Sunday, May 4, 2008

Russell Baker

I like this old Russell Baker Column from May 4, 1996, repeated in today's NYT:

Observer: Here's What Mad Is By RUSSELL BAKER

After a consortium of auto, asphalt, oil, trucking, garage-mechanic, traffic-cop, used-car-salesman and median-strip-landscaper lobbies, in collusion with the United States Government, made it impossible to live the good American life without a gasoline-powered car, though preferably two or three to show your patriotism, I gave up and went along.

Now Politicians-in-Chief Clinton and Dole think I'm mad because gasoline prices are rising. They don't know the half of it. They don't even know the twentieth of it.

Sure I'm mad about the price of gasoline, but what I'm really mad about is having to buy the stuff just to go to the grocery.

I'm mad about the grocery having relocated from just around the corner to three miles away in what used to be a cornfield out in the country. And why? Because the grocer needs 15 acres of parking lot to accommodate cars that have to be driven three miles every time you want a bag of grapefruit and a gallon of milk.

I'm mad about physical-fitness cranks always saying, "If you can't even walk six miles to and from the grocery carrying a bag of grapefruit and a gallon of milk, you ought to join a health club and get in shape."

I'm mad about being told to join a health club and get in shape because, for one thing, health clubs are more expensive than gasoline, and, for another, because people who are in shape are always looking down their noses at people who aren't but are often superior in every other way to people who are in shape. Did Albert Einstein look like a man who was in shape?

I'm mad about not having a bus or streetcar system left like the one that once enabled people to travel those six miles for a little pocket change.

I'm mad about spending my life looking for a parking space in the city, mad about paying breathtaking sums of money to parking garages, mad about my fellow Americans who dent my car on free-parking lots and drive away without leaving their insurance agent's name.

I'm mad about having to spend more for auto insurance per year than I spend for gasoline.
And how do I feel about knowing that every time I take the car out onto the highway I may be shot because a sniper wants to enjoy a bit of sport with his new gun, or because a testy, armed fellow motorist resents my being in his lane or despises me because my car radio is playing music not to his taste?

How do I feel about that? Mad. That's how I feel.

I'm even madder about being unable, unless you live in one of a few big cities, to travel anywhere anymore without having to drive from 30 to 3,000 miles, all the time burning that increasingly expensive gasoline and inviting snipers and cruising gunmen to shoot you, thus exposing you to hospital or mortuary bills compared with which the price of gasoline is nothing.

I'm mad, too, about people who can't drive being rendered immobile by the national drive-or-else policy.

I'm mad about having to do all the wretched, dull, dreary, miserable driving myself when one of these hopelessly immobilized Americans is the only person accompanying me on a journey of 1,000 miles.

I'm mad about feeling hatred for these immobilized passengers, who are, after all, my fellow human beings and sometimes beloved relatives and should not be detested simply because American culture enables such persons to slumber peaceably in passengers' seats while saps loyal to the auto ethic do all the driving.

I'm mad about the neighbors and their children laughing at me because my car cannot go from 0 to 80 miles an hour in five seconds, and I'm mad about caring enough to be mad about it because it suggests I have fallen in with the loathsome American habit of judging people's character by the car they drive.

I hate being responsible for remembering to change the oil every 3,000 miles, and for checking the belts to make sure they aren't rotting, and for making sure there is enough antifreeze in the radiator, and for knowing how to replace the transmission fluid and how to change a tire when it goes flat at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, and I'm mad about being part of a society that insists on such stuff.

Bill, Bob! Wake up! Why stop at being mad about the price of gas?

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