From the moment the gas-powered automobile hit the roads in the late 1800′s it has symbolized the best — and the worst — about America. Private transportation allows us to live, work and travel where we want; it puts shopping, dining and entertainment choices within our reach; it gives visible status on the highway or the driveway.
But fueling that transportation now costs so much that other aspects of the “American Dream” are increasingly difficult to afford. That “chicken in every pot” that was once a sign of prosperity? After a trip to the gas station – where prices just hit a record $4 per gallon – affording even a McNugget Happy Meal is tough.
So we grumble and whine, but we don’t make the changes necessary to cut down our fuel costs. Why not? Because they’re inconvenient, and that’s not something that we Americans take kindly to.
This, people, is why we’re OPECs stooges: we gratify our impulses by driving. Feel like shopping? Drive to the mall. Don’t feel like watching TV? Go rent a DVD or head to the pub.
But therein lies our problem: we don’t feel like we should have to pay high costs for gratifying our other feelings. We have a culture in which our fun happens at the spur of the moment. Our convenience, our leisure and recreation, and our seemingly endless need for fun is at the very heart of our problem. We want it all, and we want it now, but we also think we should have it all cheap.
Many of us choose to live in suburbs away from inner city crime, bad schools and urban blight rather than placing ourselves (and our money) in the heart of things were we actually stand a chance of fixing them, if only by our presence and the efforts we put in to our own property.
As a result we live far away from where we work — yet complain about our long commutes and high transportation costs. Then we find it too inconvenient to stop at the grocery store or stop at a restaurant on the way home from work (because, after all, it’s a long commute already) so we demand 24-hour grocery stores that allow us to shop when we feel like it.
Conservatives like me generally love to slam the liberal left for the way they feel like they’re entitled to live off the fat of our taxes. But we’re no different. We’re no better. We simply have different priorities: rather than living off the money of our fellow Americans’ tax dollars, we believe we’re entitled to live off the lower profits of foreign oil companies.
Since when was it American and conservative to demand that a corporation reduce its profits?
We feel like we should be able to do what we want, when we want it, assuming we can afford it (or can charge it to our credit cards). And therein lies our problem: our sense of entitlement. Oh, I’m not talking about the “entitlements” like welfare, free medical coverage. I’m talking about the sense of entitlement that even right-leaning, conservative-thinking folk have: “This is America, for God’s sake, the land of the free.” Which means, ultimately, that we feel we ought to — as one airline puts it — feel free to roam about the country. Whenever we want. Wherever we want.
But we don’t want to pay for that freedom.
If you don’t – or if you can’t, here are some ways to save money at the pump. The key – do less of what you feel like doing and more of what you know you should even if it’s inconvenient. Even if it sucks.
Plan ahead: If you can’t get somewhere by walking, go when you’re already out and about. Take your shopping list to work with you and stop on the way home. Fill up your tank in the morning when you get more gas and fewer fumes. Do it on a Tuesday or Wednesday when gas prices are at their lowest. And when you get home, stay home. If you forgot something, pick it up on your way home the next day.
Pamper your car: Drive slower. The speed limit may be 65 but shaving 10 miles off that will make your gas last longer. Besides, when did you start letting signs tell you how to live? Follow your car’s maintenance plan, too. Keeping your tires inflated to the proper psi – instead of guesstimating — and changing your filters regularly reduces the amount of gas you use.
Sell: If you have a grueling work commute your wallet’s bound to be lighter. Move. No, seriously: it’s ridiculous for people to complain about the cost of gas while insisting on living an hour away from their office. Likewise, trade in your gas-guzzler for a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Sure, you won’t look as tough in a money-saving compact but if filling an SUV’s tank leaves you homeless you’ll look pretty stupid, anyway.
Stay home: Watch movies online instead of heading to the theater. Plant a garden. Sure, that borders on tree-hugging, but when you grow your own fruits and veggies you don’t have to drive to McD’s or wonder what’s for dinner. Besides, after a day spent gardening you’ll be too tired to think about driving anywhere.
Have sex: Aside from groceries and work, we drive places because we’re bored. Bars? Shopping? They’re the solution to having nothing to talk about with our spouses. Spark something up in the bedroom and you won’t have to pay for the fuel to find your fun elsewhere.
Granted, doing less of what we feel runs counter to our concept of being “free to be you and me.”
But if we want to afford the other trappings of the American Dream – that house with the picket fence, 2.5 kids and a whole chicken in every pot – then it’s time we start doing less of what we feel like and more of what we know we should.