Drive, He Said
The new slacker generation doesn't even care about driving.
As a scion of the Great American West, I am enamored by the distant horizon and the infinite landscapes that surround me. Unlike our more urbane American cousins along the two seaboards, we squinty-eyed westerners are undaunted by the prospect of piloting a clap-trap pickup truck dozens of miles across coyote-infested, moisture-less wastelands just to buy a bag of chicken feed. Whether that pickup starts with an actual ignition key or a screwdriver jammed into the slot, to live in the West is to have access to motorized transportation and the ability to conquer great distances in it. Getting my first driver's license was a passage into adulthood far more momentous than the advent of secondary body hair. So how is it that many of today's generation eschew the ownership of something so indispensible as a license, much less a motor vehicle?
Recently, since my truck's radio is permanently stuck on NPR (the knobs fell off in 1997), I heard it reported that the independence of the automobile is losing its allure with today's teenagers. The venerable relationship between the nation's teen culture and the automobile is fading because kids are driving less, getting their licenses later and rejecting the bourgeois concept of auto ownership. According to the American Automobile Association, two-thirds of kids had their license by age 18 just 20 years ago, but only half do today. Like backward baseball caps and neck tattoos, this is another indicator that our kids are still nibbling on lead-based paint.
Demonstrating exemplary journalistic integrity, the NPR reporter proceeded to interview some slacker children in and around Modesto, Calif., where the classic car-culture movie American Graffiti was set. They interviewed a 19-year-old girl who doesn't have a driver's license and was dropped off at the movies by her parents. "If there was something that was out there forcing me to get out there and actually get my license I probably would," she drooled. "But there's, like, your parents, so you have something to depend on...." I'm sure those parents are proud beyond belief.
Of the six kids interviewed, only one had a license. The others depended on their friends, girlfriends, parents or hobos for rides. One of them said that driving around town has been replaced by documenting life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I would suggest that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram be replaced by a measure of pride and self-sufficiency.
I doubt this is any sort of a social statement about the evils of the fossil-fuel chugging automobile. Modesto isn't a densely packed urban paradise with a multitude of public transportation options, so it can't be a function of urban infrastructure. I also think it has nothing to do with the operating costs of a hoopty since Craigslist is festooned with wheezing hulks that still technically function, for less than the price of a big-screen TV. And here in New Mexico, it's not like they need to be insured or anything. So why are so many kids indifferent to the prospect of driving?
It's easy: Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free? As parents, we are a generation of enablers. We misinterpreted the definition of what constitutes a good parent as whelping a child who wants for nothing. From sneakers with blinking lights and kid-centric pilgrimages to Disneyland to attending endless Little League games and annual public-school graduation ceremonies in the name of instilling self-esteem, today's kids honestly think every snowflake is special and that the universe is grateful for their existence. In a world without consequences, there are no responsibilities, and whether it's society as a whole or the parental units in particular, there is no shame in dependence.
I'm not sure if a similar Peter Pan attitude prevails in our slice of desertified heaven as it does in Modesto, but I have met actual young people who don't like driving and don't own cars, depending instead on others for transportation. This concept is as nonsensical to me as an Amish computer programmer or a French soldier.
I fear that such youthful complacency bodes ill for our future, as our geography requires productive citizens to traverse substantial distances at extra-legal velocities just to get things done. Driving is tantamount to having a job, taking care of your family, and having the ability to bug out when the zombie apocalypse happens. Of course, maybe I'm overlooking the possibility that my friends can pick me up and shoot the zombies for me, so all I will need to do is look pretty.
Choosing not to participate in gas-fired mobility for fear of harming the planet is one thing, but throwing yourself on the altar of dependence to other, more responsible people because it's easier isn't really the stuff legends are made of. Just as I wouldn't buy an alcoholic a cocktail, I don't believe any of us should give a ride to the slackers who choose to be burdensome. Enabling a lack of motivation is hardly part of the code of the West.
Henry Lightcap parks in Las Cruces.