31 March 2004
oil for brains
Americans are collectively stupid about many things. but our stupidity reaches new heights regarding one thing in particular: fuel. gas, petrol, whatever you want to call it. when most Americans think about gasoline, the stupid switch clicks on.
so the whole OPEC thing was in the news today. i think OPEC's little announcements are good to whip the western world into a lather, and not much else. the NPR report on the OPEC meeting was followed, of course, by audio interviews of disgruntled motorists paying ungodly amounts of money to drive their personal transportation vehicles.
every time one of these collections of interviews airs, i am struck by several things.
One. the United States is the pretty much the only place left in the world where gas is two bucks or less. when i was in the UK last summer, petrol was somewhere between 77 and 79 pence per liter. if you'll permit me a little math: there are about 3.7 liters to a gallon. so that's approximately 2 pounds, 85 pence per gallon of gas. factor in the average exchange rate: they're paying about $4.70 for a gallon of gas. and you wonder why they're all driving smart cars over there. during the entire month i was in the UK, i rarely saw a car larger than your average Honda Civic; and most were much smaller than that.
Two. most people balk and complain and wring their hands about a two dollar gallon of gas. however, these same people usually have no problem dropping eight bucks for valet parking. or two grand on a sound system. this is what confounds me the most: that Americans seem to think that cheap gas is their god given right. it's like this collective blind spot, ingrained in us from birth: thou shalt bitch endlessly if paying more than $1.25 for a gallon of gas.
i've done this little exercise every time i've filled up. today i bought about 10 gallons of gas, at $1.72 a gallon. i envisioned a neat row of 10 gallon water bottles. if you can imagine that, it's actually quite a bit of gas. and suddenly, eighteen bucks doesn't seem like a lot to pay for that much fuel. downright cheap, even.
and still, idiots continue to buy every SUV coming off the assembly lines. even as gas prices rise, SUV purchases haven't decreased, in fact, they haven't even leveled off (Americans have another stupid switch reserved for their big ass ugly cars, too). i could rant and rave endlessly about how socially irresponsible SUVs are, but really, i've done it before and it doesn't bear repeating. i can only console myself with the months-long waiting list for cars like the Prius: a car i would like to buy if i could ever afford a new car; i strongly suspect there won't be any used electric hybrids around for a while. i can only hope this signals the beginning of some sort of sea change this country, that the Expedition and the Explorer will be relegated to scrap heap of automobile history.
as for my own vehicular ambitions: if i am ever in a position to rid myself of my car, i will. the only way i could really see this happening is if i move to Center City Philadelphia or to New York City. there are very few places in this country where a car isn't required. that fact is a sad commentary on the legacy left by Bush-Cheney and their many, many predessors who saw fit to push the idea of highways and cars rather than a comprehensive nationwide public transportation system. unfortunately, i am stuck with my dear Boris for the time being. because i live in the godforsaken suburbs, a car is required for me to do anything: to get to my job, to get groceries, to make my art, to have any sort of social life.
if people in the UK can drive smaller cars and live to tell about it, chances are we as Americans wouldn't keel over and die if we gave up our big cars. in my opinion, it really comes down to one thing: a big car is like a big cock.
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