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Getting behind the wheel, again



Prepare a cold drink, find a comfortable place to sit down and brace yourself for a shock. After a determined, righteous, zealous run and a one-man crusade to save the planet, a supposed need (the oldest of excuses) has destroyed the work that commenced years ago. I have become the most highly developed sort of hypocrite one is likely to find. It took a while to grind me down, but finally I have succumbed to what I really despise. It took half a dozen years, but they got me: Petey's back behind the wheel. I won't go into the moral gyrations. It did take a road test.

Illustration by V.C. Rogers
  • Illustration by V.C. Rogers

One day six years ago in the last millennium, I walked into the Department of Mortal Vehicles and handed over the tag to the last automobile I swore I would ever drive: Lucifer's Flower Car, a '66 Plymouth Sport Fury ragtop I acquired in East Durham and personally modified with innards from Jim Long's donated 440 Plymouth Highway Patrol Interceptor (from when fuel dropped to 69 cents a gallon in the ringadingding '80s). Floor it and it sounded like a toilet flushing. Pass everything but a gas pump. Up and down I-95 we went, Florida to Maine. I occasionally visit it in the field in Morrisville where it rests to this day, flora growing through the rotted floorboards, top gone—one tough, fun automobile. I just walked away.

Irony. I had to get a license so I could commute to this new gig in the 19th century, 1826 specifically, well before Karl Benz invented the diabolical contraptions. Not much has changed. There have been no breathtaking advances, no notable improvements in roads in place since I made my vow. Auto manufacturers continue to milk the dividends of a filthy, antiquated technology while the state continues to build new major road projects, opening more and more land to the giddy, greedy sort of development that threatens to further foul our threatened waters, destroy what remains of the soul-restoring open vistas, all while letting the existing roads and bridges literally fall to bits. For a state that has such a high level of Christian "belief," it sure isn't many people's practice to take care of God's stuff.

Of the gig, I would like to have found some other way to get there. I suppose I could suck it up and ride the ol' Rudge, but that would involve a lengthy, somewhat perilous trip. Not from any of the motorist's malice or spite, just a matter of Newton's third law exacerbated by shoulders and deep, muddy ditches, log trucks, you name it. Not a chance of a route for someone who decided to color outside the lines. I tried hitchhiking, did all right, but then, I wasn't toting any supplies one might need in the 1800s. Mass transit? Train service to the little town was discontinued in the last century. I suppose you wouldn't want to get strangers together for hours, away from radios and television—why, there's no telling what sort of subversive ideas might brew up when strangers actually sit and talk to each other. The suspicious societal plot, part of that troublesome commons, was discontinued during the general demise of rail and given a great boost during General Motors' legendary predatory destruction of the U.S. streetcar system. You've got to keep them separated. And, practically, people who ride in trains aren't doing their part to flame the fires that create the justification for the profits made in the munitions business.

You know how tricky rail transportation can be. Before the advent of this superior, modern, auto-centric time, in the early 20th century, crack passenger trains routinely bested 100 miles an hour, unlike the 79 they are poking along at these days in this pinnacle of transportation that is the United States. OK, I get how tricky running rail transportation can be. Newton's third law creates potential consequences that might pry Britney Spears off the front page. Better to not run the risk.

On the topic of modification of external reality, physics, a couple of years back, I went round and round about folks leaving cars idling while they wander off, buy coffee or sit inside and read. This laziness had extended to motorists' curtailing the practice of informing others of their intentions via turn signals. Along with the general fleeing of reason de rigueur these days, that it is against the law seems to not bother the current crop a jot, vis the cop who passed me in the submissive position of the bicyclist, the gutter, and turned right in front of me—no signal. I think I know what would have happened had I nailed the guy.

What a strange dimension. Naked simians riding around in fire-breathing, 3,500-pound conveyances that will eventually destroy their own habitat, with no other option on the horizon. Here we go.

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