When I was a teenager, all too many years ago, I knew a few other “guys” [how else can I refer to males of that indeterminate age too old to be teenagers and too immature to be adults] who doted on their cars. Now, I’ve always liked cars, but I never obsessed over them. I once thought I wanted a Jaguar XKE, that is, until I drove one and discovered that its only redeeming quality was the speed it could attain, and that its handling left a great deal to be desired.

And until I was much older, my cars were all used, and, frankly, their original owners had bought them for practicality, except for the cherry red Corvair, and I have no idea why the grandmother who owned it previously had bought it. I got it because it was affordable.

But back in the late 1950s, the car guys all seemed obsessed with lowering and/or raking their vehicles and then replacing their mufflers with glass-packs, which apparently, in those days, met the legal definition of mufflers. The result was, predictably, that you could hear those vehicles coming from blocks away, possibly for a good mile in the then-exurban area where I grew up.

I thought that era was gone, and it seemed to be, except in the last year or so I’ve begun to see giant trucks with lifted suspensions. I can also hear them a good half mile away because they’re even louder than the 1950s vehicles equipped with glass-packs. They vibrate the double pane windows in the house, and set every dog on the street either to barking at the intrusion or whining in terror, depending on age and breed of the canine and the temperament of the owner. These are not old clunkers driven by post-teens, nor are they driven by men of my age and older trying to relive a misspent youth. They’re usually massive late-model shiny pickup trucks, usually either gleaming white with lots of chrome or jet black… and occasionally metallic red. What they pick up is another question, because some of them have a truck bed so high that it would require a cherry-picker or forklift to load it. Oh, and the worst of them belch black smoke.

Now, I can understand the need for hauling things. We have two vehicles. One is an economical 21 year old Toyota RAV, and the other is an 11 year old Tahoe, necessary for hauling such things as opera props, stage furniture and the like, but I still can’t figure out the appeal of the monsters that roar up the hill on which we live… or what else they’re useful for… and for that matter, how they’re even legal under current emissions and noise standards.

I couldn’t see the appeal when I was a teenager, and I still can’t… unless it’s the desire to be as assertively and ostentatiously obnoxious as possible.

7 thoughts on “Useless?”

  1. Grey says:

    It’s lifestyle branding; utility has little to do with it. Take a look inside the beds; most of them never get used. It’s pretty easy to tell a work truck from a culture purchase that will never see dirt unless it clips into the flowers while navigating a driveway. The car companies love them because the profit margin is ridiculous – the tricked-out versions can cost as much or more than a midrange Mercedes.

    The trucks belching black smoke have been modified to do so and are not emissions compliant. Google “rolling coal”, but basically it’s to be proudly defiant of Obama, or the EPA, or the liberals, or… whatever.

  2. Michael Creek says:

    It’s not about practicality, it’s about signalling social and political status to your social group. Why do people buy expensive sports cars, capable of speeds that would be dangerous on normal hi-ways?

  3. Wine Guy says:

    Why do people own more than 20 pairs of shoes? Why do women own more make up than they can wear in 20 years? Why do men own more tools than they’ll ever use? Why do I still buy paper books when I have my Nook?

    Because we like them.

    OTOH: I don’t get the whole car/truck thing. Or boats. Vehicles are tools. Using them as status symbols makes me roll my eyes.

  4. Postagoras says:

    It ain’t news that people can feel good after buying something. It’s not rational. The entire advertising industry works on this premise, and a good portion of US society.

    The most complex thought involved is the one that comes up with the justification after the fact.

  5. Howard Pierce says:

    Totally unrelated, but don’t know how else to get in touch:
    Thank you for many hours of satisfying & thought-provoking reading of your SF novels. The Ethos Effect and Haze are ones I keep returning to, with their focus on ethics and characters who have the fortitude to live by their values, even when that requires painful sacrifices. I hope more like those are in the pipeline somewhere. May you have many more healthy decades to keep contributing and reaping what I hope are hefty rewards.

    1. Thank you. I don’t have another SF novel in mind, yet, but we’ll just have to see.

    2. Tom says:

      I recommend:

      Shapers of Worlds. LEM wrote a short story entitled “Evanescence” for this SF Collection.

      My first ever experience of an anthology where almost all of the stories are very well written: and “Evanescence” is fantastic!

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