I live in a downtown neighborhood, situated a hundred meters from a park, a short distance to the university campus, and down the street from what could be considered the “downtown strip” of shops, restaurants, and even the local history center. The location is central and yet sublime, tucked away from the busy streets just so, making me feel at once in the thick of it and isolated. It is a prime location, one I’d venture attracted many of my neighbors to this block. By foot, by bicycle, by skateboard, by rollerblade, by tricycle the city is within grasp.

Yet, most of my neighbors rely on their automobiles as a conduit to move from their house out into the city. Each morning, as I walk my dog, I see them hurriedly slam their front doors and rush to their cars, jerking them into the roadway almost before the engine has had a chance to come to life. While I do not know the destination of all their trips, I do know that many of them travel no further than the campus, which is quite literally down the block. I also know that many of them leave for nothing more than liquid or solid nourishment, from the grocery, beer store, or caffeine dealer, all within shouting distance of the block, yet still remain possessed by their automobiles.

I’m aware of the allure, the fascination, and the attraction Americans have with and of the automobile. I see every remaining, alive-and-kickin’ WWII veteran driving around a Grand Marquis or a Town Car. Interstates and enormous, petrol-guzzling automobiles were their god-given right, have kicked the hell out of the Nazis and bombed the hell out of the Japanese. They say it takes a generation for any paradigmatic perspective on the world to die out, to peter away as hearts and arteries slow and clog and die out.

But how do you explain the graduate student attending one of the best universities in the nation, if not the world, who is trapped by this same paradigm? Trade the Grand Marquis for a Mini and you still have a person who takes their automobile, the cheap supply of insurance and fuel, and a vast array of paved roads for granted, a given right to drive anywhere and everywhere anytime. Trade the “Retired Navy” license plate holder for a “Coexist” bumper sticker and the mindset of twenty-five year old is a mirror of the seventy-five year old in terms of relying, and relishing, the freedom provided by the divine automobile.

The dangerous and pressing issue, however, is that the vehicular freedom is increasingly extended to millions of new drivers in blossoming nations around the world; our Western freedom is now their Eastern freedom and since we all share the same crowded planet, we must frankly ask where this is leading us. The fact is that it’s not down a country lane towards a bucolic field but, towards a planet that simply cannot function under the extreme stress of petroleum consumption and pollution.

I try to see the world through less cynical eyes, but how can I remain hopeful for change when my peers, the ones supposedly free of past assumptions, aware of how personal decisions affect the entire planet, still cannot be bothered to forgo their automobiles even for the shortest of trips? The stickers and shirts and words they possess all tell me one story, but the roar of their engines tells me a very different story.

I’m working and hoping for change. I am not a saint, and I often sin, but I still try to piece together the small things I can do into an effort to cause less harm, to tread with a lighter step. I’m trying to remain optimistic. However, each day I open my door to a perfect setting for cultivating change and all that I witness emphasizes the hopelessness of my dream.

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