It appears, brethren, that we are in the beginning stages of the decline of a predominantly American form of worship.
It's a worship that has shaped our lives, our social customs, and even our cities over the past century. It has sapped our resources, sent our taxes spiraling upward, and forced us to look eastward for our salvation. Yet, until recently, it was perceived as a source of our national prestige and strength.
The exodus from this form of worship has been led by the younger generation – The Millenials and Generation Y, for whom it has become a financial burden.
I was alerted to this trend away from our fathers' faith by an article on AOLnews. It reported that the number of Americans without automobiles is on the rise, despite a steady increase in population.
I was raised on the worship of motoring. To the generations of Americans who rode out the 20th century, Detroit was a national shrine and its icons were Fords, Chevrolets, Plymouths, Pontiacs, Cadillacs, Lincolns and a host of other lovely creations. Its saints were a panoply of heroes ranging from Henry Ford to Dale Earnhardt.
As a boy, I would almost fall on my knees at the sight of a Lincoln Continental – the original ones designed by Edsel Ford before his name became attached to a monument to failure.
Like others of my generation, I waited with delicious anticipation as the season dawned in which the new models would be unveiled to the oohs and aahs of a worshipful nation.
In time, the automobile moved in with us. Garages were built to accommodate the family car, and then became an integral part of the house – the foyer, so to speak. The garage door became our front door. In time, the one-car garage became obsolete, and we saw the advent of the three- and four-car garage built into the pre-bust McMansions.
A modern family needed at least one set of wheels for every member, so even the front yard of rudest rural abode sported three or four automobiles, some of them in running condition.
We fell for the assurance that the automobile would set us free. No longer were we forced to live in mill villages in cottages within walking distance of the mill. No longer were we dependent on downtown for stores that purveyed the necessities of life. We could move to the suburbs and become commuters. We could hop into our cars and drive to supermarkets that gathered around them drugstores, barber shops and restaurants in small shopping centers. We could drive to large shopping malls to buy everything from an automatic washer-dryer to a new set of fingernails. All this came at a price: It takes revenue to build and maintain the highways that make this access possible.
At the height of its glory, the automobile was our ticket to romance. Who needed a hotel room when there were drive-in theaters that offered sufficient privacy – and a movie to boot when you came up for air? Many of the kids who are now abandoning the automobile for Wi-Fi and an array of electronic fun facilitators were born to parents conceived in the back seats of automobiles.
Now, according to my online source, these young people are looking elsewhere for fun. They're living with their parents and interacting with their peers on the social media. They can use their smart phones to swap pictures of each other and seek out private corners where they can engage in cyber sex. The back seat of an automobile has become obsolete.
The percentage of car ownership seems to have peaked about 7 years ago when 91.3 percent of American families owned at least one car. By 2011, that figure had fallen to 90.7 percent. That's a drop of 0.6 percent, which sounds trivial. But if you multiply it by the 255 million cars on the road, that comes to 1.5 million vehicles, which is almost a vehicle for every individual in West Virginia.
If you think that's a slow rate of decline, try singing “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” while driving from Aiken to Augusta and see how quickly you get to zero.
The decline probably would be faster if the manufacturers weren't making better cars these days. During the ‘50s, when a new car carried a 30-day warranty, your icon was jaded at 70,000 miles and ready for the junkyard at 100,000. Today, you can get a car with a warranty lasting 10 years or 100,000 miles. The average car on the highway is more than 11 years old and still chugging.
Think of what it will mean when America rejects its worship of the automobile. We'll no longer have to worry about the country's deteriorating infrastructure, but can retrench to two-lane streets and roads and bridges. Our communities will draw closer together, with shops and stores within reach of people riding bicycles or mopeds or other types of minimal transportation. Bye-bye Walmart. The smog over Los Angeles will evaporate.
Best of all, we will be rid of those obnoxious car-dealer television commercials in which owners boost their egos by appearing on camera, waving their arms, and shouting their sales pitches.
Will America then become a godless land with nothing left to worship?
I doubt it.
Every season brings a plethora of new technological innovations in the realm of communication.
Communication, not transportation, has become the new focus of our worship.
But I'll tell you one thing: I have yet to see an iPad or any other communications device that can start my heart beating the way a fully restored 1940 Lincoln Continental can. As for romance, I'm too old to fold into a back seat, but I haven't yet seen an iPad I'd want to snuggle up to.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other writings by him can be found at www.wadesdixieco.com.
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