You have never heard of this religion? It’s real, and in many ways more believable than all the others that I know of. It has three main tenets:
- You are what you drive
- If you’ve got it, flaunt it
- Big, noisy and fast is cool.
I’m sure you have figured out by now that I am talking about the “car culture” of Southern California. I have lived here for over sixty years, and I was part of it, a real believer for many years. From big pickups to hot sports cars, I owned ‘em all. But, somewhere along the way, I lost my faith. I started to ask myself: “Self,” I asked, “why are you wasting money on these toys? What are you trying to prove? Is it conspicuous consumption, displaying your affluence? Or is it a macho thing, like a peacock parading his plumage to the females?
Other parts of the country are tainted by this religion but Southern California is unique. A few examples:
The suburb of LA where I live is Middle Class. A mixture of blue- and white-collar workers and their families. Most houses have at least two cars. One of them is a huge SUV or pickup truck, the other a smaller car used mostly for shopping, ferrying the kids to soccer practice and other local errands. The pickups are often jacked up a foot or more, with huge tires, and an exhaust system that doesn’t muffle…it amplifies. Big SUV’s often get the same treatment. Driving beside one of these things in traffic is deafening. Not just from the exhaust noise. Even with the windows closed the vibration from the rap or hip hop or whatever music is blaring from the industrial-size sound system literally shakes the ground.
Those monsters are expensive to buy and maintain, and they represent a major investment for most of the families who live here. Families with adult children often have more than two cars. The house across the street has four cars. But here’s the thing that gobsmacks me: They park them all outside, either in the driveway or on the street. Every house in my neighborhood has a two-car garage. But the cars never see the inside of that garage. Why? I have observed the contents of some of them when the garage door is open, and what I see is piles and stacks and heaps of…junk. Now, think about that. Their fifty or sixty thousand dollar car sits outside so they can keep their junk protected. Like other religions, car worship has its irrationalities and contradictions.
Now let’s talk about the drivers. For the most part, the women are okay, if a little over-cautious. That is understandable, since they are often hauling kids around. It’s the young, testosterone-driven males driving those monstrosities on the freeway that you need to look out for. When I first moved here more than a half century ago, LA drivers had the reputation of being very good drivers. Either times have changed drastically, or I have become a lot less tolerant of aggressive drivers. It’s probably some of both, but consider that the speed limit on most freeways is 65. Don’t try to drive that slowly in any but the farthest right lane, or you will get tailgated by one of those behemoths that’s so tall and wide you can’t see anything behind you except a grill the size of a house. As soon as the driver gets a chance, he hurtles around you with a deafening roar, and cuts back in. three feet in front of your bumper.
Driving in one of the outer lanes, you had better be doing at least 80, and you will still be passed by the occasional Darth Vader doing close to a hundred.
Fortunately, I am retired, so I no longer have to deal with the commuting traffic crazies. I try to schedule all longer trips to avoid commuter hours, but I see the long lines of cars on the freeway crawling along at walking pace, and I feel sorry for those commuters…except for the ones burning a gallon of gasoline every mile or two, idling along in their behemoths. They deserve their fate.