Sunday
Aug082004

« Wash Day/AUTO-Eroticism »

a black bmw parked outside a suburban shack house from the 40s.Shoddy house, stellar carToday I did my annual truck wash & wax, vacuum and tire shine. I do all that by hand. I keep telling myself a buffing wheel would be nice. But there is something satisfying about getting into every nook and crevice by hand with an old rag. It builds character. When I got my truck about eight years ago, I used to wash it about every two weeks. (Times change!)

When I got my truck I decided I wasn't going to fall in love with it. There are no modifications or aftermarket goodies to make it go faster, look cooler, or sound louder. No bumper stickers, no Darwin or ichthys emblems. No custom wheels. Just a stock truck. I still don't have anything but the stock stereo. I had a chance to get a CD player but decided against it. It's okay, I only ever listen to NPR now, and all my presets are at 89.5 FM.

I think the problem with Americans is that too many fall in love with their cars. They have left the realm of being utilitarian devices to transport people and goods. We all know some people who are just madly into cars—old ones, muscle cars, exotic imports, low riders, rice racers, desert racer trucks, lifted trucks, pimped out SUVs, etc. I mean, this is more than just a thing we use to move around. People invest in their cars more than their lives sometimes! Think of all the money people put into cars—the purchase, the insurance, the gas, the oil changes, the sound systems (or DVD players now) the aftermarket stuff inside and out and it's easy to spend as much on an inanimate and soulless object as it would be to get a few good years tuition at a reputable university. I'm sure there are people who put their cars before their health insurance, or before their groceries. It can be done, though sometimes it can be that way just by default. Cars take a lot to operate, and I don't think it is a common thing to assess how expensive these things really are.

But you are a second class citizen without one, at least in America. People who don't have cars and live in places that aren't in New York or San Francisco get some odd looks from others. It is a sign of weakness to not have a car. It might be taken that you don't make enough to own one, but even that is a flawed assessment; there are people who work at Taco Bell or some other sort of place who will drive their car 15 miles to go to work where they make minimum wage. I think that is a way that corporations sort of help add to the poverty. People are so trained on using a car, they think nothing of the fact that, at that sort of wage, a disproportionate amount of money is going to the car. But they use it so carelessly. But then again, all our cities are constructed in such a way that you NEED a car to get around, even to get your basic needs met. So therefore, there is a certain tyrrany there if you want to live in a suburb, which now is just about every place.

People who work at the low paying jobs are in a bind. The companies don't need to care for them, and generally don't. It matters not that their employees are stretched thinly between checks. Get a car that doesn't start on time to get you to work, and you may be looking at a reprimand from the lackey-in-charge, the shift manager, or worse, the store manager, who will give you some "time away" to contemplate your willingness to be a productive and punctual member of "the team." (This tactic is also there to allow you time to find other work.) So people have to use a car to go to work in order to take this shit and be always on the edge of uncertainty about the job. If a person loses the job, what do you think he will do with the car? Park it to save money? Hardly. Drive less? Hardly. Its more likely that he will have to drive all over more and more to find a new job at another clone of the same place he got fired from. Or, maybe he will hang out with friends more, and drive to get to where they are.

And that is just the utilitarian aspect. Maybe money isn't an issue. Maybe we have a guy who has a pretty hot car and he just has to show it off all the time. His identity is wrapped up in his car, so he sinks more and more into it whether or not he has the money. What will become of people like this when cars become anachronistic and people finally admit life is better without them? Some people will have to find something else to define them.

So I decided I didn't want to fall in love with my car. Money is better spent other places and on other things. My truck has never failed me, and true to the ads that Toyota used to run, this truck has just been rock solid for the ten years since it was made. It came to me with nearly 79,000 miles in its first two years, and I have upped that by about 105,000 miles myself—now at 185,000 or so. I take it in for some oil changes, and a couple other timely jobs every year, and it just works. I don't doll it up with anything but a yearly shine and wax, and if the time came to part with it, I wouldn't feel like I lost a part of my family. It's just a truck. A reliable truck. It's not a pet, or a friend, or a family member (though it doesn't shit and it has been more reliable than many friends, and gives me less grief than most of my family members). If it had to be another truck, I would only ask that it be a Toyota because their durability has proven itself to me. But anything else is silly, and in light of the fact that cars are going to become bigger and bigger liabilities to own, I won't make more of it than I need to.

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