Tuesday, April 30

Thoughts on "Happy Motoring"

Last summer I attended the Plan B workshop at Cold Antler Farm. It was a fantastic day and I learned a great deal. Especially about the future of the automobile, oil and transportation in general.

One of the presentations was given by James Kunstler, which was very informative and enjoyable. I listening to him talk made me even more concerned about our future. Since the workshop I have made a habit of listening to his podcasts and reading more of his books.

The one thing that bothered me that day, and the thing that bothers me still, are the mentions of "happy motoring". He puts forward that diminishing oil supplies will lead to the end of the American obsession with cars and driving. That I can agree with. What bothers me is the term "happy motoring." I have been hard pressed to remember a time when I was a happy motorist. My time in the car is mostly a stressful battle with traffic, horrendous drivers on the road, kids fighting in the back seat, road construction, detours, rush hour traffic jams and the occasional fender bender.

If there was a word that describes how I feel behind the wheel, it is far from 'happy.'

But that is a minor point of annoyance on my part and really does not effect the truth of the argument. I agree with him - cars will become too expensive, there will be no financial institutions willing to give loans, gas and oil will be astronomically high priced, and the condition of roadways will go into decline. At the workshop he made a statement that stuck with me. He said that in the very near future, the young generation of beginning drivers, teens, college age kids, etc., will not be able to have a car of there own. Today, everyone has a car, even if it is a starter, used, beat up one. I found it hard to imagine the youth of tomorrow walking or taking the bus, given that just about every kid in my high school had their own car by senior year.

Talking with him after the presentation he asked me where I had traveled from and I told him it had been about a 6 hour trip, one way. The fact that many of the people who attended the workshop had come from long distances was ironic given the topics we were discussing. As I was talking to him I dreaded the moment where he would turn around and see my bright yellow Xterra parked along the dirt farm road, even though he probably would not know it was mine. He then asked me what Roy did for a living and how long his commute was. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and through clenched teeth, I told him that Roy's commute was an hour and a half. One way. He made this unpleasant noise that people make when they are taken aback by a statement  - like inhaling loudly, and I felt like an oil guzzling, seagull killing, ozone depleting  monster.

I felt so bad that I was thrown back to my teen years with the feeling of having been caught doing something wrong. Ears burning, cold sweat and frantically thinking of legitimate excuses. but in the end there was nothing for it other than to accept punishment.

And that day I felt that Mr. Kunstler was indeed going to take me to the woodshed.

I had no excuses for my not-so-environmentally-friendly vehicle, but I had have one thing on my side. It's paid for. I own it.

So my question is this: is it better to own a vehicle that does not get the best mileage or to buy a more efficient vehicle that you will have lots of payments on? Does the extra gas that goes into the Xterra cost more or less than a payment on a new, energy efficient car?

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