I hate one part of life in America above all others. I’ve dropped hints here and there, but never devoted a blog post. I don’t like the physical act of driving a car.
If I drive for an hour, I’m tired afterwards. I haven’t subjected my body to physical effort, or even moved much, but I haven’t rested. It’s not meditation. Your attention is constantly occupied. You can let your thoughts drift a little, or listen to the radio, but you must use your brain to pay attention to traffic.
Is that a pothole I need to dodge? Is this guy going to try to pull out in front of me? Does the guy in the next lane see me? Am I going to make this light? Is this guy in front going to go quick enough? Should I honk?
These constant permutations don’t stop until you’ve shut off the engine. The intellectual bandwidth driving a car requires is a significant tax on your productivity. Hell, on your wellbeing. And that’s if the drive goes well.
Not all trips go well. I sometimes get angry.
Most road rage incidents seem to stem from drivers angered by perceived injustices on the road. Another driver entered in front of him, which they perceive as if someone jumped the queue at the store. But on the road, that doesn’t bother me at all. If somebody manages to get in front of me, I’d applaud the efficient use of space assuming it was performed safely.
I am slightly bothered by people who don’t keep traffic moving. I am a honker, and I’ll honk if somebody isn’t attentive to orderly rules of the road. But even slow drivers don’t make me angry. I only contemplate getting out of the car and teaching a lesson to dangerous drivers. Unsafe drivers. And topping that list are drivers who make risky maneuvers or ride too close behind.
These aggressors often drive a car (A) with visible damage, (B) worth four figures in dollars or (C) has a “temp tag” license plate. Sometimes you get a combo of those three. But you see aggressive driving from fancy sports cars and everything in between.
I don’t think I’m the typical profile of a road rager, an insistently safe minivan driver who will in fact break your nose for tailgating. I’m not typical because I don’t do it. That’s a fool’s game. People have guns here, more than ever. Search YouTube for any American city and “road rage shooting” and you can see both how recently and how often people get shot in traffic.
Even if I manage to get somebody out of their car without getting shot, my calculus has changed with the rise in popularity of mixed-martial arts. I’ve seen the dispersion of wrestling skills. I’ve seen that guys who 20 years ago I’d determine as easy to knock out might twist me up like a pretzel or make me holler “uncle.” Or break my wrist, whatever they do in jiu-jitsu, krav maga, etc.
I’m too old to be fighting in the street over trivial arguments anyway. But the anger is real, and road rage incidents are spiking nationwide.
People drive like pricks because they are over-acclimated to driving cars, a condition known as acclimated-rider syndrome and epidemic (ARSE). The ARSEs of society don’t know any other way to get around. They’ve never lived without a car, so they develop unrealistic expectations about how quick and convenient driving a car to their destination should be. They don’t see the car as a five-figure, depreciating asset that moves at a speed that regularly kills 200-pound mammals.
ARSE manifests itself in other ways too. My favorite, in a love-to-hate kind of way, is when people use their cars to travel easily walkable distances. I’ve seen people drive to a neighbor’s house 100 yards away. Or when somebody needs to go to two different stores in one parking lot, many people will return to their car after the first store not only to drop off their purchases, but to in fact start the engine again and drive the car to a parking space closer to the second store instead of just walking there. That’s ARSE.
I have a strategy for parking lots which saves me time and stress, but it occasionally perturbs ARSE passengers. I park at the first spot available after entering the lot. I’ll pass spots only if a large lot is empty, but I won’t pass a parked car. I always park on the outside edge of parked cars. The ARSE passenger may grumble about being further from the entrance than necessary.
ARSE drivers place a high importance on minimizing the steps they walk, so they look for the spot closest to the entrance of the building. My strategy doesn’t aim to save steps, but time. And you lose time looking for a spot that saves you steps. You lose even more time getting stuck and having to wait behind a car backing out or an elderly pedestrian negotiating a shopping cart. You also risk those obstacles on the way out, but not if you’re positioned to make a clean getaway. I have converted born-and-bred suburban warriors (thus prone to ARSE logic) to my parking strategy.
ARSE and car-dependence are why Americans are overweight. In college I saw Europeans and Latins would always gain 10 pounds soon after arriving in America. They thought it was because of the food. That is only part of it. The other factor is they’re not walking and cycling everywhere they go, not expending natural human energy, so they’re burning less calories.
There is an obesity epidemic spreading from the United States to the rest of the world, and all the blame seems to be on McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. But why not car dependency and ARSE? Show me an obese person, and it’s not necessarily certain he likes fast food or soda, but it is guaranteed he is an ARSE.
I don’t like driving the car. Nor do I like filling it with gas, changing the oil, getting things fixed or the price of it all. Most Americans take for granted how much it costs to drive a car because the ARSEs would never consider going without one.
After accounting for the price of the car itself and the recurring costs of driving it — insurance, fuel, maintenance and major repairs — the ARSE lifestyle costs about $10,000 per year. Given the average and median annual salaries are $52,000 and $34,000 respectively, most Americans spend a quarter of their income on their car-dependent, ARSE lifestyle.
One grave risk of that lifestyle for my fellow souses and sots are the harsh penalties for driving under the influence of a few beers. It’s a felony. It’s expensive. And it’s not that hard to get popped (you don’t have to be very drunk to be illegal). In most cities, it’s terribly inconvenient to play it safe. If you take a taxi home, you’ll need to take one back to your car in the morning. It’s not just the money, but the time of making two trips instead of one. And again depending on the city, is it even safe to leave the car overnight?
Many people believe they are “city people” if they live in a metropolitan area with a population of a couple million or whatever. But people in Houston, Atlanta or Phoenix lead fundamentally suburban lives, not urban at all, despite being in cities with large populations. Healthy, urban life means you don’t have to ignite fuel or charge electricity to create external energy for mobility, unless that energy is shared (buses and trains). You should be able to walk to get each of the following.
- Loaf of bread and gallon of milk
- Head of lettuce
- Dry-cleaning service
- Prescription medication
- Meal to eat on premise
- Beer to go
- Beer to drink on premise
Where I live now, I can get five of nine, which is probably above average for ARSE-friendly America. But it’s not enough for my personal happiness. I want the whole nine.
I actually lived in St. Louis without a car for two years. It’s possible, but dangerous. You’ll inevitably be at bus and train stations late at night with juvenile, adult and elderly delinquents (they come in all types). And unlike big cities, you’ll be all alone with them. And outside. Nobody else around. I wouldn’t subject a wife and children to that. Hell, I wouldn’t do it myself at 43 years old.
With conscious design and willingness to brave the elements, you could live ARSE-free in a handful of similar cities that developed before the 20th century. But unfortunately the vast majority of locales in the United States are car-dependent. The ones that aren’t are prohibitively expensive.
The only cities where I know you can safely live ARSE-free (and to be truly ARSE-free means no car at all) are New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago and San Francisco. Those cities are prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, almost as a rule, their public schools are bad at best. At worst they’re not safe. In St. Louis, they are growth-stunting if not traumatizing for white children.
A family wanting to escape the ARSE of American life not only has to pay more to live in a city you can navigate on foot, but they also have to find a private or charter school. That’s not too different than the quandary I faced in Lima. America has an ARSE addiction.
Many people living outside the United States seem to think the gun-crazed culture and third-world murder rate are the ever-present risk to your life here. I felt this way and even wrote about it in 2018 in the wake of some forgettable mass shooting.
But even then, I looked into mortality data and saw that more people died in car accidents than in by gun (murders, suicides and accidents), and concluded that ARSE was deadlier than the Church of the Second Amendment.
I was going to make that point here today, but I double-checked the numbers and saw this is changing. There are now 34 states that saw more gun deaths than motor vehicle deaths. I wondered if Missouri, with one of the country’s highest murder rates, was on that list. Could Missouri’s ARSE drivers be more bloodthirsty than its gun-crazed outlaws? I thought it was possible.
Wrong. The Cave State, birthplace of Truman and Twain, saw 1,426 gun deaths in 2020 compared to 1,038 car deaths, or 3.9 deaths per day by gun vs. 2.8 by ARSE.
I want to dig into that data. How many of those deaths could be classified as both? For example, how many ARSE-crazed drivers shot and killed another driver and the death was chalked up as a gun death instead of a car death? It seems to me there should be a Venn diagram of death to gain a better understanding, but that’s for another day.
Is ARSE worse than guns? I don’t know, they both suck. This is America. It’s not great. Even if you don’t get killed, life in the car sucks. You only have to see guns or listen to gun nuts talk about guns once in a while, but you have to drive the damn car every day.
Yeah, ARSE is worse. I think ARSE contributes to the polarization and anger in America today. The ARSE lifestyle of the suburbs doesn’t force people to face each other. Everybody hides inside their car. They only face people in the workplace and neighborhood retailers. Life behind the wheel is antisocial, often aggravated by listening to kooky conspiracy podcasts peddling fear and loathing of others.
In a proper city, you share space with people from other parts of town. The moneyed classes come face to face with the working classes, the lighter skin tones with the dark. And people make it work. They get along just fine. The relentless expansion away from urban cores and doubling down on the ARSE lifestyle reduces that interaction and inflames tribalism and animosity.
It’s even worse for children who aren’t old enough to drive. Their forced anti-sociability is why all the school shootings happen in outer-ring suburbs and exurbs. I can’t think of one that ever happened in one of those aforementioned ARSE-free cities.
And you still have to drive the car every day.