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Gargulinski

Tucsonans and their cars—it's a love affair that knows no bounds

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A major perk of my pal's new job is the location; she's thrilled she can bike or even walk the three miles to work. She says the jaunt has done wonders for her mood—not to mention her thighs—and she's ecstatic to leave her car back home.

Too bad more Tucsonans don't share her glee.

A goodly number of folks seem tied to their vehicles so tightly that you know they won't dare leave home without them. Their ties bind strong, perhaps even leading into the realm of an obsession or, worse yet, a veritable addiction.

This addiction runs so deep in their octane veins that some get downright cranky when the mere thought of not being able to drive arises. This was firmly evidenced by several reactions to the idea of making Congress Street through downtown a pedestrian-only zone.

Some would simply not have it, tossing reasons about like confetti. But there may be deeper, underlying issues at work as to why some would feel naked without their cars.

The most obvious may be that people are generally getting lazier. Obesity rates back that one up, with at least 35 percent of the nation weighing in as obese in 2010.

Getting anywhere without a car means people will have to actually do that strange thing called walking. Refer to the strange activity as "exercise," and we may get a full-fledged riot on our hands (provided, of course, that people could riot from a sitting position in their vehicles).

Another reason is the sense of security a vehicle brings. Walking makes people exposed and vulnerable. Driving encases them in at least 3,000 pounds of armor, even if the armor these days is largely polyurethane plastic.

Rather than being on display, motorists can hide inside their vehicles and be rude, obnoxious and dangerous with less of a fear of repercussions.

The shield of polyurethane lets them take on numerous roles in which they may otherwise feel foolish. The Lane Hog. The Road Rager. The Willy-Nilly Merger. The Sudden, Unexplained Stopper. If people tried out those roles without vehicular protection, they might find themselves punched in the head.

More security comes from the vehicle's glove-box compartment and trunk, where folks can store other items they cannot leave home without. The backup shoes. The wrench. The expansive collection of non-working pens. The fresh pair of socks. The Altoids.

The sense of security can easily morph into an irrational attachment, the way Linus van Pelt is attached to his blanket. Without his little blue blanket, Linus is lost, confused and paranoid. But then again, he's kind of like that even with the blanket.

The blanket is warm and cozy; a vehicle can provide a large amount of comfort, too. Driving around with air conditioning is exceedingly more comfortable than trudging on foot in 112-degree heat. In fact, the most-blazing summer days often seem to have the most cars on the road, leading me to believe people are driving around in cooled-off cars because their home air-conditioning unit has gone kablooey.

Status and symbolism may be another reason behind an extreme attachment to vehicles. Cars, trucks and monster SUVs are rolling billboards that showcase your wealth, style or midlife crises. They also illustrate your eco-friendliness if you're driving a hybrid, your machismo in a Hummer, and your cool disdain of everyone around you with bumper stickers that read things like: "Horn broken, watch for finger."

Big cars can display a big ego while those dinky, roller-skate-looking things show a free spirit, or at least someone who has neither kids nor dogs.

Cars stream about Tucson consistently, making us wonder where all these people are going. Last month's national unemployment rate was at less than 9 percent, but it's tough to imagine all those drivers having such widely staggered work hours.

There's no arguing that autos can provide, in theory, a faster way to get from point A to point B. But that theory doesn't work when a 10-mile ride can take more than an hour.

For those who are so auto-bound they must drive around Tucson for pleasure, we'd hate to see what they do for torture. But we can bet that whatever it is, they do it in their cars.

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