Sunday, November 16, 2008

Big cars, Big Mess : The Suburbanite Conundrum - The Big Three Lie Down In Beds They Made With Our Help

It seems remarkable how the landscape of America's highways have been so visibly transformed in such a short time. Two years ago, I could barely count one sedan per ten SUV's or full size pickups; Now the exact opposite seems to be the case. Not that I have been systematically counting automobiles on the highway, rather as a matter of observation I would notice and remark at the number of really large vehicles buzzing along the roads and highways. I suspect that any person of conscience might agree with me that this phenomenon was rather alarming as vehicles on the highways seemed to grow larger and thirstier with every passing year, and their drivers became more and more lead-footed and aggressive. 
As gasoline prices sharply increased over time, I found myself quietly 'doing the math' while my wife and I drove around town in her fuel efficient Toyota Echo. As gasoline prices crested above three dollars per gallon and climbing, we were quite pleased to be getting 41 miles per gallon. I noticed the looks on the faces of Large SUV owners as they were fueling up; oftentimes, we would zip in, top off our relatively small ten gallon tank, snatch up the receipt and be on our way before the SUV owner was even halfway through filling up.

Sometimes we would pull in after an SUV owner had fueled up and balk at the staggering dollar figure still displayed on the pump under the heading "Total Sale". We were getting twice as far, and in half the time and it felt good for once! Now, thanks to higher fuel costs, the roads seem a bit calmer, quieter and more sane than they have in quite some time. For the time being, fuel prices have decreased dramatically -- this time as a result of a deflationary cycle spurred by constrictions in the global economies. Perhaps the pain to come will pale in comparison to the 'Pain at the Pump' that seemed to be the mantra of local evening new broadcasts nationwide. The demand for gasoline has dropped sharply as fewer and fewer miles are being driven by Americans, and those miles are being driven in more fuel efficient sedans and imports.

Now, the so-called 'Big Three' of the US auto industry are falling through the pegs of this weakened economy like so many 'Plinko' chips. And, there is no telling where they might land. Now, many are asking "How did we get to such a sorry state?". Well -- there are reams of documents that seek to answer that question and more. It seems Detroit dove headlong into the murky waters of Consumerism in order to make a quick buck, all the while trusting that Uncle Sam would throw them a lifeline when the treading became too perilous. Now, in this lame duck session of Congress it appears that there may be no Captain to call to muster the deckhands to throw said lifeline. We shall see. In the meantime, I will recount an especially meaningful and personal experience; not related directly to the matter, but telling of the manner in which we have arrived at this juncture.

The fall of 2004. My mother had just passed away. Amanda, who would later become my wife, lovingly stood by me during the entire process of my grieving. We were back in Rockledge for two days before the funeral. Amanda, wisely helped to distract my distraught mind by planning daily outings -- one of which was to shop the local furniture outlets for a sofa. We were due to move into an Apartment in Titusville later in that month. It seemed a good idea, I was up for it, and I drove. We were in her little Toyota Echo. It was a beautiful crisp clear Autumn day. Though I cannot fully explain everything that I felt emotionally at that time, I can say with a degree of certainty that I was at peace. As we traveled along 192 in Melbourne, FL at the posted rate of speed, we looked this way and that for the various furniture stores along that stretch. Then there she was - I'll call her 'Angry Nissan SUV Woman'. She was clearly upset that we had been traveling in the left-hand lane at the posted speed. She was one of those drivers deluded by the notion that all roads should be treated as interstate highways. I still see her ilk blasting down stretches of US-1 at seventy miles per hour. So we had come to a crossroads, or rather, a traffic light, one which the woman driving the SUV behind us had clearly wished to barrel through. She, through the lens of my tiny rear-view mirror was very distraught. I lifted the sunglasses I was wearing from my face and peered into the rear-view mirror again -- the lady promptly grimaced, making every wrinkle on her face markedly pronounced and threw her thumb and forefinger against her forehead in the shape of an 'L' for loser. I was astonished, and at that moment I felt the fullness of grief and rawness of nerve that had been filling those days immediately after the death of my mother. I wondered if the lady in the SUV behind us understood this. I often wonder how she might have reacted if I had quietly gotten out of our vehicle and explained to her that my mother had just passed away the day prior and that my mother had taught me to treat others with kindness even if they would not show kindness in return. The reality? As soon as the light turned, I sped forward allowing the angry woman to speed into the right-hand lane and overtake us.

I can only guess that the woman may yet be as underwater in her SUV and her home as she was in her morality on that day. The saddest part of this commentary; the lady had affixed a Christian 'fish' medallion onto the rear bumper of the sparkling new Nissan SUV she was so aggressively driving on that Saturday afternoon.

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