“Aw, a PT Cruiser?” I moaned as I stepped out of the Birmingham Alabama Airport Enterprise car rental booth, staring at the cheap-looking keys in my hand embossed with the Chrysler logo.
“Aw, a PT Cruiser?” I moaned as I stepped out of the Birmingham Alabama Airport Enterprise car rental booth, staring at the cheap-looking keys in my hand embossed with the Chrysler logo. “But I wanted something less crappy,” I grumbled to myself as I settled into what would be my new home base for the next two weeks. I turned the key, shifted into drive and I was off.
It was last fall that I had my Southern adventure. I spent two weeks alone, propelled along the highways and byways of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia in my Chrysler PT Cruiser. And despite my reluctance, the little Cruiser eventually found a place in my heart alongside so many other American creations. I don’t want to like them; in fact, I want to hate them. But I can’t help myself. There is just something about Americana that grabs me.
American products just aren’t of the same quality as those of other countries. They used to be top of the line but they aren’t anymore. American automakers like Ford and Chrysler can’t seem to make a product that people actually want to buy and their market shares are plummeting. Their cars are underpowered, under-built, overpriced and based upon 35-year-old technology.
But the Japanese-now they can make a car. Toyotas are good-looking, reliable, safe, efficient and well priced. But somehow it doesn’t matter to me. Try as I might I just can’t get myself to move on.
I tried to own a Japanese car. It was a new Mazda and it was probably the smartest car I will ever own. But it was boring. Two days after I got the car I spent all my time surfing Craigslist for other cars. I found 1950s International Pickups, 1960s Ford Fairlanes and Plymouth Barracudas all for what I paid for my Mazda. I couldn’t take being sensible anymore; I couldn’t deny my inner American.
But inside my head, I am two different people. There is the FDR-style liberal inside of me who craves bigger government and applauds higher taxes. This side of me would like to see a world where all our electricity comes from renewable resources and where huge multinational corporations are held accountable for their actions.
And the other side of me wants to slap on a cowboy hat, climb into an old pickup and cruise around the country. I want to use words like “howdy” and have pride in the local high school football team. And this sort of infatuation with American products and beliefs, which some consider antiquated, confuses me to my core. Yet it still remains.
“You know that cars from the 1960s pollute more sitting in your garage than a small modern hybrid does at 70 mph on the highway, right?” one side of my mind will ask the other as I drive away in my newly purchased 1961 Ford Falcon. “Quiet, you!” the other side replies.
But my American fetish isn’t strictly automotive. I dream about traveling back in time to 1954 and never returning. What is silly about this dream is that I don’t think that the ’50s were better than our current era. Though I yearn for high-water pants, sweater sets and meatloaf sandwiches, I haven’t forgotten about the shameful institutional racism of segregation in the ’50s. I also haven’t forgotten about the Korean War, which took the lives of 50,000 Americans, most of whom froze to death. I am fully aware that the ’50s weren’t so great but I still want to go.
New Americana intrigues me, too. While in Georgia I attended a monster truck rally. After singing our national anthem the announcer asked for members of the military to stand and we, the crowd, applauded them. Then we applauded for the police and then firemen and then for teachers.
I sat there in awe of the people around me during the momentary lull as they brought out a giant jet engine on wheels called the “American Pride.” They fired it up and the crowd went crazy. The announcer then asked if we’d like to see the jet engine melt a foreign car. The crowd went crazy again, hooting and hollering. So they rolled out a mid-’80s Toyota and engulfed the little white subcompact car in a bright blue flame until it was nothing more than a charred skeleton. It was great. I never felt more proud to be an American. And I have no idea why.
The American side of my brain seems more fun. It is the side that isn’t concerned with long-term consequences, and logical, rational thought seems like a waste of time. “If it feels good, do it,” it tells me as I cut the roof off of my car.
In reality I am an intelligent Northwestern liberal with little connection to the rest of the country. Though I know in my heart of hearts that other parts of the world offer better products and philosophies than that of my homeland, I still can’t escape my Americanism. Frankly, I don’t want to.