Let me share with you a "Fight Club" inspired first rule of talking about, writing about, and especially campaigning about infrastructure:
DON'T USE THE WORD "INFRASTRUCTURE!"
Okay, I know I just broke my own rule. But I had to in order to make the point that no matter how important our roads, bridges, mass transit, and airports are to our very survival as a nation, the worst thing anyone who cares about them can do is talk endlessly about roads, bridges, mass transit, and airports, and use the dreaded "i-word." Doing so completely leaves out the human and emotionally powerful elements connected to the very process of moving America every day. And getting things done in America requires getting people emotionally invested.
Historian and author Robert Caro is the master at this technique and he's even used it to get people to care about the i-word. He did it in his award-winning first book, "The Power Broker" about New York City Parks Commissioner and master road builder Robert Moses. If you think it's hard to get people compelled to read a giant book about a guy who built highways 80 years ago, you're right. But Caro used the first chapter of his book to describe just how hard it was for families and especially children in New York to find places to play and relax at the beginning of the 20th century.
By the time most readers are done with that extremely emotion-laden chapter, they're crying out in their hearts for someone – anyone – to come along and fix this. And that's how Caro hooks you and gets you to understand how an autocratic and never-elected person like Moses could become so powerful for so long. Caro has done the same thing in his books about Lyndon Johnson, especially when he describes how hard life was life in rural Texas pre-electricity. I know some readers who burst into real tears while reading those chapters.
So how can an i-word crusader, politician, or construction magnate who wants to get people excited about roads, bridges, airports, and mass transit? Actually it's quite easy. You might think a road, no matter how badly pocked with pot holes, is just an uninspiring piece of pavement. But, getting from point A to point B in our daily lives is one of the most emotionally-charged things any of us do with any regularity. And with emotion comes the opportunity to engage and persuade. Are the politicians listening yet?
Think about it; "road rage" is real. A recent study by the Auto Insurance Center says the average commuter wastes more than a typical work week stuck in traffic each year. And does anything elicit more powerful emotions than getting stuck in a traffic jam? I don't know about you, but I can go from zero to full-on outrage in five seconds once I realize I'm stuck in traffic.