As our civilization becomes more diverse, and more accepting, we still, like a man dangling from a cliff by his fingertips, cling to the traditional sense of what a man and a woman are supposed to be – what they like and don’t like and what they are supposed to be interested in and passionate about. I wouldn’t under any circumstances suggest that I’m somehow breaking new ground myself – I’m a white guy who likes girls, it doesn’t get more mundane than that. But I’ve always had cause to wonder why not being in to the same things that other guys of my generation are somehow makes me one of the “other people.” What we like or don’t is still acceptable grounds for prejudging each other and defining how we stack up against the societal norm – whatever the hell that is.
I would think that for regular readers my nerdiness has been well heretofore established, what with innumerable references to Star Trek, Star Wars and those nefarious little ponies. Conversely, I haven’t even a microscopic level of interest in football, hockey, boxing, wrestling, ultimate fighting, nachos, beer (beyond a good pint of Guinness every now and then) or, as I realized while waiting for mine to be fixed, cars.
We do so love our magnificent machines, don’t we. But not I. I recall once walking with a group of friends, maybe four or five of them, from my house to some summertime event. From moment one of this hourlong trek, the conversation did not deviate from engines, cams, rims, horsepower, makes, models, torque, valves, and god knows whatever else. Every parked car we passed gave additional fuel – pardon the pun – to this ongoing, intellectually numbing dialogue where the underlying theme, if any, was one-upping each other with increasingly picayune displays of automobile expertise – the ultimate irony being that we were all too young to drive. I think I got maybe one or two words in, likely nothing more profound than “Yeah” and its more insightful variation, ”Oh yeah.” To me, a car has only ever been a necessary tool for getting from one place to another in a world where we’ve spread ourselves out too far. I don’t enjoy the experience of driving whatsoever. I’m impatient with other drivers, I’m always convinced I’m going to hit something, and every whiff of exhaust sends me into a mental tailspin about what we are doing to the planet. If it has four wheels, sitting in it doesn’t feel like being confined in a decompression tank and it isn’t costing me my firstborn to keep running, I don’t care what it looks like or how many cylinders are blasting away under the hood.
I appreciate that everyone has his passions. Some are passionate about food, about movies, about designer clothes. I am most passionate about writing. The major difference, as I see it, is that I don’t talk incessantly about what colour typewriter or paper stock Hemingway or Tolkien or Ian Fleming used and how many words you can get out of a single strand of typing ribbon (or, rather than dating myself, I don’t know – the accuracy of the Microsoft Word spell check?) The passion of driving doesn’t compute for me – when you’re writing something you are on a journey of the soul to places and states of being unknown, but when you arrive at the end of a car trip, are you changed? Have you had an enlightening experience? Are you somehow physically different because of the type of car you drove up in? No, you’re just there at your destination, whether you took a Ferrari or a jalopy, whether you experienced the rush of breakneck speed or waddled in at 2 mph. I understand that there are people who love fixing cars, who love transforming rustbuckets into sleek machines. That’s fine, and that’s something entirely different – that’s more along the lines of what writing is, the process of creation. But I still can’t get behind an invention whose existence, like it or not, has led to most of the wars we’ve fought over the last hundred years (and consequently a great deal of our environmental degradation) so Susie can get to the beach in her sweet sixteen present.
It frustrates me that our society needs the car so much. I accept that it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. I just don’t get why we should celebrate its trivialities at the same time, or why worship of all things automotive continues to be a prerequisite of masculinity. And I find a bit of hypocrisy in the “racing fan” who is really just there to see those so-called beautiful machines crash and explode, or in the man who will chide his wife for the effort and money she spends on her hair and makeup while fretting lovingly over every stone chip and rubbing baby oil into his leather seats every night. Perhaps this entire argument veers toward the curmudgeonly; perhaps one man’s passion will always be another man’s waste of time, no matter what it is. But there is one major difference. Drunken writing gave us some of the greatest and most spiritually transformative classics of modern literature. Drunken driving just kills people.