDEBAR

I had actually thought that the local bus routes would go on Albert and Slater and end up at the south side of Rideau Centre at Mackenzie King Station, but this is not at all the case.  Slater will still be used but only for part of the route of the 17, 16, and 19.

However Albert and Slater will not go for long without substantial bus traffic, as it turns out the STO buses will move to travel deeper into the core, including along Albert and Slater to Mackenzie King Station.

STO Bus Like a Lyon

Lyon Station will be a minor loop for OC Transpo, with the 10, 16 and 17.

But Lyon will become a major rush hour weekday Ottawa-side hub for STO, which will move almost all of its buses off of Wellington in front of Parliament Hill and instead loop past Lyon including going east-west along Albert and Slater with a second hub for regular lines at Mackenzie King Station.  This is a dramatic change for the STO routes.

STO Carte_arrêt_oct_2018

For Ottawans living in Centretown used to heading to Wellington to get their STO bus, this is a significant change, with STO stops (the small blue dots in the above image) strung along Albert and Slater, with some on Lyon and Bank as well.  (I assume based on the dots that OC Transpo stops will basically turn into STO stops.)

The new stops should make it much more convenient to use the STO buses from Centretown, except before 9am.

Outside the Perimeter

There are two hassles for Ontario residents taking the STO bus:

  1. You can’t tap your Presto card to pay for a single ride.  STO will only accept monthly pass, U-PASS, DayPass, and an OC Transpo transfer.
  2. Before 9am, outside the “perimeter” (which is in Quebec near the river), you must have an STO – OC Transpo Rider smart card.

First what this means is that if you walk direcly (rather than taking an OC Transpo bus) to an STO bus stop in Centretown, you either have to pay cash for your trip, or you need a pass.  (If you’re just going for a single STO trip, it’s almost worth stepping onto an OC Transpo bus first just to get a transfer.)

And second what this means is since you’re probably going to work before 9am, you also need the STO – OC Transpo Rider smart card.  Which costs $8 and must be renewed every year and is only available at 3 STO service points.  If you tap your Presto on STO before 9am the reader will flash yellow, which indicates a need for the STO – OC Transpo Rider smart card if you’re outside the “perimeter”.

On the plus side in practice when the reader flashes yellow the bus driver always ignores it anyway.  Which is good because for one thing, there’s no way $8 possibly covers STO’s administrative cost of processing the card application every year, and for another thing going to get it takes extra time and hassle every year.  Plus it slows down bus boarding every day.

On top of which the actual STO procedure for Presto is ridiculous (so it’s kind of good that no one actually follows it).  It appears to be:

  • tap your Presto card (which must have either a pass or a transfer)
  • show the driver the back of your Presto card (every time)
  • if it’s before 9am the reader will flash yellow, so then
    • tap your STO – OC Transpo Rider smart card
    • show the driver the photo side of the STO – OC Transpo Rider smart card (every time you use it)

I honestly don’t know what the point of this sequence can possibly be, other than to paralyse STO bus boarding in Ottawa.

Basically as far as I can tell the entire thing is designed assuming that before 9am you take an OC Transpo bus to the Perimeter Zone in Quebec, and then change to an STO bus.

Perimeter zone in red in above map from STO – OC Transpo Rider smart card specifically Perimeter of the downtown areas of the Hull sector and Ottawa.

But with Lyon Station as a rush hour weekday hub starting in 2019, the above model no longer seems valid.

There is a super-simple solution, which is to extend the Perimeter to cover the entire Ottawa downtown core that STO loops through.

And an even better solution would be just to have Presto totally compatible for use for single payments or passes, without an extra STO rush hour card.  And an even better solution than that would be to support tap payment with debit and credit cards and phones, along with tap passes that you could have on your phone or a card.

OC Transpo to Gatineau

There will still be OC Transpo buses to Gatineau, with their hub at Pimisi Station, but I never take these buses so I can’t say much about them.

The Future

There is a proposal for a Quebec west-side train loop, with connections across Prince of Wales Bridge (which you might expect) and Alexandra Bridge (which you might not expect, and I don’t really understand how it would work unless you completely redo the car lanes).  I will write more about it in a later blog post.

Addendum

As always, check the STO website for official information about the new bus routes and when they will come into effect.

Ottawa LRT Stage 1 maps

Here’s what the Stage 1 commuter rail (light rail transit, LRT) network will look like when it launches in 2019.  This post focuses on the rail maps; there will also be lots of bus route changes.

Maps

Line 1, the Confederation Line, the red line, runs from Tunney’s Pasture Station in the west to Blair Station in the east.  It is an all-electric, dual-track line (i.e. separate tracks for each direction).

It makes for a pretty simple map, from the OC Transpo Ready4Rail – Where will it go page.

OttLRT Line 1 Stage 1 Line_map1

Lyon, Parliament and Rideau stations are underground.  The Gatineau bus connection shown at Pimisi Station indicates OC Transpo Gatineau-bound buses.  The STO bus connections aren’t shown.

Line 2, the Trillium Line, the green line, runs from Bayview Station in the north to Greenboro Station in the south.  It is a diesel line with some single tracking, which means trains have to wait at stopping points in order to share the single track in both directions.

It also makes for a pretty simple map, from the current OC Transpo Route 2 results page, PDF map option.

O-Train Route 2 map_carte_002

The lines have a single transfer point at Bayview Station.

I don’t know of a map that shows just Line 1 and Line 2 together for Stage 1.  There is a map (PNG) that shows all rapid routes, which includes the two train lines in red and green as well as buses in blue. Basically the blue is what remains of the workhorse Transitway / Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines in Stage 1. (Map from OC Transpo New service types page.)

OC Transpo Rapid 2018_Network_R 200

Interactive Maps & Downloadable Data

You can see current and proposed station footprints and track alignments in GeoOttawa.  Go to More layers… and select Rail Implementation Office at the very bottom (below Miscellaneous).  http://maps.ottawa.ca/geoottawa/  Note that GeoOttawa requires Flash.

If you want the data for Line 1 including station alignments, as shape files, you can get it from the City of Ottawa Open Data site http://data.ottawa.ca/en/dataset/o-train-line-1

There is also open data for O-Train Stations and O-Train Tracks, including Google Earth KMZ format.  I don’t know whether this is just the north-south line (Line 2) or whether it includes the forthcoming Line 1.

Websites

The main website for Stage 1 is https://www.ligneconfederationline.ca/

but there is also information at http://www.octranspo.com/ready4rail/

There is a completely separate website for Stage 2 https://www.stage2lrt.ca/ (I have covered Stage 2 in a separate blog post).

Addendum

In renaming and rebranding the lines there may be some confusion.  Previously O-Train referred just to the north-south train, now it is used for the entire system.  Also previously route 1 and route 2 were downtown core frequent buses.  Route 1 was changed to route 6, and route 2 basically ended up as two routes, the 11 and the 12.

The Stage 1 rail lines won’t change, but nevertheless always go to the OC Transpo website for the latest official information about routes.

reflections on 24 hours without power in Ottawa

The 2018 Ottawa-Gatineau tornado and associated windstorm took out power to much of Ottawa and Gatineau.  I lost power for 24 hours.

I don’t have particularly profound reflections, I mostly thought about how to power my cellphone.  Kudos to Rogers to keeping cellphone service including cellphone data working continuously.

Recommendations

  • Have some portable batteries and keep them charged.
  • Have a portable radio, with appropriate batteries / charge.
  • Have some flashlights, with appropriate batteries / charge.
  • Have some AA and AAA batteries on hand if that’s what your devices use.
  • Have a crank power / solar power battery that provides USB out.
  • Leave solar powered devices in the sun (e.g. on a windowsill) so that they have a charge when you need them.
  • Know where all your emergency devices are.

Note: For radios/flashlights that use AA/AAA batteries, you may want to leave the batteries out of most of the devices, otherwise without a regular replacement schedule the batteries will eventually die and burst in the device.

You could consider e.g. having a box of ermegency devices in one place, and writing the battery replacement date(s) on the box, and put a calendar reminder to check it once a year.

I did ok, I basically had everything except my crank power / solar power radio+lamp is so old (it’s a big Freeplay plus) that it doesn’t provide USB power out.  (I don’t even know exactly what it has inside, probably a big spring and maybe a battery.)

I will buy a newer radio with USB power out.

You probably want to follow actual expert preparedness advice from the federal government and the provincial government rather than my cellphone-focused musings.

Main Discoveries

  • A portable speaker with USB out is basically a big battery.
  • CBC Radio One 91.5 MHz FM has pretty terrible signal, at least for analog tuning radios in some areas of Centretown.  (I tried multiple radios in several locations, I was only able to get a clear signal in one location with a Grundig Mini World 100 PE small portable radio.  It seems like there are powerful radio channels just to either side of 91.5, and/or CBC has a weak signal.  Ended up streaming the radio over cellphone data more than using the actual radio.)  I also secondarily realised that I have no idea what the local radio stations are or what frequencies they’re on.
  • Local news including the Ottawa Citizen (via Internet) and radio were useful, I also used Twitter quite a bit.  Hydro Ottawa’s website was not particularly useful, both because it was initially overwhelmed by demand, and because the scale of the disaster meant they couldn’t provide very detailed outage recovery time info.

Power Story

  • I first used my regular portable batteries to charge my phone.  It’s good that I always keep them charged.  I have an old 1800 mAh Kensington (no longer made) and a newer 10000 mAh Aukey.
  • I realised I could use my portable speakers as big batteries to charge my phone.  I had thought the USB power out on my speakers was kind of useless, but it turned out to be a very useful feature.  (I keep them plugged in, so they always have a full charge; I normally use them just as small speakers rather than actual portable speakers.)
  • If the portable batteries and speakers had been discharged, I next would have used my laptop as a big battery.
  • If the laptop had been discharged I next would have used my big and very not portable UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply; basically a giant battery with multiple power outlets), which in theory could have provided many many hours of cellphone power.  (I have a large UPS which has a button to turn off the continuous “power is out” beeping; many smaller UPS units don’t have this feature.)
  • UPDATE 2018-11-02: If you have other small battery-powered electronics such as electric hand warmers, some models may provide USB power output, but they won’t provide very much power for a modern phone.  END UPDATE

The Orville season 1

My summary for The Orville is: subverts expectations.

The thing to understand about The Orville is it is straight-up Star Trek, specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), with Seth MacFarlane’s sense of humour layered on top.

Every element of TNG is here: starship, bridge, colour-coded uniforms, Captain, Executive Officer, Security Officer, Doctor, Science Officer, helmsman, navigator, Chief of Engineering, replicators, no money, crew lounge, touch control panels, holodeck… this show is TNG.  A TNG with seat belts and cup holders, and without transporters and synthehol, but nevertheless TNG.

The expectation that is set up, given that this is not actually in the true Star Trek universe, is that this will be a Galaxy Quest type of parody or satire but… it isn’t.  It’s straight up science fiction with all of the Star Trek conventions.  The ship is definitely TNG, some of the missions are a bit more The Original Series (TOS).

There are some nice touches I like, for example the spiral staircase up to the bridge.  Or the Wright Flyer on the Captain’s desk.  Or when Commander Grayson puts a cannabis brownie in her pocket, setting up a Chekhov’s Gun (um, different Chekhov) expectation of it being used and then… it isn’t.

To try to describe the mix of the show is pretty hard.  It is more a kind of science fiction with a sense of absurdity than “comedy-drama”.  In an episode about a two-dimensional universe you first have Seth MacFarlane as Captain Mercer talking sincerely about Flatland, the classic story of two dimensions, and then the Captain and the navigator with tissues stuffed up their noses from the giant nosebleeds they got from being partially flattened.  It’s basically very sincere Star Trek fan fiction, written by MacFarlane.  (In a way it’s similar to Star Wars VII and VIII, which are basically Star Wars fan fiction written by J.J. Abrams.)

The Orville probably works best if you’re very familiar with TNG.  I have seen all of the TNG episodes as they aired and many many times afterwards.  But I can’t count myself exactly as a fan.  Roddenberry did a bold thing, but I think ultimately a failed thing, in making the show not just a future in terms of technology, but a utopia in terms of people.  Everyone in TNG is nice, professional, calm, supportive, rational, sincere, intellectual.  It’s kind of perfect adults, all super-ego, all control, no id.  It’s a kind of remarkable aspiration to put into a show.  But it also makes for a super boring show.  There’s no drama when everyone is super nice.  They drink sometimes in the very calm, very subdued 10 Forward, but even their alcohol is non-alcoholic.  It’s Jacques Cousteau, except on a cruise ship.  They could never even make it seem like the TNG crew were friends, despite very forced attempts to e.g.  put them all together in weekly poker nights.  The cast is super stiff in the early seasons, it gets a bit more relatable in later seasons.

Also, as with TOS, TNG has basically no cultural anchors in the 20th century.  No one watches TV or movies.  It’s basically as if culture ended some time in the 19th century.  (If you want to contrive something, the Third World War probably didn’t help with 20th century cultural preservation.)

The Orville is basically all the future technology and look and structure of Star Trek, but with characters who are all id.  They drink (in fact to rather enthusiastic and frequent excess, as if they were all in first year university).  They swear.  They’re crude.  They have sex.  They’re basically kind of stereotypical American young adults except with adult jobs.  It’s very Seth MacFarlane’s humourverse, in other words.  It is to be honest a lot more relatable than the perfect humans in TNG.  And it very definitely is populated with people who are in our cultural universe.  From Seinfeld to The Sound of Music, it’s all there.  (Even a scene with observations on which fictional characters have Tardis-like houses, which I’ve always wondered whether anyone would ever put together.)  It also has other aspects of MacFarlane’s style, with digressive discussions about elevator music or hobbies.  Sometimes MacFarlane works a bit too hard to insert his sense of humour into scenes unnecessarily, but otherwise I find it mostly works.

Science fiction is often basically present-day people and culture, wrapped in a future technology envelope.  Roddenberry took a remarkable step in trying to populate the Enterprise-D with 24th century people in addition to 24th century technology.  It made it aspirational but really made it difficult to have any kind of relatable drama.  I basically never found that it worked for me.  Every episode would either end up with a conclusion that happened to match exactly late-20th-century liberal ideals, or with Geordi doing some made-up-particles equivalent of magic.  By contrast MacFarlane has basically populated the Enterprise-D with 21st century people, and they make lots of flawed decisions with imperfect conclusions.  For the most part, it makes for a much more relatable show.

I’m not sure how long you can maintain the cognitive dissonance between a serious science fiction show and characters who say things like “let’s get the engines to 97% efficiency so we can finish work early and all get wasted”, but for now I am enjoying the attempt.

 

 

Pleasantville and Ready Player One

The 1998 Pleasantville movie is basically the antithesis of Ready Player One, the 2011 book.  (For various reasons, the Ready Player One 2018 movie is not as direct a comparison.)

Pleasantville is about smashing nostalgia, while Ready Player One is about celebrating it.

If Wade Watts had been transported to Pleasantville, it seems fairly likely that he would have quite happily stayed in black and white, reciting memorized lines episode by episode until he reached the end of a rerun cycle and looped back to the beginning again, looping endlessly without change, much like Pleasantville’s Main Street goes nowhere, its end just taking you back to its beginning.

One has to wonder whether he would have lived out this existence happily, a kind of static safe immortality in an unchanging world, or if at some point he would have wanted to break out.  Would pleasant safety have outweighed all other considerations?

It may be hard to imagine that someone could crave that endless sameness, but to some extent it depends on your learned experiences and mental processing about uncertainty.  The past stays in place, it stays at a safe distance.  The present can be overwhelming.  Pleasantville celebrates the reality of our colourful, noisy, chaotic, uncertain world, but not all of us are equipped by nature or nurture to embrace that experience.

Margaret Henderson: “What’s outside of Pleasantville?”
[long pause]
David / Bud: “There are some places that the road doesn’t go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going.”

Margaret: “So what’s it like?”
David: “What?”
Margaret: “Out there.”
David: “Well, it’s a … it’s louder, and… scarier, I guess, and it’s a… lot more dangerous.”
Margaret: “Sounds fantastic.”

And it is fantastic but also, it can be overwhelming, and painful.  Beautiful

David and Margaret in Pleasantville.

David and Margaret in Pleasantville.

but also painful.

David’s Mom: “I’m 40 years old, I mean it’s not supposed to be like this.”
David: “It’s not supposed to be anything.”

The past is predictable.  The Romans will always invade Britain in 43 AD, Harry Potter will always be sorted into Gryffindor, Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy will always save the world from nuclear war.  Wade Watts will watch Family Ties over and over again and Michael J. Fox will always be Alex P. Keaton, no more and no less.  You can loop around and around in reruns or rewatching or rereading and the characters never get to rebel, the events never change.

I’ve written about this kind of toxic nostalgia in the context of Ready Player One, but I didn’t talk a lot about why.  James Halliday has toxic nostalgia because he’s damaged.  He can have everything that money can buy, but he can’t have a different past, all his coding and control can’t change the fact that Kira Underwood married Og, not him.

There are only two ways through that.

Eternal Safety

In My-So Called Life, Brian will never ask out Angela, he will always be standing in episode 19, the last episode, watching her drive away with Jordan.  Because it’s the safe choice, the controlled choice.  In Star Trek: Generations, Tolian Soran will destroy an entire world just to escape back to the safe and controlled immortality of The Nexus.  Both destroying the future to stay safe alone.

In BBC Radio 4 – Archive on 4 – Commuterville, Matthew Sweet reaches his conclusion about the endlessly repeated routine of our lives in very English school essay fashion, calling on Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence.  There is a definite comfort in routine, but also a kind of madness.

Endless Change

George Parker: “So what’s going to. happen now?”
Betty Parker: “I don’t know.  Do you know what’s going to happen now?
George Parker: “No, I don’t.”

It’s easy to say we should embrace this uncertainty, that we should learn the lesson of 1993’s Groundhog Day and work on making ourselves better as we go through our routine days.  But have empathy for those who are struggling to escape their life experiences and expectations.

It’s not supposed to be anything

There is supposed to be a kind of arc, a youthful embrace of change followed by an adult settling into a safe routine.  But Pleasantville challenges this arc.  While it certainly does celebrate youthful change, it makes it clear there is no winning, there is no right ending.  There’s just uncertainty.  Ready Player One is about what happens if you reject that uncertainty.  This is playing out at a large scale across our society.  People miss the factories… but you know, the factories were kind of terrible too.  We can’t go back.  It’s not coming back.  All you really get to choose is whether you’re going to be James Halliday and Wade Watts, endlessly jumping through a portal into an unchanging past, or if you’re going to be David, finding that there is beauty in change after all.