Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Wheeled Fetish

First off, I regret to inform you that this is an anthropological use of the word 'fetish' -- so however reluctant you are to cast off images involving straps, safewords, or clothes with special holes cut out in exciting places, it's time move back into academia. The cultural application of the word refers to an object to which is ascribed properties, usually intangible, that an outside observer might not see any clear connection to, such as a holy icon's ability to heal those who touch it. And so, with a salutary nod to my professors through the years, I now boldly key my “thesis statement.” Are you ready? Here it goes.

I really, really hate cars. 

Not a knee-jerk hate like racism or something, where just seeing one makes the loathing swirl in your stomach and your mouth sneer. That’s more of a phobia. Probably xenophobia. No, cars have been too consistently a part of my life’s landscape for me to even really “see”/think critically about them until, as they so often do, they break or eff something up and piss you off. Why do Americans care about cars so much?

It seemed so funny at the time
Yeah, yeah,  they represent auto(ha!)nomous movement and independence, and we sure do have a raging brainer for those concepts. But to the point of not having any other viable interstate public travel network? Japan and Switzerland are laughing at us. And they might’ve been the geeky kids back in global-school that America swirlied in the fifties, but now it’s class reunion time and they’re slim, coiffed and successful, and America is “between jobs’ and smells of stale beer. 

We fetishize cars, they’re FREEDOM and ADVENTURE and INDEPENDENCE and if you take the city bus than you’re a LOSER. Every single person on a bus looks like a failure, because they, for one reason or another, weren’t able to achieve the most basic American standard of success; a high school education car. That’s all we want, nationwise. Wheels and the highway. Are we a nation of rebellious teens? We keep telling England we’re grownups, equals, but we still just want to roadtrip every summer because summer school is BORING. We are children who are excited by bright colors and movement. So maybe juvenile velociraptors.

No beep, no light-up indicator….but it made
a sound like a cricket and a smell kind of like
formaldehyde once. So you should’ve known
But they are not freedom. 
They are car payments, and oil changes, and snow tires, and insurance, and traffic, and anonymity and road rage, and the hellish ragescape of the supermarket parking lot. 
They are little lights that flare up on the dashboard, demanding yet another expensive appointment that needs to be made at the autoshop. 
They are unexpected failures that leave you a forlorn figure on the side of the road, because some damn tell you were supposed to have picked up on evaded your perception because you were trying to think about something OTHER than your car for a godsdamned minute.

If one hates going fast, dislikes confrontation or crowds, and has spatial issues with concepts like will A fit into B, then it seems perfectly reasonable to dislike and not participate in driving. But it is not seen as reasonable. Boyfriend’s Mom looks down on me. I am a burden to my friends with cars. Suddenly I am a parasite, a drain on my society, because the bus system is shit and there are no bullet trains. I am somehow juvenile for not matriculating into the adult world of car ownership. All my well-meaning loved ones have at one time or another stuffed me into the driver’s seat of their car and forced me to
-        Get to the other side of the parking lot
-        Park in this space
-        Make my way home or I’m not getting there

They mean well. They really do.
But all this makes me want to do is leave America for one of those more composed, successful nations. Surely they’ll love me for who I am and buy me pretty  bullet trains. But one thought always slides into the forefront of my mind at this point in my line of reasoning: It IS easier to learn the Driving Manual than learning a new language…So I will stick with America, and breathe in the stale beer stink of shame. Because I am lazy, and emigrating is HARD.


  1. I was getting sick and tired of being behind the wheel for hours at a time in crummy LA traffic until I went to a city where I had no car and the public transit system was even crummier. It's made me appreciate the car, but I don't necessarily like it. Also, other don't like it when I'm on the road either. It may have something to do with my piss poor driving skills, but I'm not sure.

  2. "the hellish ragescape of the supermarket parking lot" I hate any parking lot and will now refer to them in just this way.