Sunday, May 01, 2005

Energy and time

'Self-centred and naive, the Yankees' attitude to their cars speaks volumes'

...[T]he car is far more than a means of transport (though in this far-flung country it is often the only means of getting to the nearest bus stop or subway, let alone the nearest grocer's).

t doesn't matter that the top two best-selling luxury cars are foreign (Lexus and BMW), as are the top two best-selling midsize sedans (Toyota Camry and Honda Accord). For Americans, the car retains the glorious aura inspired by Jack Kerouac's nostalgic prose and Henry Ford's unparalleled industry. It is your bulletin board on which to post stickers supporting your political party ('A democrat's an ass' accompanies a picture of the Democrats' symbol, the donkey); religion (countless fish, the symbol preferred by Evangelical Christians); your child's academic record ('Walt Whitman High School Honor Roll').

It is your entertainment space - many new models, like the popular Toyota Scion T2B, sport rear windows that double as video screen. It serves as your kitchen (there are cup-n-sandwich trays that attach to the dashboard, for meals on the run). And it confirms your status: pick-ups are for the rednecks in the outback, hummers for wealthy and trendy young families, SUVs for soccer moms. The car also plays a crucial role in the rites of passage celebrated in American mythology: it's where high school kids first make out, it's what proud middle-class dads give their offspring on getting into college, it's what husbands give their trophy wives to parade in.

Add to this the fact that the average American spends two-and-a-half hours at the wheel and you can see why - although I have been here in Washington DC for only a few days - groans about gasoline greet me at every gathering.

Between the television and the automobile, it is a wonder that Americans have any time to do anything else.

The petroleum culture of America has had profound implications on the way we live, not all fo them good. We are owned by these devices as much as they own us.

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