When you’re facing a really big project – something like a total house remodel – it can be psychologically helpful to not look at the whole thing and instead concentrate on one thing before moving on to the next thing. That way, the project doesn’t seem so overwhelming and – before you know it – you’re making real progress.
Just so this project of reversing at least two generations of effort directed at alienating the rising generations from cars – and motorcycles. Almost no effort has been spared, shy out outright forbidding teens and twenty-somethings from driving – and riding.
Impediments include dragged-out licensing procedures followed by extended periods of limited or restricted licensing such that driving – and riding – are much less interesting to youth, who were once very interested in getting their licenses because they were once-upon-a-time able to get them right now – at 16 – and fully, meaning they had the same rights and privileges as any else. Including the right to go anywhere they liked, whenever they liked and with anyone they liked.
There were no restrictions – as now – that forbade a 16-year-old driver from having other sixteen-year-olds in the car, without 50-year-old parents in the car, too. No curfews that forbade 16-year-olds from driving after dark – or past 8 o’clock or some such arbitrary time.
Insurance – an expensive deterrent to driving – may have been mandatory a generation or two ago – but it was also “optional” in that it was easy to “get away” with not being made to buy it because once-upon-a-better-time, all you had to do was check the box (this was with a pencil or pen, not a swipe or tap or mouse-click) that you had it. It was very hard for the DMV to check it because there was no real-time hook-up between the DMV and the insurance mafia, as there is now.
Cheap first cars were abundant, too. A wealth of old beaters, primer’d and rusty but running and affordable. A minimum wage that paid a third the current minimum was enough to be able to buy one. And the kids of two generations ago weren’t conditioned from infancy to fear cars as dangerous, the message conveyed by the “safety” seats the past two generations have grown up strapped into.
It’s a lot to reverse and it will take time. Possibly a generation or two. That seems like an overwhelming project when viewed in its totality. It’s less so when dealt with one at a time.
I wrote recently about having taught my 17-year-old niece to drive a stick-shift Miata, which is exactly the kind of car-medicine called for to reverse the disease process that has been progressing through the Youth since at least the ’90s. My niece being a perfect case in that she is 17 – and lives in southern California, the once-beating heart of Car Culture – and had yet to get her driver’s license.
Until I – and the Miata – intervened.
A couple of sessions in a church parking lot and she got it. Not her license. Something far more valuable. She will never forget it. No longer does she feel nothing for cars. For how can anyone feel that way about a drop-top Miata? She is now eager to drive – and is in the process of going through the hoops to get her license. She also already knows how to drive – even though she isn’t licensed yet.
Because she can drive stick.
There are few better tools for corrupting the youth. Excepting a motorcycle.
I used the lure of riding to corrupt another youth, the 19-year-old son of a friend of mine. This kid didn’t know how to drive stick, either. He now knows how to shift a bike’s gears, while managing throttle and brake; how to steer by leaning. He skipped high school and went straight to grad school, so to speak. He recently bought his first bike, a Suzuki SV650.
He’ll never be the same – thank God.
I see myself in him, the shadow of my much-younger-self. When I was young, this sort of thing was a given. Kids just went out and bought a bike – or a car. They did it because they could as much as because they wanted to, the two things closely bound together. It was just part of the culture – and a part of growing up, as owning and driving a car (or a bike) was essential to growing up.
How else to leave home? To go places of your own choosing, on your own time, whenever you wanted or needed to and with whomever you wanted to take along? Having to ask mom and dad for a ride is infantilizing – especially when you’re seventeen (or nineteen). It can mean never being eighteen, in the much-more-than-merely chronological sense. Prior generations were both legal and functional adults by that age – because they’d been on the road toward that status since they were fifteen or sixteen years of age. They behaved more like adults because they were treated as nascent adults rather than idiot children who needed to be “kept safe,” even if meant they never grew up.
My niece – and my friend’s son – are now free to go. Literally and psychologically. They have been converted over. What they now know, they will share – with their friends and (eventually) their own children.
This is how we get back to where we were. One thong – and one kid – at a time.
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