Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Driving Analogy 

Billy got a car for his eighteenth birthday. It was a used car that his parents bought for him, but it ran. He was happy, even if it wasn't a riced out Honda. It was a Ford, a few years old, but it ran great, the body and interior were in good shape, the radio and A/C worked. His father told him as he handed over the keys, "Check the oil and water regularly, get 'em changed every three thousand miles, have your mechanic check her out every year, and you'll have this car until you're out of college."

Billy nodded, but he didn't hear. And he didn't hear other things his father told him. Don't ride the clutch. Pay attention to any warning lights or strange noises. And so, Billy drove the hell out of that car, and after a year hadn't even cracked the dipstick. He hadn't even had the oil changed in that time. He'd meant to, but when it came to the decision on whether to spend $39.95 at LubeMasters or spend the money to go out partying with friends, well... it kept getting put off.

Six months after his nineteenth birthday, the car wouldn't start. Billy called dad, who used his AAA membership to have the car towed to the mechanic. It wasn't anything too serious, but $247.58 later (which dad paid) the car was running again. Billy promised himself he'd take better care of it, and indeed, six months or so later, did have the oil changed. Although he was sure that the brake light that kept coming on when he accellerated meant nothing, and neither did that weird grinding/squealing sound when he stopped the car.

Until the day he hit the brakes and the pedal went to the floor. That was when he learned why they called it an "emergency brake." Another tow-job, although this time dad told Billy that he couldn't help out. What would have been a routine brake-pad replacement became a replacement and rotor turning. "Oh, and I noticed you really need to have your radiator flushed, and when was the last time you changed your oil?" the mechanic asked. He stuck with the brake job. Car insurance was due in a week, after all.

Two months before his twentieth birthday, Billy was driving home late at night in a strange neighborhood. The temperature gauge had been floating way in the red, so he had the heater on, despite it being a hot night. Then he stopped at a red light and suddenly the engine got quiet and he saw a huge white cloud rising behind the car. The engine wasn't running, wouldn't start, wouldn't do anything.

"We can get you a rebuilt engine for about two grand," the mechanic in a strange neighborhood told him. Billy thought about the fifty seven dollars and change in his checking account, wishing he hadn't gone to Acapulco last spring break, maybe had bought a cheaper guitar. He wondered whether dad would understand. "But, I need a car to get to work. No car, no money..."

In any event, the eighteenth birthday present was a dead piece of junk in less than two years...

* * *

David was fifty, and he'd owned a lot of cars in his day. Perhaps going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, he bought the sporty Mustang convertible, "pre-owned". It had less than two thousand miles on it. Previous owner had changed his mind. Or rather, his wife had. David's story is much shorter than Billy's. He babied the fuck out of that car. Took it in for service every three months or three thousand miles, whichever came first. Had every single preventative repair that his mechanic suggested made immediately. Had it detailed twice a month. Kept it covered or garaged when it was parked.

When David died at the age of eighty-five, one of his bequests was to give that car to his favorite grandson, a forty year-old working for a catering company. The car was in absolutely pristine condition. Because it was from a sought-after-by-collector's model year, the grandson was soon getting offers -- good offers -- for the car. He accepted one of them and, after taxes, paid off his mortgage and started his own company, which became successful.

Billy, who was in his mid-fifties at the time, was busy paying alimony to two ex-wives, and mostly took public transportation to work...

* * *

Aesop stopped his tale, and the children sitting before him said, "Uh... what the fuck was that story about?"

"Let me tell you," he said. "A car is like the earth. Or the earth is like a car. It is the vehicle that moves all of us through space. We can choose to take care of it so that we may pass it along perfect to future generations, or we may run it into the ground. The difference in our actions is a measure of our maturity. Billy lived for today, and thought things like partying were more important than the means for his survival. But David knew the value of what he had, and he took care of it. When he was gone, his grandchildren were able to improve their lives because of how he'd acted."

"Tell us the one about the fox and the grapes again," the children whined, and Aesop wanted to slap them all.

This is not a facetious story at all. Rather, it's a good measure of the maturity of governments. Those who take action to prevent problems, despite the expense upfront, are acting in a mature manner -- those who protect their natural resources and their wildlands, who protect the environment, who seek renewable energy sources.

But those who don't give a damn, ride the wheels off the planet, ignore the red lights on the dashboard as they go off; indeed, insist that there are no red lights; those are the immature governments. And they are the ones who would leave this planet a steaming junkpile by the side of the road in a bad neighborhood, less than nothing for their children's children to inherit, because it'll be gone in their lifetime.

It's no mistake that I draw an analogy between an irresponsible college boy and this American administration's handling of the environment. After all, we've stuck an immature college boy in the driver's seat, and he's speeding toward the cliff, ignoring all the warning signs and good advice that come his way.

Hope you brought your parachutes...

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