Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Goodbye Humvee

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.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the old debate between personal freedom and social responsibility. I tend to err on the side of freedom. We have ever increasing encroachment upon personal freedom by the government. Who needs it from individuals who are self-appointed thought/eco police? Yes, I know you are well-intentioned, but I would rather go down with the ship as a free man than to live a longer life in an oppressed society. Yeah, I know there is another side to the story, but I speak for the freedom freaks. Call me a selfish, thoughtless a--hole, but without us rebels, you communards would be living in some government gulag with your every thought and movement monitered for 'correctness'. It's better to propose what you feel is a better way in a non-judgmental manner and then leave others to make a free choice, even if it is in opposition to your point of view. More people felt this way back in 'hippie' days. What happened to us?

geno722 said...

Here's what's amazing: it's pretty obvious at this point that the macho culture that's got so many Hummers, large SUV's etc. on the road is what's at the root of our addiction to oil. Dubya sure isn't going to do anything about it, since he and his friends all profit from it. You'd think he'd be smart enough to realize that making the rebuild of the Gulf Coast a higher priority than wasting more money and American lives in Iraq would directly improve the oil supply situation. And, yes, so would tighter regulations about how many miles per gallon a licensed vehicle should be getting. A great side benefit: it would get a lot of macho a**holes who drive obnoxiously, just because they can off the road. Fools... you're the folks with the "W" stickers on your Hummers who now have to pay $75 for a fill up. It's hurting me when I fill up the Civic, but it can't be as bad as it's hurting you.

Anonymous said...

Don't confuse macho with libertarian. I would never consider putting a 'W' on my car. Most politicians are worthy only of universal loathing. The underlying point has nothing to do with economics, machismo, or even being an a--hole. It has to do with fascism, whether it comes from the conservative or liberal part of the sociopolitical spectrum. Some people have become so mesmerized by herd mentality that their concept of being free and extending this right to others has been dwarfed. Macho...if that is what you were hearing, you need to wake up and smell the feces, because that is what the enemies of freedom are putting out. And they are Democrats, Republicans, liberal, conservative, you name it. They are everywhere. All you have to do is listen for them. They know what is 'best' for you.

Anonymous said...

I love my SUV because it is comfortablefor ME. As to the expense of gasoline, I don't give a shit because I am RICH. I would give you a tired homily about working for it and I can spend it any way I choose, but that is not accurate. I INHERITED IT. As to the issue of making the world a polluted place for our grandchildren, I don't even have any grandchildren. I probably wouldn't like you so I surely don't give a shit about your grandchildren.
So, if you see me driving my gas-guzzling SUV down the street, don't even look at me the wrong way. As Chingy says, "My "nine" goes BANG. So FUCK YOU !!!

randy sez.......... said...

Have to admire conviction like this.

Anonymous said...

Well,well,well it finally hit all you rich assholes---you don't need no sinkin'conservation.To hell with what is good for our earth,you just want to roll out the gas guzzlers and be on your way. Selfish assholes. Breath on you fools.When your lungs are full of s*#t maybe you'll get hip to the truthiness of BAH and get off the road.Long live Mother Earth!!! Chop.

Anonymous said...

Once when I was fuming over someone's point of view with which I disagreed, the following occurred to me. Everyone has a place in the free market of ideas. If only conservative ideas held sway, certain problems would be sure to ensue from this imbalance. The same can be said for liberal ideas or any other one-sided view point. The reality that we live in is a result of this great flux and it is probably preferable to a reality that is the result of one point of view only. I say this to suggest that we all chill...let people indulge in their own point of view. Keep plugging for your own, but ride loose in the saddle. Your most cherished ideas could be wrong, or at least not quite right. Wars are fought over conflicting points of view...so chill. Whether you can see it or not, everyone belongs here or they wouln't have been invited to the party. Who was it that said you can be in my dream if I can be in your's?

Anonymous said...

Hey, Anonymous at 7:33 p.m...the guy with his panties in a wad. You take things too seriously. I bet you don't have much of a heart for trees and flowers and you probably go out of your way to run over small animals. Sounds like you have been eating too much red meat and drinking too much alcohol. Here's a prescription for you: go on a veggie diet for a while and smoke a little weed. This may allow for a re-programming of your brain and make you a little less murderous and take a little of the crazed look out of your eyes. I for one don't care if you drive a Sherman tank or a Yugo. Does that make you feel better?

Alan said...

The free market has a way of working out problems. The shift to more fuel efficiency will now move quickly because of the price of gas. People forget that the electric car will take a power source to charge the batteries. So we stop pollution from gas and cause it with coal fire plants. If we had nuclear power we could charge our cars cleanly, but not in my neighborhood and irrational fear of what we don’t understand prevents that from happening. The problems we face from nuclear power plant waste are Carter’s fault. When he was president he stopped the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. As a result spent fuel becomes a waste and is not reprocessed into new fuel. His intentions were good, but short sighted. Reprocessing creates extra plutonium that Carter feared could fall into the wrong hands. We could switch to natural gas, but the most ready supply would come from off shore drilling. We could switch to wind power, opps Sen. Kennedy might have to look at windmills. We can also regress as a society and demand less and do less. Bye bye a society that is based on incentives. France has tried to do that and is faced with riots, because the underclass has no hope. Have faith in the free market and US citizens will solve most of the problems, hopefully. In reality it will come from India or China because the people there have more incentive than we have here.

Anonymous said...

Turn on, tune in, drop out...it's time for a resugence of hippiedom. The mainline culture won't miss us. Let's slip away back to the counterculture. Getting too close to the mainline makes people greedy, materialistic, and mean-spirited. How about it Swami Randynanda?

Cliff Friedman said...

Nice post, Randy. While I don’t mourn the death of the Hummer, unfortunately what GM has discontinued is the Hummer H-1, an 8000 pound behemoth which is a civilian version of the military Humvee and which sold in very small numbers at a price of $130,000+. They still sell the hell out of the H-2, the ridiculous 6400 pound box on wheels which costs between $50,000 and $60,000.

Even at today’s gas prices, energy is historically cheap, especially when adjusted for inflation. This can’t last. As noted by Alan, the free market is doing its part, in this case translated to more expensive energy. As the price of gas goes up, people are buying more fuel efficient cars, used prices for gas inefficient vehicles are falling, people are considering living closer to work, more people are carpooling, etc.

We individually must each try to do our part. I started by trying out a hybrid. About a year ago I bought the Lexus RX 400h, which is a 4200 pound luxury SUV. In actual driving, more city than highway, I am averaging 25 miles a gallon. This is about a 35 to 40% increase over the non-hybrid version, plus I have more power (basically the same engine plus the electric motors) and pollute less.

Businesses are starting to get on board, because they can save money. Believe it or not, Wal-Mart has an experimental store here in the Dallas area using substantial green building technologies, including daylighting, a wind turbine, solar panels, xerescaping, rainwater harvesting, sustainable building materials and the like. There is no reason why building codes don’t require more green techniques, including such things orienting a house properly for solar gain, using better insulation, etc. We can also encourage more density rather than keep pushing developments farther out and contributing to sprawl. When we have our next city council elections, I will be seriously considering the candidates’ views on this issue.

The culprit of our energy waste is not big government or big oil companies. We are each energy hogs, and not just with gasoline. Our families are getting smaller but our houses are getting bigger. We have more and more electronic devices, always plugged in. Big gas guzzlers have been the best sellers, and, as Randy noted, usually filled with just a driver. With each new choice we make, let’s each get greener, whether with the next car we buy, the next house we build, the next appliance we buy, where we choose to live and work, and so on.

Steve said...

Sorry guys I have to err on the side of a free economy. The USA will find a balance if we let it. Frankly Randy I opt for more freedom and less socialism. I know I already sent you this but to your fellow bloggers I recomend this article by Walter Williams.
http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/walterwilliams/2006/05/31/199217.html