Thursday, April 29, 2010

To Green or Not to Green...

I am in a moral pickle and I need some advice. Well, I don’t really need advice; I know what I should do, but it’s not what I want to do. More specifically it’s not what Katrina wants to do.

You see I have this car: this beautiful, fast German car made by a quaint little company calledBavarian Motor Works. You may have heard of them.

This car is by far the sexiest, most luxurious thing I have ever owned (Since I don’t own Katrina, she doesn’t count) and whether I like to admit it or not, this car fills a need (or desire or hole… something) inside of me.

When I drive this car, I feel thin and beautiful (a stretch, I know), successful and maybe a little bit admired. This car reminds me of how far I’ve come and from where and it is also the only thing of significant value that I have ever purchased entirely on my own with no help from anyone else (spouse included). I qualified for the loan by myself, have made all of the payments myself and picked it out myself. This is quite an accomplishment for a gal who could barely hold down a job seventeen years ago.

The irony is that this car represents everything that I once abhorred and swore I would never be a part of.

You see, my folks were part of the Silent Generation right on the cusp of the Baby Boomers. Technically, my dad is a boomer because he is two years younger than my mom.

They both grew up in families of three girls and one boy. My dad is the oldest of his brood and my mom is the middle girl with her brother as the baby.

They both grew up in working class families: My maternal grandpa was a mechanic and my paternal grandpa was a truck driver/ rocket mechanic. My dad’s family moved all over hell’s half acre like gypsies and my mom’s family stayed put in the same house until her father died when she was nearly thirty.

Both sets of my grandparents lived through the depression, albeit as children or teenagers, but they remembered the struggles of the time and they all vowed that their children would never live through the struggles that they had to. They also lived through a world war with food rations and Victory Gardens, so they prescribed to the motto: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

Many SGers and BBers grew up with hand-me-downs and handmade clothes, just like my parents. They shared rooms, chores and responsibilities and their parents hammered home the work ethic that made the baby boomers the ‘greatest generation’.

The Boomers Generation was the generation with the highest level of education and the lowest rate of poverty in the modern world (1750-2010). With the maturity of the BB’s we saw the coining and recognizable usage of the phrase “Conspicuous Consumption”. The last fortyish years have seen a generation of people who grew up with little but found nearly endless opportunity at their doorsteps.

Please note that I realize that I am somewhat generalizing an entire age group and I don’t mean to eliminate the margins… I realize that the latter half of the past century saw it’s fair share of hard times and folks who probably don’t feel like they were offered unlimited opportunities but in general (the whole idea of generalizing in the first place) there was more widespread industrial, educational and technological opportunity for wealth then ever before seen in the modern world.

With that being said, my folks we some of the fortunate ones. My dad and mom both worked hard and sacrificed for our family and our future; and while there were hard times that I vaguely remember as a young child, most of my formative years were spent in relative luxury. My dad is an oil man (ironic, isn’t it?) so he made good on the promise of the American Dream.

Growing up, we lived a few doors down from the country club and our house, which I didn’t realize until I took my first girlfriend to visit, was larger than at least three of the houses she grew up in. After living in a rat-shit apartment in Mobile, Alabama; coming home was quite the wake-up call for me. I had really taken much for granted before I set out on my own.

The home my dad lives in now sits on I’d guess an acre and has an eight car garage and nearly 8000 square feet. It is located in an area that was once the destination for Housonians known as the Woodlands. It is certainly a testament to both hard work and a little bit of luck.

Rest assured that all eight of those garage bays are filled and in fact, one vehicle is actually stored off-site since I believe his wife is not fond of the 1976 Ford Econoline van in mint condition that he bought when my now thirty-seven year old countenance was barely a toddler of two. She is often defensive about the fact that he had fifty years worth of life already lived before they met and married and she does her best to eliminate reminders of the PT era (Pre-Tutti).

In addition to the van, his fleet consists of: a 2009 BMW 325C convertible, a Jeep Wrangler, a Yukon XL, a King Ranch 350 dually, a Lincoln Towncar , a 1965 Ford Galaxie 1500 Convertible and a Honda 1800. I think I’m missing one but I can’t remember which.

In spite of all of this luxury and success, my dad’s dedication to hard work cost him a marriage, being involved in his daughter’s formative years and ultimately his own happiness. He lives but a mask of the life he could lead and I know that he hides behind his lack of emotion to keep his continuing feelings of inadequacy at bay. He feels that his only worth is in his ability to work and provide income.

Because of his desire to overcompensate, I never wanted for anything and was greatly, if unintentionally, spoiled. When I struck out on my own, I had less than no idea about how to care for myself and faced greater than my share of challenges when it came to holding down a job, paying bills and saving money. I didn’t even know how to do laundry, clean up after myself of do my own laundry because we had a maid and a gardener and a mom who took care of that. Learning to function as something other that a spoiled-rotten brat took a long time. Sometimes it still does.

Because of this, I have always sought to distance myself from the trappings of wealth (I did a wonderful job for many years- just ask Katrina). As I grew older, the living from hand to mouth and paycheck to paycheck got a little old so I seized opportunity when it arose to provide a better future for my family (much like my folks did). While basking in my success at last, I also got caught up in the same mindset that holds my dad hostage. The fatalistic American pastime of “Keeping Up With The Joneses”, although to a lesser extent.

We bought two new cars, put the house on the market for something bigger and bought all of the right clothes, shoes and accessories (for the lesbian scene, anyway).

Then I looked around at my darling little house that was too small for all of my stuff and thought,”Why not get rid of all the stuff?”

So that’s what we did… We got rid of the crap that was weighing us down and got back to basics. We got rid of the $40,000 Honda Accord Hybrid, started gardening again, got into a more simplistic way of living. We started saving money, paying off bills and planning for the future.

But one little scrap of affluence remains… We keep justifying reasons to keep it:

1. It’s affordable- after paying $16K in cash as a down payment, I owe less than it’s currently worth and make payments less than a friend pays for her Hyundai.

2. It’s all wheel drive- excellent for the nasty Utah winters

3. It’s safe- Doesn’t our family’s safety come first???

4. It’s reliable- Bavarian ingenuity at it’s finest

5. It’s practical- everyone carries bales of hay in the trunk of their beemers, right?

6. It’s green- this is a gray area. Yes, it uses synthetic oil that is 100% recyclable and only needs to be changed every 15,000 miles (thousand, not hundred); it’s manufactured with very little waste, nearly all of which is recycled and, as evidenced by the sheer number of old beemers still around, lasts forever. But when a car responds to a gas pedal like this car responds to a gas pedal, fuel consumption becomes a bit questionable. This is also evident in the fact that I lived for thirty –five years on this earth without acquiring a single traffic ticket and in the two years since buying this car, I have managed to rack up and impressive FOUR!

So now I want to live life more simply and depend less on the almighty dollar to fulfill the empty little pockets in my soul. I want to live and laugh and love for more often than I work, worry and wait.

I want to travel and eat and swim and play. I want to make things grow and I want to create useful things.

I want to learn and share and be free of the fetters that bind so many Americans in chains that they can’t even see or feel.

Now I need to convince Katrina that her journey is more important than her stats whist getting there (and in her case, how fast she gets there while the stereo kills the few remaining audio nerve receptors left in her skull).

Mark Twain once said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

At the end of the journey what’s more important, the car you drove or where you drove it?

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