Andrew L. Pincus: Those lovable planet killers

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LENOX — It was a strange feeling, a sort of deja vu. Catching a ride home from the body shop, I felt a twinge of sadness at leaving the car off for bumper repair. It was, I realized, a small version of the way I felt when leaving the dog at the kennel.

I was prepared for the inconvenience of being carless a day or two. But I had handed my life companion over to strangers for care.

How can you get sentimental over a car? It's just a piece of machinery. A dog is — well, a dog is family.

But people do love their cars. You see it every day. The guy spinning along in a snazzy sports car hugging the road. The guy in a SUV big enough to gobble up the car ahead of him. The old gent poking along in an ancient Ford. Why, the guy even looks like his Ford, a little fusty and down at the wheels — er, heels.

Will the day come when people look like their cars the way they sometimes look like their dogs?

You've seen them. The man jowly like his bulldog. The woman carefully coifed like her poodle. And have you noticed? People and cars alike are getting bigger and bigger. Obesity is in fashion.

On the interstate, vehicles crawl along, four abreast in each direction. The air over the city is ripe with fumes. Towers jut like giant snaggle teeth along the skyline. Lights burn in every window. Wires hum. Systems break down.

Do I love my 2-year-old Impreza?

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I appreciate my little car's reliability, its good gas mileage. It gets me where I want to go. I take it in for service every six months and drive away for another six months. No problem. But love?

On the other hand, there were a couple of cars years ago that I felt a certain — well, I'd pat them after a trip and thank them for the ride.


The very first was a second-hand Kaiser sedan. (Does anybody remember the Kaiser?) It regularly broke down and, since the brand was no longer manufactured, parts were hard to get. But I was new at the game and a car — any car — beat waiting for the bus.

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Next in line were a couple of Volkswagen Beetles. How can you love a Beetle? They were just cheap transportation back in the day, and my boss, an ex-German POW, loved them even less than I did — hated anything out of Germany, in fact. Oh, the squabbles and squawks. If he'd paid me more, I might have been able to drive a Chevy.

During a period of austerity, a beat-up Impreza came next. It failed me again and again, leaving me stranded. But when I finally had to sign its death certificate, it grieved me so much that I wrote a eulogy for it. To wit:

"I broke the faith. I betrayed a love."

The old gal had served me well, ever since I bought her second-hand seven years ago. She'd gone only 88,000 miles in her 10 years — not so much for a Subaru. But she had come down with rusty bones and leaky body fluids. The time had come. It would cost more and be harder in the long run to put her on life support than to replace her.

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"Oh, there were rocky moments between us. She had a nasty habit of setting off her burglar alarm any old time for any old reason. Slow leaks in the front right tire seemed to amuse her. She had only the two doors, which made getting into the back seat difficult for the dog. (She was the Dogmobile.)"

And so on.

Note: I'm a he. She was a she.

Of course, our love affair with machines, and even more the fuels that run the machines, is what has gotten us into this mess, frying the planet so that someday there will be only the machines and no longer us. Yet how could we give up our cars, our appliances, our air conditioning, our jets, our skyscrapers, our stuff?

On the interstate, vehicles crawl along, four abreast in each direction. The air over the city is ripe with fumes

So I drive an Impreza, I recycle my plastics, I turn off the lights. I feel sorry for a car when I entrust it to the repair man. How does it know if I'll come back for it? How does the dog know?

Use your head, man. The Impreza doesn't care. The earth doesn't care. It just floods and burns as we excrete our poisons and wastes onto it. Machines will save us. They always have in the past. We drive on, heedless of destination.

Andrew L. Pincus writes about classical music for The Eagle and is an occasional op-ed page contributor.


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