So, this is freedom…. That was the first thought that crossed, ironically, through my mind as I shook the empty gas-can back and forth, hearing the trickle of fuel inside slosh around the conspicuously light container. My car had glided that March morning, on empty, into a rest-stop just off the Interstate. The rest-stop was pretty much deserted, though I spotted a highway patrol car parked in on one of the slanted slots nearby.
I decided that would be my best bet for getting immediate assistance. As I sat in the silent car, looking at the fuel gauge which dipped far beneath “Empty” I drew a deep breath and savored the pine-scented odor of air-freshener (a rectangular, green ornament that hung on the rear-view mirror) mixed with the smell of vinyl and the faint, teasing, scent of gasoline and I suddenly realized my former calculations had been dead wrong.
For the longest time, since I first rode the “go-carts” at amusement parks or at county fairs as a kid, I’d dreamed of the day that I’d own my own real car. The association between freedom and cars in my mind was so strong that it was almost painful to me for those long, pre-license years. When I finally found myself behind the wheel of my own car, with the key in the ignition, car-stereo booming, and my foot on the accelerator, it was thrilling!
But as soon as I pulled into traffic, or got stuck at a red light, or found myself cut-off by some idiot on the road, my dream of absolute freedom became a bit more tainted. By the time I’d run out of gas at the rest-stop, I’d reached the conclusion that despite the myth which is generated about cars in American society, cars do not represent freedom, individuality, or escape from everyday troubles. In fact, cars represent the exact opposite of freedom.
As I sat there, out of gas, and rehearsing my self-introduction to the highway patrolman, I thought about the reality of cars and how that reality conflicted, very deeply, with my dreams. If I thought about it deeply, I realized that the dent in the dream had actually occurred much sooner than my disillusionment regarding traffic-jams and one-way streets. The problems started right from the beginning when I’d taken the written-test and road-test to acquire my driver’s license. The stench of freedom-killing beureuacracy could not have been any stronger.
Standing in a long-line for hours, filling out forms in triplicate, having your vision tested, your picture taken, having everything right down to the disposition of your bodily organs in the event of your untimely death pinpointed and notated on a handy, laminated card which you were to keep upon your person at all times — these aspects alone should have told me, as clearly as the bleached and stained floor of the Secretary of State’s overcrowded facility — that freedom and cars were actually conflicting ideas.
The destruction of my dream continued, after registering the car and paying for the outsized insurance policy which was afforded to people of my age and gender, I realized that, because the car was a used-car, and already had nearly 100,000 miles on it, that I’d better be at least somewhat selective about driving long-distances. In fact, due to a couple of strange knocks and bumps that seemed to crop up whenever the car was going over 55 mph, I’d decided that taking long road-trips in the car was probably a very bad idea.
That ditched my dream of visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in my own car, and my dream of taking a long trip to the coast of Florida or California. I’d dreamed about all of these trips and many more in the years leading up to the day that I bought my first car. Realizing almost immediately, that my more flamboyant dreams were dead in the water, i consoled myself with happy thoughts of “cruising” around my town and the nearby outskirts with my friends.
Unfortunately, this dream was also put to an early test when I realized that “cruising” costs quite a bit of money due to gasoline and other miscellaneous expenses like fast-food, sodas, snacks, and whatnot. The first time I went cruising with only a single dollar to put in my gas-tank, I actually paid that dollar in quarters, nickels, and dimes. Up to that point I’d always envisioned gas-stations as friendly oasis that spewed forth fuel, snacks, and soda.
Up to the point of paying for gas myself, I’d always thought of gasoline pretty much as I thought of water: ubiquitous and unending. After only a week of car ownership, IU started to watch the gas-needle like a hawk and I got miffed if anyone asked me for a ride somewhere without also offering to pay for gas. Not only was it a hit to my wallet, but the expense of maintaining the car was embarrassing because I simply couldn’t handle the expenses. Or chose not to handle them.
Given the choice between a “lube job” and an oil change or buying a new video game or C. D. , I usually, if not always, chose the latter. If it was a choice between having the (retread) tires rotated, or going out to see a band, I always chose what was fun adn not what was practical. Eventually, the car became little more than a loadstone around my neck. The interior of the car became almost like a closet because I pitched a lot of my stuff in there and forgot about it; other people pitched stuff there and in the trunk.
Most of the time, the car sat, gas-needle tipping toward “empty” and it usually looked like it needed to be washed. A couple of the “service engine soon” lights also blinked on at intervals and the knocking noises kept on knocking. I had descended from my dream of freedom into the reality of ownership. The car , as a dream, represented freedom and escape to faraway places; the car, in reality, represented a responsibility and expense which pretty much insured that the only use I would be able to get out of the car would be to drive it back and forth to work.
IN fact, due to thee expense of the car, I was forced to take an extra part-time job, the following Spring, in order to have some work done on its transmission. As it happened, the job was in a town a few miles away from my home, but, because I had a car, getting there and back posed little obstacle. That is: until I ran out of gas in the rest stop. Sitting there in the mostly-empty parking lot, I contemplated the dissolution of my dream but comforted myself one small triumph.
My car had run out of gas, but, steering into the rest-stop on fumes, I’d guided my car into an empty parking slot. It was the first time I could remember not having to circle a parking lot searching for a place to park. Outline: Thesis statement: Cars represent not freedom but responsibility. 1. Cars are promoted in America as emblems of freedom. 2. Cars are actually part of a complex beureuacracy. 3. The costs of maintaining a car are high. 4. Mostly, cars are used to take people back and forth to work. To pay for their cars. 5. Rather than freedom, cars usually represent responsibility.