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Drive, He Said

 

I’ve been walking from my home to work at the University of Vermont for about seven years now, yet everyday I am still somewhat amazed at the number of cars which pass me carrying but one person. I mean, what’s wrong with car-pooling?

In a state that people come to get away from the concretization of their environment, the practice of driving solo ensures that Vermont will someday look like the worst parts of Los Angeles, New Jersey or Maryland unless something is done to address this problem.

Yet, whenever it is suggested that tax monies be used to improve the public transportation systems in the state, screams of protest erupt from virtually every segment of the population. A case in point is a recently de-funded commuter train that is ran about fifteen miles between the small town of Charlotte and Burlington at a proposed construction cost of around $11 million. During its existence and construction, this train was lampooned, lambasted and let to fester for at least six years while the traffic problem on Vermont State Route 7 (which runs parallel to the track) worsened.

Meanwhile, roads are widened and circular highways that would run through fragile wetlands edge closer to approval despite the clear knowledge that such projects destroy Vermont’s greatest attribute–its natural beauty.

Why is it that people who are fleeing the asphalt wastelands to the south of Vermont are repeating the lifestyle patterns of their previous environs? Is there such a lack of consciousness amongst us that we can not see the almost certain results of our desire to make it easier for our ozone-depleting, water polluting vehicles to get from here to there? What is it about public transportation that Americans don’t like? Why are tax dollars earmarked for mass transit projects considered waste while other tax dollars spent on highway construction and maintenance are considered a reasonable price to pay?

Somehow, in the period following World War II, US citizens were convinced that their individuality and freedom were tied inextricably to the possession of one of Detroit’s metal monsters. True freedom, we are told, exists behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and not on a bus, subway train or streetcar with the rest of the teeming masses.

Today, this phenomenon is most obvious (in my mind, anyhow) in the current advertising campaign for Dodge vehicles. Not only are we told that our freedom to be depends on the purchase of an automobile, but if we truly want to take advantage of our freedom and be really different, than we should buy a Dodge vehicle because Dodge is “different.” If we do this, of course, we would be no different than the other several million people who have done the exact same thing, but that part of the message isn’t presented.

Nor is that part of the car ownership process that puts you in debt for the rest of the time you own a car mentioned, nor is there a mention of the amount of environmental damage your car will produce nor the fact that the primary reason the Pentagon exists is to fight to keep control of the world’s oil, just so we can continue down our self-induced path of destruction.

All this being said, my son was quite happy when he finally got his driver’s license and was able to drive. Which means, I guess, that it doesn’t matter who you are, the desire to have a car in our fair country has been translated into a need.

Heck, the great beat inspiration and driver Neal Cassady identified his freedom with those four tires rolling under him and if the appeal of NASCAR isn’t related to the freedom and power one feels when driving fast (even vicariously), what is it related to? Whether or not it’s a real need or a false one is a tough question (Even I wish I owned one occasionally, especially since I’ve lived in Vermont, where even the Greyhounds rarely run.) and one whose answer depends on who and where you are, I suppose. I remain convinced, however, that they’ll probably be the death of us all one way or the other.

RON JACOBS lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:rjacobs@uvm.edu

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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