I was just over at Horrible License Plates--a blog dedicated to exposing ridiculous vanity plates--and was sucked into a Hummer hatefest. So far, not a single defender of the giant road beasts. Honestly, I've only known one person who owned a Hummer, and he was so weird everyone in our office was kind of scratching our heads over that one. It really was a case of making up for something--or everything--because then he went and bought his wife one! Mind you, these folks were nearing retirement age, and though they were doing fairly well, they were both just cubicle rats.* I don't get it.
But the Hummer is not alone--it's just the most extreme manifestation of the ego-via-vehicle phenomenon. I don't imagine our country is unique in this sickness, but I suspect we have taken it higher and wider than anywhere else. It used to be Old Money went for the German imports; New Money for the flashy sports cars, probably Italian, maybe American. But then we got this new version of middle class--all of the income, none of the discretion. Whatever was bigger, stronger, flashier or just more expensive; we NEEDED it.
Oh, it started out so subtly, so innocently. Somehow it became impossible to drive two kids to a soccer game in a sedan. No, we NEEDED a minivan. After all, we have to haul all that gear. Really? Shin guards, cleats and maybe a soccer ball? Well, no, there's more--now that we have all that room, how about we bring a cooler full of iced-down goodies for the kids?
So now, instead of a simple game requiring two goals and a single ball, we've got vanloads of chairs, coolers, umbrellas, extra uniforms and shoes...and we NEED all of it. Can't possibly get along without it. Hey, parents, we all have to pitch in an extra $25 Snack Fee!
Then along comes the SUV, and suddenly the minivan isn't good enough. Oh, it's alright for getting the kids to school (bus? Why let my poor little Susie ride the bus that goes by our house every morning? She might have to breathe fresh air for entire minutes; and she just might start talking to those other kids whose parents don't have SUVs). However, now that we have all that new equipment for those soccer games, it's really so much more convenient to have the bigger vehicle. Plus, y'know, Dad wouldn't be caught dead in a minivan. He NEEDS an SUV.
True story: my brother, once married, declared he would never have a minivan in his name. When their second child made it more or less a necessity, he made his wife put it in her name. Today he drives a "crossover," which he doesn't seem to realize is the minivan of tomorrow. I snicker gently behind his back, smug in my childless superiority. It still has crushed Cheerios in the console, regardless of the horsepower.
Anyway, our culture's sick cycle of needing more space for more Stuff we don't need simply amazes me. I occasionally wonder if I'm the crazy one, living in a house under 1500 square feet, without even a minivan in the driveway, no pool, no boat, no flatscreen tv, no Wii, no hot tub, not even Tivo, for crying out loud! How can anyone LIVE this way??
Um, well, just fine, as it turns out. I have other things--books, a garden, a dog, a blog, quiet time for contemplation, and a positive net worth. I stepped off the rat racetrack a several years back, and while I do still envy some of those material goods, I know that it's an addiction. Like any recovering addict, I need to stay "clean," and remind myself that as long as I have my home, my health, my love and my mind, there's really nothing else I need.
Want? That's a whole different story. In fact that's the key: want does not equal need. A lesson I dearly wish our whole society would learn. Why the heck are we sucking up resources, not only from nature, but from other humans who could use a roof over their heads more than we could use another toy? Because we earned it? How? By being born in an overprivileged nation that protects its own? By sitting on our duffs in front of a computer or on the phone, or perhaps even driving around to meetings?
I keep hoping this current "economic downturn" will shake us out of our collective state of denial. However, all I've sensed thus far is lip service to the concept of "simplifying" one's lifestyle. I remember hearing that about 10 or 15 years ago, just before the SUV boom. So excuse me for being doubtful. I guess I'm just going to have to wait for everyone who's overextended to end up either selling off their oversized toys, or living in them. Maybe then they'll "get back to nature." Or at least get real.
And, in conclusion: Bah, humbug! But don't worry; I've got a real happy-happy post lined up for tomorrow!
*I can say that...I am a cubicle rat.