Once, getting a ride in Vancouver, I remember hearing Bon Jovi’s song It’s My Life on the radio. Sitting on the passenger seat with my seat belt tightly fitted, I spent a minute thinking about highways and the dreams associated with them. Several people I know, born before the 1970s, have a special relationship to their cars. Many young boys of yesteryear spent their adolescence clutching wrenches in oily hands with their backs bent over a car engine. They had broad grins, lighting cigarettes while driving cheap beaters. Many childhood and early adulthood memories out there are associated with the smell of leaded petrol. Having wheels meant freedom.
I am of a different generation. I spent countless hours of my early life in traffic jams.
I leaned over to fidget with the car radio. Minutes ticked away while we queued at the Port Mann Bridge.Vancouver rush-hour traffic is very far removed from anything that can even remotely be referred to as “freedom”. I’ve heard that Toronto and Los Angeles traffic situations are even more unbearable.
The road networks were built when there were at least two billion people less on the planet. No matter how many lanes you add next to each other, there is a limit as to how many cars a transport network can sustain. Doing my travels by car, I only rarely experience the exhilaration of an open highway – except when driving at night to avoid traffic. (And that one time in an ambulance.)
One reason for why many people in my generation have a looser relationship to cars is that we didn’t trim, caress or fix our cars. The cars of today are way too complex; many functions are controlled by computers, meaning that malfunctions can no longer be fixed with a wrench and some oil. Also, the transit network is very sufficient in many places. It is not impossible to live without a car.
Drive-in cinemas, Jon Bon Jovi, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Detroit, thank you all for your contribution. Something has happened, times have changed. Owning a car is just not what it used to be.