A few weeks ago, my friend Julie and I were walking the sidewalks of downtown and decided to take a No. 1 bus to Mount Adams. It was a nice spring afternoon, and we wanted to take in the sights up on the hill.
While walking in Mount Adams, I couldn’t help but notice all the cars parked on the hilly streets. Most were big-ass automobiles, SUVs, even a few Hummers. Julie is from France, and I asked her if they have the same kind of vehicles there.
She said seeing a big automobile in France is a rarity. Most of the cars there are small, compact and fuel efficient.
Her answer didn’t surprise me. In fact, I half expected it. I sort of knew that we here in the good old U.S.A. like our automobiles big and gas guzzling.
I don’t. While writing this, I’m trying to remember when I last owned a car or even drove one.
Looking back, I think the last car I owned was when I lived in Clifton, maybe three years ago. My son and I shared an older Chevy Cavalier. When he moved out on his own, he took the car because I seldom drove it.
Last spring, I had to make a road trip, so I rented a car for a couple of days. A few times last winter, I found myself needing to get somewhere quickly. On those occasions, I simply hailed a taxi.
I guess I’m not a great automobile lover.
When I was a teenager, in high school and college, yeah, I had to have a car. But as I got older, got married and had kids, I found myself not so interested in driving.
More and more, as the kids grew up, I’d leave the car at home and take the bus.
Of course, that’s the only form of public transportation in Cincinnati, but I wanted to try it.
Even during the colder weather, I found the walk to the bus stop relaxing and riding the bus even more so. Whenever I had to drive the car, I found myself uptight and in a hurry.
I didn’t like it. Besides, who wants to be in a hurry to get to work?
Life in the slow lane was fine with me then and it still is. I can relax on the bus, read a book or a newspaper and let the driver worry about the idiots out on the road.
There are also other benefits to not owning a car. I don’t have to worry about the price of gas, car payments, car repair or insurance. All I have to worry about is where I put my bus schedule.
Julie doesn’t own a car either, and I think we both feel that not owning one is helping our environment. We’re not driving something around that’s polluting the air we breathe.
I can’t help but wonder if the U.S. automakers even care about our environment. For years, they’ve kept making these huge vehicles that send horrible exhaust into the sky. Ordinary, hard-working people have to pay a lot for these poorly-made gas hogs, too: at the dealership and at the gas pump to fill them up.
Now the tide has turned. U.S. automakers have seen the error of their ways and know they must now make better and more fuel-efficient cars. Because of massive financial losses, they’re looking at those ordinary, hardworking people — the taxpayer — to help bail them out. I have a problem with that.
I can remember other carmakers that are no longer around: Studebaker, Hudson and AMC Motors, to name a few. When business turned sour, they merged with other carmakers or simply went out of business.
In the “old days,” the figures — the financial numbers — didn’t lie. Any manufacturer, including the automakers, lived or died by them.
If an income statement and balance sheet showed that a manufacturer was doing poorly, immediate steps were taken to try to improve performance and not let it go on for years. It was something called “accountability.”
I still believe in that word. I think President Obama is a fine leader, but I don’t agree with this U.S. automaker bailout stuff. These companies created the mess — let them work it out themselves. If they can’t, let them file for bankruptcy.
Julie and I had a good time in Mount Adams that afternoon walking the hilly sidewalks, talking to people walking their dogs and having a few drinks at Longworth’s.
After a few hours, we decided to head back downtown and we asked a jogger we passed where the nearest bus stop was.
While walking there, we noticed again the huge vehicles parked on the side of the streets in Mount Adams. Julie laughed and shook her head.
She told me when she first came to the U.S., seeing these colossal things on the highway was the hardest thing to get used to. All I could do was laugh, because I’m not used to seeing anything else.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org