You can’t fake it. If you’re gonna make it you’ve gotta live it.
– Hank Williams Jr.
by Glynn Wilson
There is no way to escape it. It is too late. America is a car country, especially in the American South.
This fact hit me in a traffic jam at the Alabama-Georgia line the other day while I was driving the Chevy van from Birmingham to Atlanta to buy a used Macintosh laptop computer from a woman in Buckhead.
I wrote a cover story for The Southerner magazine about this during the summer of 1999 after researching the issue for a chapter in a Sociology textbook: The War on Sprawl.
I have made a point of living in places where you can walk to a neighborhood store and ride a bike along the water, including Gulf Shores, Alabama, where I used to ride every day along the Gulf of Mexico. In Knoxville, Tennessee, I used to ride along the Tennessee River. In New Orleans, for almost four years I rode along the great Mississippi every day and even shopped at a Whole Foods store on Magazine Street, using a backpack for a grocery bag.
But for most people in this country, walking or biking is just not an option. Our living spaces are organized into sprawling suburbs with no significant mass transit. So the only way to get around is in a car.
Not surprisingly, people come to love their machines like they do their pets. They name them, and who can blame them?
I love my Chevy van, especially when I can get the canoe on top and the Cannondale in the back and head off for some adventure without having to fly commercial.
The Eisenhower administration first started building the Interstate highway system for defense purposes in the 1950s. Now it has become the primary travel route for moving people around the country for work and play.
So it was inevitable that “the road” made its way into the American arts, literature and folklore.
Willie Nelson is perhaps most famous for the song “On The Road Again.” He was recently arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for smoking pot on the road in his tour bus. The fact that a musician can get away with that in Bush’s America of 2006 is cool for us Baby Boomers who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the coolness of classic rock and pot were at their zenith.
It is also inevitable that Americans love older cars. The antique car movement in America is almost as big as religion itself.
America is also a country of technology, where Apple computers and the Internet were invented. Americans tend to love their computers. I’m no different. I love my Mac. And I am not enamored of new computers any more than I am drawn to new SUVs.
The best era for the American automobile came in the late 1950s and lasted until the early ’70s, when rising gas prices and technology began to favor the smaller cars made by the Japanese.
The best era for personal computing occurred from about 1996 to 2006. It is going to be downhill from here, because the corporate bastards are taking over the business and making it harder for the little guy to break through.
So it should come as no surprise that I tend to use a car metaphor to describe why I just bought a seven year old Mac G3 Powerbook instead of something newer. I love the way it drives, like car aficionados may swoon for the 1973 Mustang.
When I talk to computer geeks about this, I have to preface my remarks with the statement: “I know I’m driving a ’73 Mustang. But hey, I like driving a G3 and building Web pages with the fat version of Simpletext that holds a bold command and allows me to see what I’m doing amongst all the gibberish computer code.”
They understand exactly what I’m saying, if the average non-computer geek doesn’t.
It may not be possible to continue driving a computer of this era much longer, although seeing all the ’73 Mustangs still on the road gives me some hope. Where do they find parts for their old machines? Someone’s making them.
The thing about this machine business is that we use the best machines to do something, either for work or entertainment or both. You have to have tools in this world to do what you are meant to do. A crappy car or a shitty computer just doesn’t get it.
Back in The Bunker Saturday night, I ran across a special on the Country Music channel with Kid Rock playing alongside Hank Williams Jr. They sang a song about the road called Hamburger Steak Holiday Inn. It is a song about the road, and has a message for would be musicians who buy cheap guitars and play all by themselves on the side of the road and never learn to finish a song.
I take this message to be just as true in journalism or politics. Some people think they can fake it and make it. George Bush comes to mind, along with most of the corporate PR press.
If you are reading this far you must understand it. You are looking for alternatives to the fake journalism and fake politics that passes for understanding in Bush’s America.
We are doing our best to put together the tools we need to provide that alternative and gear it up even more in the coming months.
Like Hank sings, “You can’t fake it. If you’re gonna make it you’ve gotta live it.”
We ain’t faking it folks. It may not be making us rich, but the way we live and work is rich in experience. We are determined to live it – and make it. So come on along for the ride…