Throughout my life, cars have been more aggravating to me rather than liberating. Either something breaks down, someone just nearly sideswiped me, or the compulsory insurance policy needs to be renewed. Unfortunately, much like central banking, Americans are currently stuck with using their licensed internal combustion engines and the government roads they drive them on, because the entire physical infrastructure has been created around it.
I’ve noticed over the years that when it comes to American car ownership, there isn’t a lot of gray area, but very much a “love it or hate it” attitude. As I was growing up, I tended to be more neutral on the subject, leaning slightly more towards “loving it” because I appreciated it’s utilitarian qualities (such as being able to transport people and their things across longer distances in less time with nearly nowhere as much effort). Nowadays, I am leaning not-so-slightly towards “hating it” because my various encounters with agents of the State who used my traveling on the public roads in my personally owned automobile (which resulted in absolutely no damage to property or injury to people) as the context within which to make up some lame excuse to pull me over, under indirect threat of arrest. In other words, my growing distaste for American car ownership isn’t really about the ownership itself (which is a perfectly allowable expression of the free market), but really more about its abuse by government in such forms as licensure, registration, and mandatory insurance.
Needless to say, the author has quite a different view when it comes to American cars, especially the ones he’s had. Despite his absurd optimism, I throughly enjoyed O’Rourke’s orations about the various and sundry cars he’s had the pleasure of enjoying over the years, as well as his philosophy of life (well, only insofar as it relates to driving, of course). Take for instance this portion of an article he wrote, addressed to his younger self concerning the dangers of driving too quickly (which, in some ways, is reminiscent of his argument in favor of automobiles over pedestrians):
“The moose is another example of God and Darwin ganging up on us. Obviously the moose existed before the automobile. But the moose’s only discernible biological purpose – other than providing passable steaks and oversized lodge decorations – is to kill automobile drivers. Talk about seeing big things in the road. True, moose aren’t scaly and they have only four feet. But I don’t recommend running them over. The moose stands on legs the exact average height of a car hood. These legs are fragile appendages, just temporary props holding fifteen hundred pounds of car-spanning body weight at eye level. Be your car ever so big, and the advice of the gentleman who used to shine shoes in the Baltimore train station notwithstanding, whatever happens when you collide with a moose happens ‘right in yo’ face.’”
Such is the logic o’ the Irish, but what of Americans themselves? O’Rourke elaborates:
“The South is what we’ve had all along in this bizarre, slightly troubling, basically wonderful country – fun, danger, real friendliness, energy, enthusiasm, and brave, crazy, tough people. After all, America is where the toughest crazy people on the planet came to do anything they damn pleased. And a NASCAR weekend pretty much covers all the everything. America’s original Indians were themselves tough and crazy. Put us all together and we’re the biggest, baddest, best sons of bitches anywhere, and the hell with foreign countries because that’s where all the sane wimps stayed.”
One may wonder whether this paints an attractive picture of who are supposed to be “our” fellow countrymen, yet I can’t bring myself to care one way or another, other than just chuckle about it a bit, especially since I knew people like that during my childhood.
The one thing I will say here that is good about cars is that they are a way of measuring time, particularly with regard to the stages in your own life. Considering that you don’t change cars every other week (or shouldn’t, anyway), it would stand to reason that you could form an estimated chronology of your life only by the sequence of cars that you have owned. O’Rourke’s description of his Jeep Cherokee was especially nostalgic for me:
“Our Cherokee was, of course, what we used to haul Muffin home from the stork roost. It was a good, commodious, mechanically reliable vehicle. But the Cherokee, through no fault of its own, had faults. By 1997 Cherokees, as SUVs, seemed to have been designed about the time of the meteor impact that caused the extinction of the British sports car. This particular Cherokee had been used extensively for transporting filthy dogs, deceased fish and game, and outdoorsmen with aromas both dead and unhousebroken and for the smoking of cigars that smelled worse than all of these. The Cherokee had a permanent, embedded stink so bad that, in place of a pine tree-shaped air freshener, you could have hung a dirty diaper from the rearview mirror and it would have been an improvement.”
What else can I say, other than truer words may have indeed been spoken, but this one nails it right on the head?
P.J. O’Rourke’s Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-Bending is an intriguing, and at times frustrating, but always comedic take on the American love affair with the car. Although the references to car model numbers usually went way over my head, most of the time I kinda got the gist of what was going on. I can only hope that the next generation, who collectively tend to be more technologically savvy than I am, can only begin to appreciate whatever the hell a carburetor is supposed to do anyway.