April 24, 2004

Things We Have Been Meaning to Address

OVER THE PAST WEEK OR SO, we noticed several newsworthy items which we saw fit to comment upon; but sadly, we did not have the time in which to do so. Hence, we're going to play "catch up" and take a look at various cultural trends ranging from the admirable to the, well, weird.

We shall start by addressing Andrew Sullivan's modest proposal to increase the federal gasoline tax by $1 per gallon. This is not a subject we shall address directly, as we realize gasoline taxes are a contentious issue for many folks.

However, we shall note that the Capitalist Lion -- a recent addition to the blogroll, we might add -- has weighed in on Mr Sullivan's remarks. We were particularly interested in Mr Lion's words regarding the subject of automobile preference.

It seems that Mr Lion takes grave issue with the idea that one should feel guilty for owning a sport-utility vehicle instead of a small compact. This is a sentiment with which we generally agree, as we consider it right and proper for Americans to not feel guilty about their cars. After all, unless one lives in New York or Washington, owning a vehicle is a practical necessity; and in some parts of this nation, one spends almost as much time in transit as one does at home. It therefore stands to reason that Americans must be allowed to purchase the automobiles they want to drive. So we here at The Rant have no complaint with anyone driving the vehicle of one's choice, even if it is something silly.

However, we must say that we do not understand why people purchase silly vehicles. Again, we do not have any complaint with the purchase of said items; we just don't understand why people do it.

What defines a silly vehicle, you ask? Like so many things in life, this term is an elastic one; it depends on a vehicle's driver, where the vehicle will be driven, the make and model and type of vehicle, even the cost. But let us take our own example as an illustration of this principle.

For our personal situation, a Ford Taurus would be a practical and socially-acceptable vehicle purchase. A Ford F-250 pick-up truck, conversely, would be silly. This is because owners of pick-up trucks, according to established convention, use their vehicles to actually haul things from one location to another. They also use their trucks to frequent construction sites, traverse difficult terrain, tow heavy items, and bring home the spoils from a day's hunt. As if that wasn't enough, we also understand that pick-up truck owners use their vehicles to express pride in certain auto-racing teams and woo country-music fans of the opposite sex. Clearly, one can see that all these things are legitimate uses for a pick-up truck, while also recognizing that our personal purchase of such a vehicle would be extremely silly. For we do not do any of the aforementioned things; and, as such, our involvement in such a transaction would prove to be an unfortunate social blunder.

Indeed, we would submit that any purchase of a vehicle other than a sedan on our part would be silly. For we are sedan people. They are our thing; they fit us. They provide all that we need in a car: reliability, long life, easy handling for parking in urban areas, and the capability to get from Point A to Point B via established roadways. Also we look quite refined in them as we cruise along the freeways.

Yet many people, sadly, seem unaware of the principles which we have set forth. There are many examples we could cite of this unfortunate happenstance, but we shall focus on one we think drives the point home quite well: our trip last fall along the Mount Washington Auto Road.

Now, you should know that in New Hampshire, Mount Washington is the highest elevation in the state; and that people often visit the mountain's peak to take in the spectacular views and other-worldly scenery. One can reach the summit in one of two ways, either through a train ride to the top, or by taking the eight-mile long auto path. If you go, we would add, you ought go in fall; the hours-long drive to Mount Washington will take you through some of New Hampshire's amazing woodlands.

We would also add one tiny bit of advice: DON'T TAKE YOUR BLOODY ROAD TANK UP THE FRICKIN' MOUNTAIN*. This would be silly. Instead, take your smaller family car or a pick-up truck; most Americans have them.

Yet, as we saw with our own eyes, many people do take really large vehicles up on that road. The road which in many places is unimproved; the road which in many places is very steep and very narrow; the road which in many places has nothing preventing a vehicle and its occupants from plummeting to an unfortunate end.

Now, we made the trip up to Mount Washington along with our good friend Simon From Jersey. As Simon From Jersey is a more accomplished motorist than we are, and drives a car with a manual transmission, and our car was in the shop at the time, we took his Volkswagen Jetta to the top. We personally thought this was a fine idea. It wasn't merely that the trip down the mountain would destroy our automatic-drive sedan's brakes; it was that Simon From Jersey's car is endowed with Fahrvergesozialismusgeschlechtanklang -- perfect, we thought, for any nature-type activity.

Sadly, though, the German engineering of Simon From Jersey's car did not prevent a few near-disasters along the way. We of course do not hold him responsible for any of these. It was not his fault that one tire blew out all of 0.8 miles into our 127-mile trip up north. It was also not his fault that some of the other motorists on the Auto Road were careless drivers who bounded along like they were on a country jaunt, oblivious to the fact their lack of caution could send others plummeting to a fiery death in some canyon.

Gad. We mean, come on. Here we both are, somewhere about mile four, going up a wicked-high grade, and along comes some road hog who has overtaxed his brakes and passes by us with inches to spare. At first, both of us didn't think anything of it; then it started to grate on our friend's nerves. So he responded in a polite and proper fashion.

We do not recall his exact words to the other drivers, but given his tone and bearing, we believe an accurate paraphrase of his remarks were: "Hey, moron -- yes, you. Your car's too big."

As this went on, we found the situation hysterically funny; almost to the point where we forgot about the really steep, really unpleasant drop to certain doom just inches away. But we would submit that the lessons we learned from our Mount Washington trip are applicable in many other circumstances. So, in short, we would say to folks: buy whatever car you wish, unless you would be silly to do so.

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* Actually, certain varieties of large vehicles -- and sedans, too -- are in fact prohibited on the Mount Washington Auto Road due to safety concerns. Don't have your trip ruined; check out the official vehicle restriction information here. Remember: you can't visit America's oldest man-made attraction OR put on the neat "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker unless you follow all the rules.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 24, 2004 09:55 AM | TrackBack