Cycling Through an American Town

By Michael Ayers

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The Day the Automobile Went Extinct

To the people walking and bicycling along Sycamore Road that particular Sunday, the site of James Arrowsmith sitting on the front porch of his cottage waving to passers-by did not seem to be the least bit unusual. Indeed, this was his favorite pastime on hot summer afternoons like this one. Today, however, his reason for being there went beyond mere friendliness. He was waiting patiently, feeling a mixture of anticipation and apprehension, for a visit from his favorite relative, his great granddaughter Alice. Though he always enjoyed her visits, this time he was somewhat anxious, as her reason for coming by felt more like business than pleasure.

Alice was about to start her second year at Cannondale Falls High School, and had asked to come by to do some research for her Civics class summer project. The topic she had been assigned; automobiles, probably the dominant feature of American life in the 20th-century, and the single piece of technology most often credited for bringing about the momentous changes of the 21st, was daunting to say least. Naturally, she couldn't pass up the opportunity to gather some firsthand information from the famous Jim Arrowsmith.

Jim, of course, would be more than happy to help her out, but he knew that this interview would be much like all the others. He would like to tell her how excited he was to get his driver’s license on the day after his 16th birthday in 1998. Or, he would be happy to describe how proud he was when he purchased his first car and how he would spend many hours on the weekends lovingly washing it in the driveway. Would she like to hear about the hundreds of times he and his friends used it to go out to their favorite mall? Perhaps she would be interested learning of the feelings of exhilaration he received from operating the machine on one of the old high-speed highways? No, without a doubt she would not ask him about any of these memories. Instead, there would only be one thing on her mind.

Alice would ask him the one question that he had heard more than any other -- What was it like to have been the last person in America with a driver’s license?

He couldn't really blame her. After all, it was an interesting story, and he had told it to, as he now called them, "those dang-blasted reporters," so many times that he was now considered to be quite an expert on the subject.

Alice had told him that she would be by at three o'clock and, punctual as ever, she rode up just as the town clock hit the third chime. With a wide smile on her face, she rolled through his front gate and hopped off her bike. Tossing her helmet aside, she threw her arms around her ancestor and cheerily greeted him with "Good to see you Gramps!"

Jim's first thought was to ask her why she always insisted on leaning her bike up against his favorite clematis vine. But, at 93 years of age, he had long ago moved beyond being grumpy, and was just glad to see her.

"You know I'm always happy to see you too, Alice," he said with an infusion of energy in his demeanor.

Alice wanted to get right to work, but Jim would have nothing of that. He insisted that they first visit for a while over juice and cookies.

"How's your mother?" he asked.

"She's great," Alice replied. "She sends her love, and told me to remind you that there's a nice room for you in the main house whenever you want it."

"Well, I like it here for now," Jim pointed out "The market is just around the corner, and two blocks away is the Walnut St. plaza. That's where I go to play chess with Serge and Lizzie."

"Fiercely independent as always, eh, Gramps?"

"Right you are, my young friend." Jim responded. "Besides, the trolley gets me down to the house in only 12 minutes."

"And you need to use it more often!" Alice strongly suggested.

"Maybe so," he conceded. "So how is the family garden doing this year?"

"Well, this year just broke another record for heat…"

"I could have told you that!" Jim interrupted.

"But, we're going to do okay. We'll have lots of good food for you this year, corn, peas, greens, potatoes, carrots…"

"What about melons?"

"Just the way you like ‘em, big and juicy," Alice said with a smile.

Jim really didn't need to ask that question. The Roberts family had a long-standing reputation for growing the finest melons in all of Cannondale Falls. And for the past three years, Alice had been in charge of that section of the garden. So, there should be plenty of good fruit this year, as usual. Now, just the thought of the first crop of honeydews, casabas, and watermelons began to soften his mood. So much so, that he now felt ready to tell his story once more.

"So what was it you wanted to ask me, Alice?"

"I'd like to know why you waited so long to give back your driver's license?" was the question she posed.

"Well, if you want to understand that, you've got to go back to the beginning. Back to when I was a young man," Jim replied.

Alice knew that this was going to be more information than she would need for her report, but she respected her great grandfather, and the history that he represented. Besides, this story was part of her family heritage. So, she would take it all in. Pulling out her notebook, she remarked, "Okay, I'm ready, let's go."

"It was just before the turn of the century when I learned how to drive," Jim began. "You see, things were very different back then. It was an exciting time to be a young man and a whole world of new possibilities opened up once you got your first car.

"In those days, society was based on personal mobility, economic growth, and cheap energy."

"My teacher told us that the new society is being built on self-reliance, communications, stability, and intelligent limits," Alice added.

"Yes," Jim continued, "you’d have a hard time coming up with two worlds so completely different.

"Oh sure, back then there were people who constantly rocked the boat by saying how the system was unstable, harmful to the environment, and vulnerable to unexpected events. But we didn't really listen to them. I don't know, maybe we believed that new technologies would improve things, or that all of this was too big an issue for one person to make a difference. Or maybe we just thought it was ‘Somebody else's problem’.

"Anyway, at that time everything seemed good. The economy was booming, gas was cheap, and I was anxious to get out into the world and make something of myself.

"As soon as I finished school, I moved to Las Vegas. When I got there, I took a job at a Klondike Lode Steak House. It was a good career move because, back then, K-L’s was one of the largest restaurant chains in the West. Before too long, I became an assistant manager.

"Those were happy times. Everything I needed was within an hour's drive, and I made enough money that I could afford to buy a few of life's luxuries. And, best of all, I met my wife, your great grandmother, just a few months later. I almost ran her over as she was coming out of the Ranchero Casino."

"Just like that?" asked Alice.

"Yup," Jim went on, "it was 2 a.m. and I was driving home from work. She had also just gotten off work, she was a dealer then you know, and I guess both of us were a little sleepy because she stepped right out in front of me and I almost didn't stop in time.

"We ended up falling in love, and in six months we got married in one of those drive-in wedding chapels. Then in ‘08 your grandmother, Kimberly, was born. That made life more difficult because we both had to work, and it became harder to make ends meet. But, she was a very beautiful child so we didn't mind.

"It was not long after that, sometime around 2011, that things began to change. You see, the growth of the economy and the population through the entire 20th-century, was fueled by cheap oil. It was an ideal source of energy, easy to produce, transport, and store, and over several decades we had built up a massive infrastructure to do all of these things."

"But didn't it make a lot of pollution?" Alice asked.

"Yes, but most of us just wanted somebody to fix that problem, so we could go on with our business. It was around this time that the world began to burn oil faster than it could be pumped from the ground. And, there was no way around this situation because newly found oil deposits became harder and more unprofitable to exploit."

"How come? Alice wondered.

"Well, if you were going to go into business by digging up resources from the ground, which would you start with, the hard-to-get-at deposits, or the easy ones?"

"The easy ones, I guess," she concluded.

"Of course you would. And so, many of the oil deposits left in the ground by that time needed more complex technologies to pump out the crude. For some fields you had to use more enegy to get the oil out than you got back by burning it! But people kept consuming at an increasing rate, and the American lifestyle was spreading around the globe.

"And that meant only one thing, that oil became more and more expensive. It didn't happen overnight, but the price rise was steady and continuous. I think it may have been better if they're actually was a dramatic price jump, but instead, the price increases just kept nibbling away at people's incomes.

"That was when the reality of the situation became apparent. You have to realize that the cost of every single product in those days was linked in some way or another to the price of oil. So, slowly but surely, everything, from gas, to food, to computer software, became more expensive. They called that inflation."

"Computer software is free, how could that change because of the price of oil?" Alice asked with a confused look.

"Well, it wasn't free back then, and the folks that wrote the code had to pay their rents, by groceries, and drive to work just like everyone else. So, when these things got more expensive they all decided that they needed raises. Then, of course, the employer, the Giant Software Company, passed on these costs to the consumer.

"This was the situation that we found ourselves in during the second decade of the century. We were struggling to cope with an economy beginning to falter because we didn't plan for an inevitable energy shift when times were good.

"Of course, people had seen the effects of rising energy prices a few decades earlier in the 1970's but, you know, I guess people just have short memories."

Alice, becoming more absorbed in the story asked, "Didn't anybody do anything about it?"

Jim responded with a hearty laugh, "Good gracious! Everyone and his uncle had an opinion about what needed to be done.

"Lots of people were in denial, believing that this was just part of a normal cycle and that everything would work itself out eventually. Others tried to reduce their expenses by working from home using the ‘Net. That only helped a little, because most of the driving that people did wasn’t work related, it was for shopping, running errands, and so forth.

"Some folks believed that a big tax cut could offset the hardships caused by rising energy prices. But with the economy slowing down, the federal government had returned to deficit spending and this idea didn't go through.

"The most popular notion was to cut energy use by making more efficient automobiles."

"That didn't really work either, did it?" asked Alice who was struggling to comprehend these concepts that were quite unfamiliar to her.

"No, it didn't," Jim continued. "Everyone always thought that when oil became expensive people would just switch to new, exotic technologies or more costly sources of energy. But what nobody seemed to understand was that these exotic technologies and energy sources were themselves dependent on the price of oil, because the materials, labor, and capital needed to make them were all becoming more expensive as well.

"So in ‘05 you could buy a gas-powered LeBaron for $26,000 or an electric EV-3 for $43,000, but in ‘18 a gas-powered Continuum was $38,000 and an electric ran about $55,000. Not exactly a big incentive to switch.

"And there were other reasons that none of these new technologies took off. For one thing it was much easier for the car companies to start making smaller cars again instead of the new exotic techs. Sure, the exotics had much better efficiency but for most people, the smaller models were enough of an improvement to make them pass over the more expensive techs.

"But the biggest problem was a lack of leadership. At that time there were several new designs trying to gain acceptance. You had natural gas vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, methanol fuel cells, battery-electrics, and all sorts of screwy hybrid combinations. Someone even suggested compressed-air cars! Each car company was trying to push their own choice for high efficiency vehicles, on which they had already invested heavily. Naturally, each wanted their design to become the standard. But of course, no company’s technology was completely compatible with the others.

"What someone should have done was to evaluate all of the options, make a decision on which was the best, and then commit all the industries involved to switch 100%, lock, stock, and barrel. But instead, as was fashionable at the time, the policy was to make all of these choices available to consumers and then ‘Let the Market decide’.

"So, Alice, what you think the Market decided?

"I haven't got a clue!" she responded.

"Well, the Market decided that none of these would be completely accepted. You see, most of these new techs required big changes in the fuel-delivery infrastructure. Back then there were tens of thousands of gas stations. Getting them all to switch to one type of new fuel might have worked, but asking them to support several new types was a disaster. Most of them knew where their profits came from and even though they all knew they would switch someday, few were willing to risk gambling on which new fuel would eventually win out.

"And then there was the difficulty in training enough mechanics to fix all of these new types of cars. Those bold folks that had bought one of the new techs often had to tow them to another city when they broke and then wait days or weeks to have them repaired. And, you bet, they broke down a lot, what with all that first-generation technology under the hood.

"Oh sure, eventually the government began a subsidy program where they gave five thousand dollars to anyone who replaced a gasoline-powered car with one of the new techs. Over three years, 10 million people took them up on it."

"That sounds pretty successful," noted Alice.

"You have to remember that back in those days there were 230 million cars and small trucks in America. So replacing less than five percent of them didn't have much of an impact. And then, after three years and 50 billion dollars, a new Congress was elected that championed fiscal conservatism and government non-interference. Shortly after that, the program was axed. So gasoline-powered cars stayed alive much longer than most ‘experts’ would have predicted."

"It sounds like nobody realized what a difficult job it would be to make such a major change," Alice noted.

"Now you're getting it, my dear," Jim said.

"Then things really started to get confusing," he continued. "You would have thought that the bad economic times would have caused a big drop in our consumption oil. But it didn't.

"Yes, a lot of people were now working at home, there had been at least a modest improvement in fuel efficiency, most people tried to drive less, and many people with low incomes had given up driving altogether. But, in spite of all that, our consumption of oil didn’t drop, but stayed level."

"I don't understand," Alice muddled.

"Well, look at this way, for several decades our oil consumption had risen year by year. Something like 1-2% each year. Now, even though gas was expensive, and many people had cut back, the total amount used stayed about the same," Jim explained.

"Ah, I get it," Alice said, slowly beginning to grasp the big picture, "because the population was still growing back then."

"Yes, that was a big part of it," Jim agreed "And the rest of the world began to drink more from the tap too. But there was also a more fundamental problem. For about a hundred years America had been designing its cities and towns exclusively for drivers. At the time, I was very happy about that. I had easy freeway access, could get just about anywhere I needed to go quickly, well, except during rush hour, and there was free parking most places."

Alice almost asked what the term rush hour meant, but then hesitated, thinking it that might be too long a story.

"None of us realized," he continued, "that we were trapped in a pattern of consumption because we lived in towns that forced us to drive. For some people it was so bad that they had to choose between continuing to drive, or selling their homes and relocating. Most of them decided to tough it out and kept driving, still hoping that things would get better one day. But really, these folks were locked in a downward spiral, constantly spending more and more of their income just to hold on to their ability to get around."

"Is that what was like for the people who used to live in out in Cold Town?" Alice quietly asked.

"Alice!" Jim answered tersely, "Cold Town is not a good place for a young girl like you."

"Don't worry, I never go out there," she assured him.

This, in fact, was not completely truthful. The abandoned homes and businesses that made up Cold Town surrounded the restored town of Cannondale Falls like a moat around a medieval city. It was the sprawling economic heart of Cannondale Falls in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but had now been deserted for almost thirty years. On several occasions Alice and her friends had spent many hours there, exploring the empty buildings and examining all the interesting junk.

Jim, after taking a few deep breaths, continued on with his story, "So now, we're into the '20s. Things had continued on like this for several years. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but nothing fundamental really changed. Our oil usage remained steadily, with a few interesting points.

"For one, many of the owners of local gas stations and service centers began to suffer from the effects of the economic slump and the lack of growth in thier revenues. Most people always assumed that these businesses were raking in tons of money, but really most of them were just barely surviving.

"Before long many began to go under. Because they realized that this would make it that much more difficult for people to drive, the oil and auto companies bought out a large number of these businesses and operated them at a loss. They kept this up for quite some time.

"You see, even though the growth in oil consumption had flattened out, oil was still big business, and still provided jobs for thousands. You should not underestimate their willingness to fight to preserve their livelihoods."

Solemnly, Alice asked, "A lot of people were fighting in those days, right?"

After a pause, where Jim seemed to drift away for a second, he responded tensely, "Aggg! That damn Caspian War! I just get so maddened every time I think of it!"

"I’m sorry I brought it up"

"No, my dear, it is part of the story, so we should talk about it. You learned in school that the last big oil discovery was in the area surrounding the Caspian Sea, correct?"

Alice nodded.

"Now, the countries in that area, well, let’s just say that they didn’t have a long tradition of stable governments. And, by this time, America was buying more than half of its oil from other countries like these.

"Some of these small countries realized the position that this put them in, and decided to take advantage of it. For several years they, together with the other oil exporters, played games with the oil supply. This infuriated America and the other oil-addicted countries. Publicly, their policy was to offer economic incentives and talk peace. Many of us always suspected that in private their policy was to wait for an excuse to do something more severe.

"The problem with thinking like that is that eventually something, anything, will seem like a good enough reason to act.

"So, in 2027, the fight started, and then ended after only five months. The outcome was never really in doubt. What always steamed me is that all we really accomplished was getting a lot of people killed and burning a whole mess of the oil supply that we were supposed to be protecting.

"But, for a short time, things seemed to stabilize. There was now a strict worldwide system of oil price controls, and we seemed to be making some progress in improving our efficiency. As you might expect though, it was too little, too late."

Alice, now that the story was moving into a timeframe with which she was more familiar, spoke up, "Too late. You mean the Great Collapse of 2035?"

"Mmm. What a nightmare! The financial system melted down just eight weeks after your father was born. Then the transportation system fell apart. Several airlines went bankrupt, and trucking wasn’t much better. The loss of parts and raw materials hurt manufacturing, and don’t even ask about global trade.

"People still argue today about what set off the whole thing, but all I know is that it was very unpleasant."

Alice then tried to shift the subject a bit. "Well, Kevin Stinson has to do his report on the causes of the Great Collapse, so let’s skip over that. What I really want to know is what was happening with you during all of this?"

Jim sighed for a bit, and then mustered up his strength to continue, "Of course, what we all wanted the most was to get things back to the way that they used to be before. We elected politicians who promised to ‘Put America back to work again!’ but almost everyone was unemployed for some of the time.

"Needless to say, things were not going too well in Las Vegas. I was the head manager and a part owner of the steak house just before the Collapse. But, as you might imagine, with so many people out of work there were very few visitors coming to town. And for a city whose whole economy was based on entertainment and gambling, that meant trouble.

"In a very short time the city just stopped. When I moved there we were the fastest-growing city in America, but in just a few years the whole place just dried up and blew away. There was just no way to make ends meet back there. What’s worse was that people without jobs had to walk everywhere, and in a town that was so spread out, walking in the 110-degree heat was not fun."

"Nowadays it tops 50 C down there all the time," Alice pointed out.

"Even worse, I guess." Jim continued, "Before long, the steak house went under, and my retirement plan went right along with it.

"So we didn’t have too many options at that point. Your great grandmother went to live with Kimberly and your father back east, while I tried to find work. That was the last time I saw my wife and daughter."

This statement hit Alice rather hard. She had known that her great grandfather had spent much of his latter life alone, but she didn’t realize just how long that had been. They both sat quietly for a moment until Alice quietly asked, "Where did you go?"

"I hit the road," was Jim’s response. "And it wasn’t easy. Gas was almost impossible to come by, and when somebody had some, it didn’t last long."

"A lot of us from the city linked up into big caravans heading east. At one point I think we had over 150 cars! Someone would drive ahead, and if they found a place to get gas, they’d call back and the rest of us would follow along. We were all in the same boat, so to speak, and we all helped each other out when we could. There was really quite a lot of camaraderie on the road.

"Although we were not always welcome in the towns that we passed through. No, sir! Someone in the press started calling us Lost Vegans because we seemed to be just wandering around. But, really we were trying to get back to farm country where we might be able to find some work."

"Where did you sleep?" Alice wondered.

"At night we’d just find a isolated spot, and sleep in our cars," Jim replied. "Hah! I remember when one guy got the bright idea to warm up dinner on the hot engine blocks. It didn’t quite taste the same, but after weeks of cold pizza, I didn’t mind.

"Eventually, we came to parts of the country that weren’t quite as bad off as Vegas was, and the group kind of split up. I bounced around doing whatever job I could find. But I always meant to meet back up with the rest of the family.

"I would have made it too, but I never got the chance. The Global Pandemics struck in ’42 just as I was starting to pull it together."

Hearing about the Pandemics always frightened Alice, and she just sat quietly while Jim talked on, "I suppose it was inevitable, with the climate getting hotter, and most of the drug and medical companies failing, but I still have a hard time comprehending how bad it got. That’s when we lost your grandparents, you know?"

Alice nodded slightly, looking melancholy.

"They went down to Florida to do relief work, because even in those hard times they were very generous people. Before too long they both came down with a nasty strain of encephalitis, and there was nothing that could be done to help them. I didn’t learn about that for almost twenty years," Jim said, his voice drifting off.

"I wish that I had a chance to meet them" was all that Alice could manage to say.

"I know that they would have been very proud of you, my dear."

Alice, knowing that this marked the low point of the story, made a concerted effort to move things along to the happier parts, "That’s when all the new ideas started coming out, right?"

"Well," Jim replied, "it took a while for society to recover from such a big shock, but, yes, when everything calmed down, it was clear to virtually everybody that things could never go back to the way that they had been. I guess that I was still a holdout because a first I thought that the new policies were too radical. But, they were proposed by leaders who were elected in a landslide victory in ’48, so my opinions didn't go very far. The platform centered around a new human society inseparable from the natural world.

"There were many big changes then, but the one that’s important for you is the transport program. There was a small amount of domestic oil left and in ’49 it was decided that this would be used exclusively to rebuild a limited national railroad system and operate it until a sustainable biogenic-liquid fuel program could be put in place."

"What does a limited national system mean?" Alice asked.

"Oh my, you really don’t realize what it was like in the old days, do you? We expected to be able to go anywhere at any time for any reason. I know that when I was young I felt that it was my birthright.

"But Gramps, I can go anywhere, anytime on my bike!" Alice countered.

"You wouldn’t have been able to back then. Walking and cycling were dangerous because of all the traffic. And there were barriers that made it difficult to get from place to place that way. When she was a young lady, Kimberly was a dedicated cyclist, but the rest of us always felt that she was sort of loony for doing it."

"Seems to me that she wasn’t the loony one!" contested Alice.

"Okay, enough of that, now back to the story." Jim said, reasserting control. "So, the new limited rail system only went to certain places, and then only very infrequently. Cities that were not on the system suffered, and many of them became ghost towns. It was a hardship, to be sure, but there was no real way to maintain such a dispersed nation.

"This was really the last gasp of the automobile in America. Before ’49 there were still a lot of people who managed to make it through the hard times and were still driving."

"Like you!" noted Alice.

"Yes, I did, somehow. But now even the rest of these people saw the end coming. The last gas stations closed down. Parking was not allowed in most places. And, to put a note of finality to it, about 750 bridges were either closed or destroyed. It was like cutting the legs out from under a table.

"It was a fad back then to drive out the last tank of gas in your car and try to run it dry right in front of a busy restaurant or market, and then just get out and leave it there. It was sort of a protest called Fuming the Beast. Kind of silly when you think about it."

"But you didn’t do that, did you Gramps?"

"No, no, I kept my car."

"How come?"

"I just wanted too," Jim stated firmly. "I finally got a job as a caretaker at the train depot down in Andover, so I figured I’d be able to keep ’er running."

"It wasn’t easy, though. I had to drive 150 miles up state to a guy who would sell me gas without asking questions. It turned out that he was on the caravan out of Las Vegas with me back in ’36. I had to put an extra 50-gallon tank in the trunk to make it worthwhile. It was fun, though. I felt like a living symbol of the past."

"I still don’t see why you didn’t just get rid of it." Alice said, trying to press the point.

"I don’t really expect that you’ll understand, but partly I enjoyed the challenge of keeping it running by myself, and I also had a stubborn streak in me and enjoyed going against the mainstream. But most of all, that car was like part of the family," Jim explained.

Fortunately, he couldn’t see Alice’s eyes rolling back in their sockets, for as someone who actually was part of the family she felt slightly offended by that remark.

"So, then it was in 2060," he continued, "the same year that you were born, that some reporter figured out that I was the last person with a driver’s license. But, I want you to be perfectly clear in your report, that that only referred to personal licenses. There were still lots of people with licensees for driving ambulances and other emergency vehicles.

"After that, it seemed like I was getting interviewed just about once a week. Apparently, everyone wanted to know about that last stalwart driver and his motoring history."

"Well, you are a really interesting guy, " said Alice, smiling. "So that’s when you gave it up?

"No, not for another five years."

"Five more years?!"

"Well, you never know, I might have needed it for something important."

"I suppose so. Okay, so now please tell me. What was it that finally made you change your mind?"

Jim tried to come up with one really dramatic reason, but couldn’t. "Oh, I don’t know, it just got to be too hard. One time I needed to replace the injector coupling, and the only place I could get one was from a guy up in Canada. That took six months. And my eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. But most of all, I started getting tired of all the people who were walking or riding bicycles treating me like I was a second-class citizen, or something. After all, I was just trying to get around, and I had a right to use the roadway too."

"So that’s it. You turned it in, and then came here to live with us in C-Falls," Alice said while closing her notebook, now full of useful anecdotes.

"I did," Jim agreed.

"Well, I'm very glad about that," she responded.

"They gave me a plaque, you know."

"Really!" Alice shouted.

"Oh yes, everyone made quite a big deal about it. My picture made all the news services, and I got contacted by people from as far away as Buenos Aires and Lahore."

"Can I see it?" she requested.

Jim led his great granddaughter out back to the little garage behind his cottage. Shrubs and weeds had grown up along what, in earlier days, would have been called the driveway. The door to the garage, not having been opened in many months was stuck, but the two of them managed to pull it open.

There, on the wall hung a testament to Jim’s role in the changing face of America. He leaned over and blew some of the dust off. Alice then read the message aloud, in a suitably dignified voice:

"The State Board of Railroads gratefully acknowledges that on this day, May 18, 2065, Mr. James Arrowsmith has relinquished his right to operate a personal motorized vehicle. And, as his was the last active personal license, this act signifies the official end of the American Culture of the Automobile"

"Signed: Emily Locasta, Governor; John Goldberg, State Railroad Commissioner"

"That’s very impressive, Gramps!"

"Thank you, my dear."

Then, looking around the dusty garage, Alice noticed something else, "Gramps, is that what I think it is?"

Indeed, under a few cardboard boxes, and covered with an old tarp, was Jim’s former pride and joy. Pulling back the tarp he uncovered his old friend, a bright red ’28 Speranza G42.

"So that’s it, the last one," said Alice rather dispassionately.

Her cool response reminded Jim just how much things had changed. For in his day, a teenage girl would not fail to be suitably impressed by a hot car like this one. But here was Alice, staring at it as if she were looking at a piece of farm equipment. Actually, she probably would have been more impressed by a piece of farm equipment.

"Well, it’s getting late, I should be on my way home," she said. "Thank you so, so, so much for all your help Gramps. I’ll be able to write a great report now!"

"Alice, it was my pleasure. Now, how about you and I go out for a drive?"

"You don’t have a license anymore, remember?" she said as she kissed him goodbye.

"Darn! I knew I should have kept it!" he bemoaned.

As Alice went to get her bike, Jim covered up the old car once again. His thoughts turned nostalgic as he remembered the many miles they had logged together. He felt lucky to have lived in a time where he could have so much fun on the open road and began to wish that he could do so once again.

Just then, Alice rode by and shouted, "So long Gramps! We’ll be harvesting the first melons next week. I’ll bring some by as soon as they’re ready!"

Watching her ride off, so young, fit, and happy, he thought, "Well, maybe things are better this way after all."


The age demanded that we sing, and cut away our tongues.
The age demanded that we flow, and hammered in the bung.
The age demanded that we dance
And jammed us into iron pants.

And in the end the age was handed
the sort of shit that it demanded.

~Ernest Hemmingway, "The Age Demanded"~


Note:

The events described in this story are not predictions of actual future events. Rather, they represent one of many sets of possible scenarios which may lead to the end of the American Car Culture. Reality will almost certainly be completely different. However, it is hoped that readers will see parallels to real events from recent history.

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