I wasn't able to get access to a video camera, so hopefully this brief essay will do the job.
My trusty blue Volvo and I have been through a lot together, and, once upon a time, I really loved it. It's remarkably easy to think of a car as a living thing with whom you have a meaningful relationship. It has quirks. It alternately disappoints you and comes through in a pinch. There are things about it that only I know. Like most Americans, I felt a special bond with my car. Not any more. I no longer see cars as charming pets, or extensions of one's personality, or fashion statements. I see them for what they are: ugly, bulky, loud, smelly, hot, deadly machines.
They're very good at what they do, no doubt about it, but what exactly is that? Well, they take us places it would be otherwise unfeasible to visit, sure. I would probably not have had the chance to see many of the wild wonders of the Sierra mountains or the exhilarating alternate society of Black Rock City, Nevada, without a car to get me there. So don't get me wrong, I am very grateful for the opportunities this technology affords us. No, what I have beef with is the fact that this is not generally the role cars serve in America at all. On the contrary, people have elected to use these remarkable devices to get them all the places they could easily visit otherwise, but would prefer to do so with as little effort, discomfort, human interaction, and chance for a pleasant distraction as possible.
I'd heard all the standard criticisms of our wasteful, consumerist society before, but they never fully sank in until I decided to live it. One day, all out, no holds barred. The American Way. I got in my car and drove to the nearest Wal-Mart. I shopped among throngs of fellow people, all steadfastly avoiding eye contact that might distract them from their purpose. After checking out, I felt hungry, and remembered there was a fast food restaurant across the parking lot. Making sure not to expend any extra energy, I got in my car and drove the 100 yards to a nearer space. After exchanging money for food using as few words as possible (numbered meals!), I sat, ate, and threw all my layers of packaging, napkins, and advertising into the only receptacle available. What really fascinated me was the television droning away on the wall of the restaurant, magnetically drawing the eyes of the restaurant's patrons and lulling us into a kind of trance, ensuring that we wouldn't dare strike up a conversation with strangers. My last stop on my journey was to the belly of the beast itself: a gas station (don't forget to stock up on plenty of processed goodies while you wait!).
The whole experience was deeply unsettling, but also fascinating. I had never fully realized that this is the way most of our country lives, without questioning it. And I had never really looked at for what it is. Here's my point: We are living in a dystopian society, and the car is front and center. The car is our icon, and the enabler of our repulsive lifestyle. The car represents every individual's personal fulfillment of the repulsive, archaic, and quintessentially American notion of Manifest Destiny. The car epitomizes our culture's wastefulness, thoughtlessness, and complete unwillingness to simply greet the world and find out what it has to offer. When you walk or bike somewhere, you never know what you might encounter along the way. When you drive, you're there. Ruthless. Efficient.
Most of the criticisms of automobile usage focus on potentially catastrophic future effects for the environment, the economy, and foreign relations. And these dire warning are all absolutely right. But in my mind what's worse is the societal damage that is already being effected every day, RIGHT NOW, by our car-centric culture. And I don't want to be a part of it any more. I'll find a way into the mountains when I need to go. It might be a bit less convenient, but no way in hell am I having the very icon of our society's ills staring me in the face with those tempting puppy-dog headlights, begging me to treat it as a friend in exchange for a little bit of convenience.