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Wednesday, October 01, 2003

To Each His Ownership

I’ve never owned a new car. I’m sure that I never will. The joy some people experience from “new car smell” is alien to me. I’m too afraid of becoming asphyxiated by the noxious stench of “car payment” to enjoy the smell of new plastic. I’m guessing that the smell of a never-previously-owned automobile lasts for maybe two payments, three tops. That leaves you with some where around 46 months of payments on a car that smells no better than the one I paid cash for. Buy some geraniums; they smell a lot better than a new car.

Athletic shoes are my answer to new car smell. I love buying a new pair of athletic shoes. I love buying athletic gear in general. I have three bicycles and have thought seriously about adding another to my collection (one of those cool no-speed bike messenger minimalist jobs). My compulsions in buying athletic gear are fairly manageable and not too expensive. I don’t have any problem spending money on anything that will motivate me to go to the gym or exercise; on anything that will make me go faster or make me stronger. I figure can I either spend money now for athletic gear or pay ten times that amount in a few years to some heart surgeon to clean out my arteries.

If everyone thought as I did about cars the automotive industry would be in pretty sad shape. Convincing people that the only way to go is to buy a new car is essential to auto manufacturers. Whether or not people can afford a new car doesn’t factor into the equation as far as car makers are concerned. You never see an advertisement that says, “Buy our car, if you can afford it.” The principle tenet that drives marketing is to make people feel inadequate with what they may already have, even if that is perfectly adequate for their needs.

You are what you drive if you let this kind of thinking drive you. The New York Times Magazine this week ran a whole section on the automobile and its place in our lives. As close as the magazine came to questioning the merits of the automobile--over, let’s say, public transportation--was a piece on some Oregon hippie who makes his own fuel out of bacon grease (I wasn't aware soy bacon yielded grease). This eco-friendly article followed another piece praising the glory of gas-guzzling pick-up trucks. Of course, any criticism of the automobile in general may jeopardize the magazine’s ad revenue from car manufacturers.

I won’t go so far as to say the automobile is evil, but I will say that many Americans are in way over their heads financially from the car choices they make. They have been manipulated by a culture that is constantly telling them that in their cars lies their identity. I’d rather be a nobody.

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