When I started driving gas was $.88/gallon. I was going to say it wasn't that long ago, but it has been nearly 20 years, I suppose. Driving was cool to me then. My hometown was a shitbox. My VW Bug and $5 was all I needed to get away for a while. The car was important because I could drive to school, too -- a whopping 3 miles away. Never mind that I had walked it occasionally. I trained for racing on my bike, but never once rode it to school. Dots weren't connecting, things didn't click. Besides, it was too important to be able to drive to school -- to claim that little bit of status -- even if my car was a leaky Bug with flaking sheets of rust for floorboards.
I don't imagine, nor do I want, the same options for my kids. Some say, and it was true for me, that learning to drive is a rite of passage. I cringe at that now. I am embarrassed in fact.
The newest car I ever owned was a 6-year-old Toyota 2WD pick-up in 1999. Hardly a status car, but I still believe I spent too long mortgaging my free-thinking human spirit for the sake of our collective car culture. I was helped along the way by my parents and other adult "role models" who said a car was a necessity. Their voices still ring through dark halls or occasionally carry on the wind as I'm bucking a 25mph head-on gale during my commute. I do what I do now in part because I believe it is the right thing to do, but it also doesn't hurt that I love riding a bike. Furthermore, I believe some of us have to model an alternative to the car culture paradigm.
But what about rites of passage or a legacy of automobiling for my kids?
Many orthodox religious rites included animal sacrifice. We don't so much condone that sort of thing anymore, but once upon a time some forebears of our world's major religions thought it was a pretty darn essential thing to do. Rites can be hard to question -- unless you're daring enough to host the Immoral Barbecue of the Sacred Cow in front of an angry mob of braindead zealots. That sounds like a pretty good time to me. I like grilling, especially if there are a couple dozen friends along and an ample supply of beer. We'll be having more fun than the mob, even if god is not on our side.
I plan to pass along the skill of driving to my kids because it's a good thing to know how to do. But as for rites of passage, as far as legacies, I'll stick to free will, leadership, intellect, self-confidence and self-reliance for starters. There might very well be a period where my kids will hate me for refusing to re-mortgage my soul for the sake of their passage to driving adulthood; but if I manage to authentically embody my ideals maybe they won't hate me, perhaps they'll follow me. The pragmatics of our country's denial-laden energy situation can only mean my daughters will have a different outlook ahead of them when it's time to snap the photos for their first drivers' licenses.
Two nights ago I was accosted on my ride home by a carload of what I'll very generously refer to as three young "ladies." I was treated to nearly a quarter mile of the constant horn in concert with yelling and shouted epithets directed toward me for merely riding my bike in the street. None of them looked a day older than 19-20. I guess driving is still cool for them; they're happy to have achieved a milestone toward adulthood. That's one way to look at it, if you believe maturity is granted by living beyond an arbitrary birthday and passing a simple test.
Perhaps with the decline of oil and entry into a post-petroleum era we will also experience a decline in belligerence and marginalization toward those who dare to be different and embody proactive foresight in how they choose to carry themselves through the world. Motorists should be patting cyclists on the back, stopping and hugging us. Transportation cyclists are reducing demand for their precious petrol lifeblood after all.
And perhaps there is still a chance for us all to become friends. Someone's gonna have to teach these blind fools that it is indeed possible to not only get along, but to thrive, to live and enjoy existence without the burden of a car. Thank you very much. Now you can show your gratitude by exercising another adult privilege -- buy me a beer.