A few months ago, I donated my car to an organization that takes care of foster kids. And for the first time in nearly two decades, I am no longer a driver.
Owning a car has always been a luxury in the Third World, something beyond the pale of the middle class. When I came here from Vietnam with my family as refugees at the end of the war, I remember such delight when my older brother bought his first car. As we cruised the streets at night, it felt as if we were becoming Americans.
For immigrants, the car is the first thing we buy before the house. Not surprisingly, the car is often the last thing that downtrodden Americans let go. Mobility defines us far more than sedentary life, thus the car is arguably more important than the house. Urban sprawl, combined with little public transportation, makes the car essential. The distance between here and there is daunting without a vehicle at one's command.
The car, romantically speaking, is mobility and individualism combined. Thelma and Louise escaped from urban ennui by hitting the freeway with the wind in their hair. Indeed, their final moment approaches the mythic, their blue Thunderbird soars across the Grand Canyon, taking freedom beyond any open road.
Alas, I fear our civilization too is driving toward an abyss
On TV a while back, former Vice President Al Gore called for a radical change in our collective behavior. He wants us to completely replace fossil fuel-generated electricity with carbon-free energy sources like solar and wind by 2018. "The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk," he warned.
My gut tells me that the green guru is right. So I’m giving up my car and walk to work. As I memorize bus routes, as I carry grocery bags up hill, it seems as if I am returning to my humble immigrant beginnings, repudiating some notion of being an American. But I’m not. Giving up the car is my new American responsibility.