Serpent Blog

The Dream Machine 

Stamped steel, cured rubber, wireless communication and the wonder of flight. Modern miracles all. New centuries give birth to new magic. Technology, the code word for faster, cheaper, closer together. Technology draws us nearer, it pulls us in. It homogenizes and flattens. The illusion and safety of distances fade. Words and bodies now hurled through the very ether itself. What was once invisible, unreachable, becomes more convenient and clear. We see this as progress. We see this as good. No longer Earth-bound, no longer needing to shout to be heard. Our voices and our bodies are everywhere at once. We permeate the Earth with our shadows and sounds.

It is 1923 when the man builds his first coaster wagon. Initially they are constructed entirely of wood. By 1930 he transitions to steel and renames his creation in honor of the great wonder technologies of the day. People are now speaking to each other across oceans. Men are soaring ever further in their winged machines. Automobiles, no longer a curiosity, have almost become a necessary appliance. Speeding, speeding, speeding. Words and the mouths that voice them, untethered from their mortal moorings. It seems there is nothing we cannot conquer, cure, solve, do better. It is in this age that the Radio Flyer is born.

Antonio Pasin. The son of a Venetian cabinet-maker. He passes through Ellis Island at the age of sixteen. He builds his first wagon out of wood but he sees the future, he takes risks. In him there burns a dream we now call American, but such vision, such desire is innately human and lies not within the province of any one nation. You cannot find a dream on a map. He is an immigrant, who brings with him the latent passions and living craft of the thriving city-states whose merchants once ruled the world. If there is a definition of America it is this. The strength and intellect of the world condensed. Germans, Irish, Chinese, Poles. Africans. Mexicans. Italians. Strength, strength, strength. These are the lifters, the pullers, the haulers, the assemblers of machines. And dreamers all. Inventors. Minds mined. Minds collected. An amalgam of hope and determination.

Look closely at the image above, at the rusted Radio Flyer number 18. It sits perched upon a trunk that is also an emblem of a bygone era. A chest filled with dreams. To the left are the orange and white stripes of a canvas circus tent (What marvels lie within? What wonders?). And then, below the belly of the little red wagon, a woman sits, resting. Upon her back is an image of Mickey Mouse, the symbol of the world's greatest media empire and of a man named Walt who was himself the son of immigrants, who was himself a man of vision and dreams. Mickey Mouse came to life at about the same time of Antonio Pasin's Radio Flyer. His first incarnation, Steamboat Willie, also named after what was once a marvel of modern technology. So many layers to peel back. The photograph was taken at the Maker's Fair - which is itself an homage to handcrafted magic.

The Radio Flyer is a vehicle for dreams. It is at once car, rocket, speedboat, plane. It is a designed for children to sit in. It can be pushed or pulled. It rolls on rubber tires. It is as patient as a dog and sturdy as a tank. During the Depression the factory was churning out 1500 of them a day. During the Depression. The Radio Flyer is a singular marvel of simplicity. It is an emblem of youth. Every American has sat in one. Every American knows the sound it makes when it is pulled along the sidewalk with its wonky steering and squeaky wheels. The Radio Flyer is an American icon built by an immigrant who, upon seeing the Statue of Liberty, was so inspired, so moved, that he named his first creation in honor of the moment. He called his first wooden wagon the Liberty Coaster. Imagine that for a moment. Coasting in liberty.

Consider the humble red wagon. The workhorse machine for so many children's imaginations. The means of their first locomotion, their first taste of the freedom of driving. Speed. Wind. The sensation of gravity. How good that feels, how terrifying. That first rush of endorphins. The wagon, which was the training vehicle for the bicycle which was the training vehicle for the car. Such a simple invention. It's basically a roasting pan mounted on wheels. Can you feel it wobble? Can you hear that sound? That is the collected voice of an entire generation of dreamers. Men and women and who risked it all, who went all in on a dream. And to think, now we want to wall ourselves in and keep them out. Because we have forgotten who we are.

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