Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Americans - "car = good : mass transit = bad"

For anyone who has spent any time on Oahu highways, you know that traffic is a MAJOR problem. The mayor is pushing to get a mass transit system built but there is major opposition to this in the public. You may wonder why people would prefer to sit for hours in traffic rather than zip by on a train. Why, as gas prices rise like Jimmy Hendrix fans on yeast, people would rather guzzle gas than float on magnets. Well, fear not. I've discovered the issue:

Americans are in love with their cars.

Actually, "love" is too noble a word. Americans are so fixated on their cars that if cars could somehow snub us, we would start stalking them and they would have to get restraining orders against us but that still wouldn't keep us from worshipping and obsessing over our cars.

There are many reasons why Americans suffer from "carlust" and why mass transit rarely succeeds.

The car was invented in America and is as much "our baby" as baseball, grandma's apple pie, reality tv, and protesting.

A car represents freedom. We don't like to be constrained by and at the mercy of bus and/or train schedules. People hyperventilate at the thought of not being in control of their own motor destiny.

Americans love stuff. Judging by the size and variety of boxes at Costco, we buy every gadget, appliance, gizmo and wingding invented, ironically, to "simplify" and "facilitate" our lives. Without a car, how could you get your fondue fountain home?

Americans love to sit on their butts. Finding a close parking spot is a HUGE priority. Losing the remote is a HUGE inconvenience. Having drive-up windows at restaurants, pharmacies, even dry cleaners, is a HUGE plus. Do we wonder why our butts then end up HUGE?

A car is an American male status symbol used to attract a mate and therefore propagate the species. A man without a car is immasculated. Girls, think about when a guy took you out on a date. He knocks on the door. You smile, walk out and start looking around...

Americans don't want to live where they work. We love to own land - real, solid, dirt-packed land, not a floating cube of space in midair. We therefore need something more than legs to get us to the cube of space where we work.

Given these reasons and the alarming way Americans run up the credit, it will take more than horrific traffic, $4/gal gas or more, or global warming guilt trips to get us to break up with our four-wheeled friends. Even if science does manage to invent the "trekkie" transporter, we Americans will happily be driving the obsolete streets in our cars. At least there will be less traffic.

14 comments:

Brian & Aimee said...

LOVE this rant, Ray! Perfect for Earth Day.

I must say, when I met a man who drove a new yellow VW beetle - that killed it for me! (Of course it also didn't help when his wife called in the middle of our first date... yeah, he was a winner.)

Happy to say I've been keeping my SUV parked in the garage the past three weeks... a sprained ankle will do that to you.

Mama Mia said...

You need to write for the New Yorker Magazine! You are so fresh, funny and witty! Ha Ha Ha love the chocolate fountain comment!

SUP3RH3R0 said...

I totally agree with your post. I like mass transit, but when was the last time you took the bus or train? I don't know about Hawaii, but hear in San Jose you get lots of weird people and weird smells on the bus.

In the U.S. of A. mass transit = poor people, car = $$$. I also think that the other problem is that a company will pay for your parking pass, but won't pay for a bus/train pass.

The other problem is that mass transit needs mass. That is why mass transit doesn't work in the US. Too many people in the suburbs where there is no mass.

Well I know the solution to all of this, but people won't like it. The solution is to charge tolls for driving in the city and charge more money for parking in the city. But that will never happen.

ray said...

well said, Sup3rh3r0. My parents lived in the heart of Tokyo for 11 years and for many of those years didn't own a car because it took a lot money and space (both being a MAJOR premium in Tokyo) to have a car and the mass transit system is so efficient and widely used.

This doesn't work in the US. It's still way too cheap to own several cars, no matter how much people whine about gas prices, to make mass transit work.

My husband rode the bus for years in Seattle and he said after a certain time of day, the bus crowd got really interesting.

Also, I've been meaning to ask...

do you like that show Numb3rs?

SUP3RH3R0 said...

Yes, I do like the show Numb3rs. I also like the show Big Bang Theory.

ray said...

Mia, have I ever mentioned that you are my best friend ever! (Ignore that Ambie person behind the curtain!)

Ambie said...

True indeed sup3rh3ro here in Alaska the public transportation is a buffet for the senses. We get all kinds and all smells. However while living in HI I did witness some intense care worship rivaled only in California.Theres nothing like your own car and your own smell.

Tim said...

"Americans are in love with their cars" did conjure up a funny Saturday Night Live commercial I saw one time. Let's just say that it involved the tail pipe....

Ambie said...

thanks for the mental picture Tim.

Ambie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

You say "in love with their cars" as if that was a bad thing? After spending more-than-enough time living in a land of mass transit on my mission, I can honestly vouch for the concept of owning/loving my own vehicle.

If I had to chose between listening to my own music in clean, lightly scented personal space or sit next to a vomit-soaked salary-man on his way home from "work" at the bar, I'd definitely take the former.

If I had to choose between safely getting in and out of my car with my groceries in hand, or taking a sharp elbow (repeatedly) from some caustic old grandma(s), I'd choose the less confrontative and thus safer path.

If I'd have to choose between commuting to work in relative obscurity rather than get stared at because of the color of my skin (yes, even in SLC), I'd have to pass on the "pollution-free" ride that my tree-hugging friends have so graciously offered and fire up my biodiesel Jetta (utilizing old cooking oil so as to avoid "starving the rest of the world for the sake of my car")...and falling in love with my mobile personal space bubble all over again.

Dave said...

Oh...and one more thing...

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080428/ap_on_re_as/china_train_crash

ray said...

Oh yeah. And another thing about Americans and their cars - they get really defensive. Easy, dave. I didn't say it was a bad thing, it was just my observation. Americans love their cars - as you so endearingly illustrated.

And that is why mass transit will never work. Mayor Mufi wants to spend upwards of 3 billion dollars on this rail system that no one will use! If I had a vote on the matter - which I don't - it would not be in the affirmative.

Your car went vegan, huh? You'll have to let us know how it goes as far as performance, convenience, economy, craving french fries every time you start-up, etc. Motor on, my friend!

Grandma Faith said...

Not to disarm you on the battlefield, Ray, but after one car-less year in Tokyo we bought a used car (very cheap commodity in automobile-land), replaced it after a few years, and ruthlessly ignored Japan's acclaimed public transportation for nearly 10 years. Here's why: Americans LIVE in their cars. Our cars are places we spend much of our lives--especially in Tokyo gridlock traffic--by choice because it's private and it's ours. An extension of your home. My car functions as kitchen, dressing room, dining room, karaoke chamber, parlor and trap for reticent teens. When I have to drive Dad's 4-WD SUV after a heavy snowfall, it's like moving houses. I have to transfer the onsen towel I keep in the door compartment, my jewelry and lipstick (and a toothpick) in the well near the controls, my water bottle, my favorite CDs, my gloves, and my list of phone numbers. I get annoyed when driving his car that my sunglasses are in the compartment above the rear-view mirror of MY car which his isn't even equipped with. And my stash of healthy snacks is back in my car. Along with hand sanitizer and Kleenex. But driving Dad's car is FAR better than being on public transportation where there are NO creature comforts like heated seats or adjustable head rests. To make up for the speed/reliability of Tokyo's trains, you learn to speed and run red lights without getting caught. And when there is no way around traffic gridlocks, you just make sure you're in the passenger's seat, not the driver's.