5.17.2011

And Then What?

Watched this documentary the other night, The End of Suburbia, and it confirmed the suspicions that I've already had about the sustainability of our American lifestyle. How this film took seven years to reach my consciousness is beyond me, but I've been thinking about the 'suburban' lifestyle for a while now. I was born and raised in Houston, TX, and here in this sprawling metropolis it is necessary to have a vehicular form of transportation. If you don't you probably won't have a social life. The public transit, Metro, is quite slow at delivering passengers to destinations across town, and that's even if the Metro runs in your area. There's so many places here in urban Texas that don't have public transportation. Not to mention the hours of operation don't extend deep into the night. So having a car here is a MUST.
It's funny when you hear about Houston, and Texas in general, people are so quick to say that the cost of living here is low, and how cheap it is to live here, blah blah blah. What isn't factored in, however, is your transportation, the cost of owning a vehicle that'll get you around town and to work. That's a big chunk being overlooked. We're talking a car note, car insurance, car maintenance (tires, filters,oil changes, brakes), fuel, and associated costs with repairs that are not regular maintenance (like if your transmission goes out). All these together can easily add up to $1000+ any given month. But, that's not the only cost to having a car.
Okay, you have your transportation paid for, now since you are driving a vehicle in public you are subject to the laws that apply. That means having proper registration, and a passing safety and emissions certificate. If your car is not up to par with the emissions standards, then you must shell out more dough for repairs (like an $800 catalytic converter). After you have all your stickers in order, it's time to hit the road. But don't rest easy just yet, there's still more.
Now, as a driver in public you are subject to the laws of the road. And there's plenty. Not only do you have to deal with other crazy drivers out there, but you also must deal with the abominable face of law enforcement - the police. Issues with the law tend to get pretty costly. Getting pulled over for going 2 miles over the limit is enough to get you a ticket, which can cost upwards of $150 or a weekend in defensive driving or both, and if ignored can turn to a one way ticket to jail, in the form of a warrant. I won't even get into the costs of drunk driving, even though it's frowned upon everywhere, it is a way of life here in the H. Shhhhhh! Nobody will talk about or admit to doing it, even though they probably have done it before. Any time you see a knocked over stop sign, a dented light post, or an abandoned front bumper on the corner, remember that somebody was just sober enough to put the car in reverse and flee the scene before anybody would even notice.
Don't get me wrong, I love cars. I embrace a few car cultures, like hot rods and lowriders. I love to cruise around on crisp spring nights in the full moon. It's just that having my own car in this city opened my eyes to all that I have mentioned above. I look around and everybody is in a car. Stacks and stacks of cars (and trucks, lots of trucks in Texas) with only ONE person line the freeways every morning and afternoon to and from work. You hop in your car, go to Mal-Wart, hop back in and go home, hop in your car, go to Timmy Chan's, hop back in and go home. And that's if there's no drive-thru to drive through. I look around, realizing this is the culture I've been raised in. A culture everybody here has been raised in. A culture embedded into the very fabric of America.
And everybody's cool with this?
I guess so. I mean, all ya gotta do now is go to church and wait out the rest of your life until you go to heaven. This is the promise of suburbia. This is what people strive for. And yet, did you all think this would last forever?
Of course you did. This whole lifestyle is brought to us courtesy of cheap, readily available fossil fuels. But now something is happening. The fossil fuels aren't readily available anymore, and hence, aren't cheap anymore. What's gonna happen when this whole lifestyle, this culture, this economic infrastructure becomes too expensive to keep going? There's no easy answer, or a fast way out of this. Too bad we didn't think of this 25 some odd years ago that way we can put into action a long term plan. But, wait a second, we did think of this way back when. Remember when Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House? Well, guess who took 'em down. It's funny because all over town people love to complain about gas prices going up. Somehow we've forgotten that owning a car is a luxury, but we've treated it like a necessity. I say let the gas prices go up. Let them go up and up and up. Only then will people actually realize what's happening and do something about it. Unless they just kill each over it, but it's something. It's like what George Carlin said, "What are ya gonna do? Play with your prick for the rest of your lives? You gonna eat at Wendy's and read People magazine until the end of time?"

Here's the trailer to the movie that sparked such a winded post. The whole thing is also available on YouTube, and a torrent for it is HERE.

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