Features & Articles : Car Culture
America Got Hooked By Little Bugs and Monster TrucksAnd
Everything in Betweenand Why It's Time to Park Our Automobile
By Rebecca Johnson
since Henry Ford began churning out the motorized hunks of
metal en masse, cars have been vehicles for dozens of things
other than their intended purpose. We can't deny it- we are
a nation head over heels over wheels. But can we still love
our cars- and rely on them less?
O, LeCar! O ye Gremlins and Pintos, ye Foxes and Thunderbirds
and Mustangs! How we love thee! Let us Probe the depths of
our national obsession to the very Maxima! For you represent
all that is American and Continental, from sea to shining
sea, from Metro to Suburban, Dakota to Tahoe to Malibu. A
Century ago you were naught but a horseless carriage. But
today you are Regal, a true Celebrity. You are our Explorer
and our Escape, our Sidekick as well as our Amigo. A real
Trooper, you Rolls on, never losing your Integra or your Spirit.
No, you Blazer forth; you always Aspire to Achieva the Ultima
and never fail to be our Escort. You Charger mercilessly,
as our Pathfinder, our Land Cruiser, always RAVing up to the
occasion. Thanks to you, we are an AutoNation, a Volk of Wagens.
Because of you, we live Cavalier and carefree; our Bravada
is restored. To be quite Acura, we remain in Accord with our
dreams, we are like a little Skylark literally filled with
Allegra. And so we Caravan together, we Jetta on, with you
as our Passport to new Discovery and Excursion. Wherever Yugo,
there go we!!!!
Growing up, we joked that we never knew what kind of car our
dad might pull into the driveway. We were half serious. Our
dad had- and still does- a strange addiction to trading cars.
For a while, the bigger it was, the better. The car I learned
to drive on, for instance, would have been more at home on an
intercoastal waterway than a Southern downtown street, and I
think I learned to steer not so much left or right, but port
Some of my dad's cars lasted little more than a month. The banana-hued
'65 Mustang- his "midlife crisis car," we joked- hung around
for a couple years. And at his very worst, late last year, he
owned two Buicks, a GMC truck, and a Monte Carlo. Somewhere
among them, my mother managed to find a place to park her little
Nissan. Although we laugh at him a little, among the glutted
driveways and garages of this country, my dad is not that unusual.
(He's now down to the truck and a Buick- albeit, a different,
newer Buick.) My dad has simply fallen prey to a national romance
that has obsessed America for decades.
We are a nation in love with our cars.
Go to any small town in this country and count how many souped
up Hondas and restored classic cars you see, chromed and gleaming,
outfitted with flashing neon taillights and bouncing hydraulics.
Pull into a corporate garage or shopping mall parking lot and
count the luxury models and SUVs. Ask any teenager how badly
he or she wants to get a driver's license, or any senior citizen
how long he or she would like to hang on to theirs.
How We Met
Ever since the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford's assembly
line in 1908, our hearts have been stolen like so many hubcaps.
Sure, the early days of our relationship were awkward and a
little stiff. But gradually we warmed up to the automobile.
Like Ford's overwhelming success, the car came to epitomize
prosperity, the shiny new fulfillment of the American dream.
By the 1920s, the car claimed partial responsibility for the
heady rebellion of an entire youthful generation and the creation
of the word "teenager." After World War II, middle-class whites
flocked to the suburbs in large numbers, taking their automobiles
In the Fifties our car culture really began to sail. More jobs
and economic growth paved the way for the institutionalization
of driving: drive-in movies and drive-thru restaurants. Cruising
and convertibles. Customized rides. Hot rods and rock'n'roll--which
spread the idea that cars equalled freedom- hot, fast, unbridled,
good-looking freedom . Songs like "No Particular Place to Go,"
"I Get Around," "Hitch Hike," and of course "Drive My Car."
(On the darker side a whole slew of teenage tragedy songs bemoaned
the too-young victims of motorized accidents: "Tell Laura I
Love Her," "Leader of the Pack.") We were On the Road, we did
dead-man's curves into the Sixties, barreling out of the VW
microbuses into the Seventies muscle car. When the 1973 Arab
oil embargo took care of that trend for a while, we eventually
tired of gas rationing, jumped into economy cars, snapped up
Japanese hatchbacks and boxy German status symbols.
the Love Bug, the Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee, Knight Rider's
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