Cars

The heat index is 110 and it is another ozone alert day, when you are supposed to drive less. Of course the traffic is always worse on these days and the overheating AC is spiking emissions no end.

It’s 8 AM and I have to take the kids two miles to day camp, then I need to travel nine miles downtown to my office, then later go to a meeting that is eight miles in another direction from my office, go back to my office, then back home, then go pick up the kids, take them home, then run to the grocery store and the hardware store.

There was a day a year ago when I was sitting in my house in Oak Park at 2 PM trying to figure out how I could go take a picture of Robie House in Hyde Park (16 miles away), stop downtown (8 miles) to do some paperwork, and then pick up supplies at a store in Bucktown about 3 miles northwest of downtown, and then get back to Oak Park (10 miles) by 5 PM.

The point of these laundry list litanies of mundane errands is that in none of the above situations did I use an automobile – they were all done by train, bus or bicycle – the 3-hour journey above utilized all three. I live in front of an elevated and commuter rail line in the flatlands of Chicago, so it is easier for me to do. My brother lives in West Texas and cars are pretty necessary there, although they find bikes useful.

This isn’t some monastic asceticism or ideological politics on my part as much as my natural hedonism. Driving is an unpleasant, annoying activity and riding a bicycle is enjoyable. For trips under 3 miles, it is often faster. In fact, a news report today indicated a big drop in how many people actually enjoy driving. Riding a train or bus with book or laptop in hand is also more enjoyable – and productive – than driving an automobile.

I don’t need to mention cheaper. I’ve spent more on lattes than gasoline in the last week, and I only had one latte.

I have always considered a car like a toilet – something I need – in working order – on a regular basis, but not something that has anything to do with my identity. I have certainly purchased new toilets, but never a new car. Through lack of resources and upbringing (I think the only new car my parents ever bought was in 1968, and we all know how weird 1968 was) I somehow never bought into this marketing ploy, and by the grace of God I never even walked into an automobile showroom.

Of course, for most Americans, that isn’t true. Like pagers and cell phones, automobiles started out as expensive commodities used primarily by those who NEEDED them, like doctors. In the 1910s Ford made them cheap and in the 1920s, General Motors turned them into the Jazz Age version of Viagra. By the 1950s, cars were as oversexualized as Betty Page, and despite the Design Deficiency scare of the 1980s, they still are – one of the most popular models was even named after a sex act.

I reckon there is a lot more sex pumping pedals and jumping curbs out in the sun than locked in some four-wheeled fiberglass fridge. Even if it has leather seats.

Tomorrow I have to drive 35 miles to Buffalo Grove for a root canal. I’ll let you know which is more painful.

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