On this auspicious occasion that General Motors announced it will no longer produce the Hummer I for public consumption, I would like to take a moment to bid farewell to the worst, most wasteful, quasi fascist automotive fad to ever come down the road. In this monkey see culture, Arnold buys a fleet of Hummers and suddenly they are on the streets of your city. Imagining the arrogance it takes to drive one of these garish vehicles, I tried never to confront one of the owners personally to avoid bloodshed, probably mine. But I had to express my outrage somehow and ordered a package of fake parking tickets from an online prank company. They look very much like a government regulated citation and say "Violation, $100.00 Fine." Then they give you a list of offenses that you can check off. For the Hummer I usually checked the boxes next to "Driving a Hunk of Crap," and "Mentally Handicapped Driver," then put them under the wiper and slunk into the night with silent satisfaction. In fact, it felt so good, I started to put them on some of these Suburban Assault Vehicles. Maybe I gave one to you.
A Disclaimer: I am the co-owner of a red Ford Explorer that I inherited in my wife's divorce from her previous husband. It was either that or a pick-up truck. But it's paid for and we will probably drive it until the wheels fall off. But if I had my druthers, I'd trade it in for one of those sleek Japanese sedans. A solid and low highway bullet that needs minimal maintenance and has a tight turning ratio and responds to your urgings. That's the same symbolism the auto industry used to sell the SUV. The populace sees O.J. fleeing the police in a white Bronco, and suddenly our streets are filled with mammoth, gasoline swilling boxes of steel and chrome that obliterate all trace of the station wagon, which at least you could see over and around. Advertising emphasizes the security, but tests show that a 7000 pound vehicle rolls more easily than a 3000 pound vehicle. I ask my friends why they buy them and the answer is always the same; The Kids! I never had the obligation to take the children to soccer practice and I know it takes some space. But when I am in traffic, nine times out of ten the SUV contains only the driver, usually a woman and more often than not, on the phone. I am not attempting to be sexist. That's just how it is. Try the experiment yourself. No matter what time of day or night, the half hour of 3:00 to 3:30 aside, while you sit at a light, observe the SUV. If ten pass, they usually contain ten people.
Then there is always the response, "It's my money. I earned it and I can do damned well what I want with it." All these sentiments are undeniably true. But living in a civil society sometimes requires you to be cognizant of those around you. It requires more than ostentation, of doing things merely because you can. Civility is based on empathy, of imagining the consequences of your actions on others. Back in the day when our hair was long and our eyes were bright, I drove a Volkswagen mini-van until I realized what an enormous mistake I made in acquiring it. I couldn't park it or maneuver it, or heat it for that matter, but for a while it gave my self esteem a boost to be sitting up there high looking down on the other drivers. Now that it costs $80.00 to fill the tank, there are less expensive thrills. There will always be those who operate these vehicles regardless of the price of gas and the meager mileage because they wish to prove that they are able to do whatever they want. For anyone with a conscience, the game should be about over.
There is no real reason for optimism according to a poll run by Kelley Blue Book, (KBB.com). According to a survey that asked what a customer would be willing to sacrifice to achieve five more miles per gallon, only 27% were willing to step down in the size of their vehicle. And an additional 27% said that they were willing to sacrifice nothing. And every day the streets are more clogged, manners are non-existent, and the air is fouled. I used to love to drive. I hate it now. I have passed up opportunities to be with friends and family merely because I wanted to avoid the rage that encompasses me from here to there. It wasn't always this way.
I also once truly believed that by the turn of the century, we would have perfected the electric car. And instead of filling stations, there would be charging stations all up and down the highway. And you could zip along cleanly and quietly and drive into the heart of the city and still be able to breathe clean air and see the sun. Our energy dependence would be over and we could be about the business of cleaning up some of the century of automotive mess we've made. But, on the good side, I guess we're not going to Mars anymore. A good start would be to cease electing to public office those who feel obligated to dole out favors to Big Oil.
Jimmy Carter tried to tell us. We were too weary of the stage managed fireplaces and cardigan sweaters to remember the first campaign promise Carter made, "I will never lie to you." And he didn't. Considering that Carter was two helicopters short of being a national hero, the truth might have cost him the election. Carter's warnings about our energy dependence created a shift to more efficient cars and created an atmosphere for Saturn to begin. Too bad they made lousy cars, but it was the right direction. We need to right our course again and send a message to Detroit that the day of the family monster truck is over. Now that the kids are teenagers, maybe it's time to consider taking up less space on the road. A killer sound system always sounds better in a compacted space and increased fuel efficiency will drive down the price of gas. And imagine being able to park again. Until then, I need a ride.