For the last several years business has brought me to Chicago in February, an event looked upon by many, especially those who live in the Chicago area, as at the least foolish, and more likely an indication of lost sensibilities. But my wife, Mary, having been raised in Wisconsin and me, a native Iowan, find a brief visit a journey down Memory Lane, and a reminder of why we choose to live in Southern California.
This year, the weather was exceptionally mild, and we were glad that a trip for dinner at Mary’s sister’s apartment would be pleasant. We were surprised, when we confirmed our visit that said sister was expecting our nephew from another sister to join us. Surprised, because he would have had our $25 dollar one-way cab ride, or a multiple change bus ride, since his car had been totaled by a Chicago Public Works towing incident some six months before.
Turns out he was planning to ride his bicycle.
Scott is bright; may even have a doctorate, and is probably in his mid-thirties. Good shape and all that, but his decision to not replace his car highlighted what I have been hearing in the media. His, and the Millennial generation have fallen out of love with automobiles.
Why, I wondered? I remember sitting on a wall in Rhode Island with my, then four year-old son, watching traffic to and from Providence and identifying the cars! By the hour! Mary remembers feeling embarrassed when she was in the car by herself, trying to say what kind of truck had just gone the other way. Sean had Matchbox cars and trucks, picture books with cars and trucks, and would embarrass us a few years later at a Marine parade when he saw a truck and literally shouted “TRUCK!” with that soft “Fr” sound young boys use for “Tr”.
Aside from the fact that GM, et al will have to sell their vehicles abroad, why should I care that the love affair with cars is gone? The answer for me is that cars were part of the heritage of my generation and I feel the loss is another indication of not building a heritage.
I believe there are at least three causes:
1. Driving isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Whether it is Road Rage, seemingly endless traffic, automatic shifting, or fuel efficient cars, it just isn’t something one does for the enjoyment of it. No more Sunday Drives. Few convertible moments. No more Cruising on Saturday nights.
2. There is little bonding with cars as we grow up. In California I jokingly observe that the first time a child is allowed out of the back seat is to take his or her Driver’s Test. We stick our children in car seats so safe and rigid that the first social contact they have in a car is when they start texting. Cars become a necessity to getting from point A to point B, rather than something to do in its own right that’s fun.
I bet most of you can remember sitting on a parent's lap and steering the car.
3. Cars have become expensive. I cannot imagine a kid saving up to buy his first car, even if there were jobs for them to make money at. They almost have to be gifted. The features that would appeal to a new car owner; e.g. a decent sound system, GPS, USB terminals, are all heavily priced, as are the cars themselves. Even the gas required to run the cars has become fodder for late-night comedians. And don’t get me started on insurance. There is a reason why leasing has not disappeared from the marketplace. For many, it is the only way they can afford to buy.
However, I asked my 14 year-old grandson if he were going to get a Driver’s License when he was sixteen (presuming the law allows) and he replied in the affirmative, probably not realizing how costly is the process of even learning to drive. His reason? Not that much different from my generation: so he could get his own car and drive to school and activities to free his parents from doing the job they have done all his life. If and when he gets a license, I will make the same bet with him as I did with his sister: Fifty dollars against $300 that she would have a reportabe accident in her first year of driving. When I gratefuly paid off a year later, I asked if she thought of the bet whn she was driving. "Almost every time," she said. Money well invested!
In my next post I will share with you my recent experiences with mice, rats, and a related fiasco. Let me know if you agree that cars are falling out of fashion.