The Example (Part I)

Carl could not help but chuckle to himself as he poured his cold coffee into the dirt. Just a few months ago, the idea of a second American civil war would have been inconceivable.  Now, not only did it seem imminent, it also appeared that the first battle would take place at his gas station. He shook his cup out and looked up toward the sun.  It wasn’t just hot…it was Texas hot. Carl wiped the sweat from his brow with an orange rag and walked back to the comfort of his store. He laid his rifle on the counter and poured himself another cup. From the way things were going, it was going to be a hot day indeed.

Carl Lamonte had lived in San Antonio his entire life.  His father had been a wildcatter in Abilene and his grandfather a rancher.  Carl had started out on the drill rigs, but soon realized that 100 degree summers on the Texas prairie were simply not his cup o’ tea.  So, right after high school he started pumping gas and doing odd jobs at Phil’s Fuel Stop on the edge of town.  Phil was a nice ole’ fellah by everyone’s description, and had been in business selling gas to tourists, truckers, and travelers of every make and model for over thirty years. Phil was immediately impressed by Carl’s eagerness to learn, and within just a few months was teaching him everything he knew about the business.

Carl loved working at the station, and turned out to be a natural entrepreneur. He was constantly approaching Phil with new ideas for attracting customers and increasing sales.  One day Carl showed up to work with an old battered soda machine that he had purchased for 10 dollars.  Over the course of a week, Carl had it cleaned up, running, and full of ice cold RC Colas. Soon new “gadgets” were turning up everywhere.  After a few months, Phil’s Fuel was strewn with newspaper boxes, candy machines, and beef jerky racks.  Once Carl had even talked a nearby farmer into bringing a pony to the station to give kids rides for 50 cents a pop.  Everything was going fine until a tank truck pulled up and the pony took off across the prairie with a disgruntled 10 year old boy flopping around on top. Phil was a gas man and understood none of this, but he admired Carl’s drive and humored most of his “hair brained” ideas.  The facts were undeniable though.  Ranchers that Phil had watched drive by for years, were now stopping in every once in a while to get an ice cold RC and some jerky.

As the years passed and cars became  more reliable, and more complex, Phil’s garage work dropped to nearly nothing.  Once again Carl saw an opportunity, and talked Phil into leasing him the three garage bays that now stood empty next to the station’s office.  Phil agreed, and gave Carl a five year lease for next to nothing.  Carl sold his family home and property to a local rancher and used every last cent to convert the garages into a convenience store and coffee shop.  Carl did most of the work himself,  and had the store open for business 6 months later.  For the next year he worked tirelessly running the register, flipping pancakes, doing the dishes, stocking the shelves, and handing out fliers.  Without a penny to his name, he slept in the stockroom at night, and ate whatever wasn’t selling.

Over time, word got out that you could get a pretty good breakfast at Carl’s, and people started dropping in.  Carl used what little money he was making to rent a billboard on the nearby Interstate advertising  5 egg omelets and a “free” thermos of coffee for truckers.  As business picked up, he discovered that he could actually lose money on the food because, as soon as the truckers finished eating, they would walk into the convenience store and stock their trucks with overpriced snacks, drinks, and cigarettes.  Before he knew it, he had such a stream of business that he was having trouble keeping the shelves stocked with beef jerky and sunflower seeds.  Phil’s fuel sales went through the roof as well.  As the truckers poured in for supplies they also topped off their tanks and, in less than a year, Phil was building a new island of diesel pumps to accommodate all of the trucks.  Carl even came up with a catch phrase for the station:

“Fill ’em and Fuel ’em at Phil’s”

Business continued to grow for about 8 years, and life was good for the fill ’em and fuel ’em team.  Carl was finally starting to realize some return on his years of hard work. He bought himself a small ranch a few miles from the station, found himself a gently used F-350, and decided to hire a couple of employees to help run the place.  Then, just as things had really started rolling, tragedy struck. One scorching hot August afternoon Phil drove home, kissed his wife Elna, sat down in his chair to read the mail, and died.  The doctor said that he had passed from a massive brain hemorrhage and had not suffered.  Carl was thankful for that. Phil had provided well for his wife, and she wanted nothing to do with the gas station. So, Carl bought Phil’s share and went it alone. It was hard at first, because Phil had always managed the fuels.  Almost immediately Carl realized that it wasn’t nearly as easy as flipping pancakes.

Buying and selling fuel was a real hit or miss type thing. As an independent dealer, Carl had to negotiate with a number of local suppliers.  You had to buy in bulk loads as cheaply as you could, and then sell it at a price that you thought would cover the next shipment.  If you were lucky and hit the numbers just right, you could make a nice profit.  If you missed the mark however, you could lose a lot.  After 40 years in the business, Phil had been a master at this.  Carl, on the other hand, had a lot to learn.  He missed Phil terribly.

Despite Carl’s early misfires in the fuel business, the station continued to grow. It was now a popular stop for truckers on the Interstate, and he had a steady stream of long-haul regulars.  His personal life took a turn for the better as well when he met his wife Katie.  He had always wanted a family of his own, and a year after their wedding he got his wish when their twin boys Cade and Cody were born. Wanting to spend more time with his family, he hired a manager for the Fill and Fuel and started focusing on being a dad.

One day while he was in his office doing payroll, a couple of men in suits walked into the store.  They were from a larger truck stop franchise and were interested in talking to Carl about buying his place.  He had a perfect location near the Interstate, and apparently he was outselling all the the other establishments in his area.  Almost out of the blue, one of the men tossed a number on the table that made Carl nearly fall out of his chair.  If he took the deal, his family would be taken care of, and he would never have to work another day in his life.  After thinking about it for a few days however, he decided to pass.  There was still a lot he wanted to do to the place, and wasn’t ready to give up his life’s work.  Besides, if it was worth that much now, he could only imagine what it would be worth when he was through with it.  He was happy, healthy, successful, and a father.  What more could he ask for?  Unfortunately, a thousand miles away in Washington, “change” was in the air.

The first blow came in 2011 when Congress let the Bush tax cuts expire. Carl had never incorporated and, as a sole proprietor, his tax rate increased by 15% overnight.  It was a devastating blow.  The recession of 2009 had already cut his sales by 30%, and the new taxes just made things worse.  The larger chains looked at the tax hike as an opportunity to drive some of the independents out of business, so they ate the tax increase  for a while to keep their prices artificially low. Carl could not afford to do this, and was forced to price his  fuel a full nickel per gallon higher than some of his competitors.  Business slowed even more, but stayed steady thanks to many loyal customers. For the first time in over 20 years however, Fill and Fuel was losing money.  In order to keep the tanks full, Carl had to let 4 of his long-time employees go. Next to Phil’s death, handing out their pink slips was the most painful experience of his life.  Carl was not alone however,  thousands of companies across the state were having to make similar decisions, and soon unemployment numbers began to climb well above 12 percent.  The people of Texas were furious at the tax hikes,  and tea parties around the state began to cry for secession.  At first they were dismissed by the mainstream as far right loons but, as time went on,  the protests got larger and louder.

In 2012 the second blow came in the form of Cap and Trade. Congress rammed it through against a massive grass roots protest with the help of three or four turncoat Republicans.  Overnight, fuel prices skyrocketed to 6 dollars a gallon on sheer speculation.  Again, as an independent dealer, Carl did not have the purchasing power that his larger competitors enjoyed, and started losing more and more money on every gallon of fuel he sold.  He mortgaged his home and took out an equity loan on the station to keep the cash flowing, but eventually had to lay off 3 more employees including his two shift managers.  Once again, Carl found himself putting in 18 hour days just to keep the place in business. Cap and Trade had all but devastated the national trucking industry as well – especially the little guys.  The smaller truck lines and independent owner-operators did not have the capital to buy the carbon offsets necessary to keep their rigs on the road, so they simply started shutting down.  Within three months of the law’s implementation, Carl’s truck business dropped to almost zero. He was still getting a steady stream of car business, but the simple fact was that he could not fill Kia gas tanks fast enough to pay the bills.

Texans were infuriated by the administration’s eagerness to sign Cap and Trade into law, and had challenged it in the Supreme Court with 15 other states. The newly liberal court however,  shot down the lawsuit on the grounds that Cap and Trade was constitutional under Interstate Commerce.  On the day that the decision was announced, cries rang out across Texas once again for secession.  Texas flags flew from every window across the state, and several federal offices in Dallas and Austin were vandalized by angry mobs. Trucks in the hundreds parked themselves around the state capitol building blocking traffic for weeks,  practically bringing the city to a standstill.  The Governor held an emergency meeting with the Legislature and, along with 4 other states, sent a letter to the federal government stating their concern for the nation’s welfare and reaffirming their commitment to protecting the welfare of their citizens.

Then, as if to poke the nation in its collective eye, late in 2013 Congress passed an 8% national Value Added Tax (VAT) to cover the wildly out of control national debt and help pay for escalating health care costs.  The VAT had been an add-on buried in a new economic stimulus bill.  The 4,000 page bill was signed into law by Obama only a week after it had been introduced, and the language authorizing the tax had been cleverly hidden in a paragraph on page 3,015. Neither the press nor the Republicans had caught it in time.  Once again fuel prices skyrocketed on speculation, and within a matter of days topped 8 dollars a gallon.  Business at Carl’s place dried up to nothing.  The once busy Interstate now looked like a back country farm road. One San Antonio reporter noted that, on some stretches of highway, one could sit on the centerline and eat lunch without fear of being run over.  Again, cries arose for secession across the state.  Businesses were closing by the hundreds due skyrocketing overhead costs and poor demand.  Carl could no longer pay the mortgage on his home, and was forced into foreclosure.  He moved his family into his in-law’s ranch, laid off the rest of his employees, and closed the diner.  Once again, he found himself penniless and struggling to survive a day at a time.  Things were not much better anywhere else.  With an unemployment rate of over 17%, the state of Texas found itself in the middle of an economic crisis that it had not created.  Violence began to break out in some of the larger cities, and people out of work began to line the streets of Austin demanding that Texas reclaim its status as an independent sovereign nation.

The Governor had no choice but to call a special session of the Legislature together to discuss their next move. After two weeks of heated debate, they sent a second letter to the White House.  In it they notified the President that the Republic of Texas would no longer recognize the new VAT, and would not compel any of its citizens to pay it.  The letter also announced that federal Cap and Trade regulations would not apply to businesses operating within state borders. It closed with a stern warning that any attempt by the federal government to hold any Texas citizen liable for these taxes would result in Texas’ immediate secession from the Union.

The national press was abuzz. Pundits on the major networks took sides and started arguing the constitutionality of Texas’ bold move.  Many were critical saying that the Civil War had clearly established that secession was illegal, and that the entire Texas Legislature should be arrested on federal charges.  Others however, pointed out that nowhere in the Constitution did it state that the Union was permanent, and that many states did in fact have clauses in their constitutions reaffirming their right to secede.  As the debate raged on,  the White House was eerily silent on the matter.  Press secretary Robert Gibbs refused comment when queried, and Obama all but dropped out of sight completely. Weeks, then months, went by without any federal response – and the silence was deafening.

Because Carl had always purchased his fuel from local Texas suppliers, he found that he had a slight advantage over the competition now.  With the unilateral repeal of Cap and Trade and the VAT, Carl was able to lower his prices and undercut the out-of-state suppliers. Small in-state trucking companies started to venture back out on the road and, in a show of solidarity, many pledged to only patronize Texas-based businesses. Soon, business picked up enough for Carl to reopen the diner for breakfast.  After a couple of months, rumors started to circulate that Texas had called the fed’s bluff, and that Obama’s oppressive taxes were destined to be repealed across the country.  After a while, even Carl began to believe that the crisis would soon be over.  That is when he got the letter…

Carl received it from a special courier one afternoon as he was preparing to leave for home.  He signed for it, and tore the envelope open.  The letter was neatly typed on Internal Revenue Service stationary and read simply:

“Dear Mr. Lamonte,

This letter is to inform you that you have failed to pay lawful federal taxes, and that you are in violation of federal law.  You have 30 days from the date of this letter to pay accrued taxes and fines totaling 35,300 dollars, or your property will be seized by federal authorities as payment in kind. We recommend that you make this payment promptly to avoid further action.”

Carl felt his face flush. His heart begin to race in his chest. “They can’t do that can they?” he asked under his breath.  All of a sudden, he felt a surge of pure rage.  He and Phil had built this truck stop with their money and their sweat!    He had slaved and starved for years to make something for himself, and he was not about to let any damn Washington bureaucrat come in and take it.  How dare they!

Early the next morning, Carl called the Governor’s office and told them about what he had received. Apparently thousands of businesses across the state had received similar letters on the very same day, and the Governor’s office had been inundated with calls all morning from frantic Texans.

“Yeah, they are pretty much giving everyone their 60 day notice,” the staffer on the other end of the line noted.  “Everyone here in Austin is scrambling to figure out what to do next.”

Carl hesitated and looked down at his letter.

“Did you say 60 day notice?”

“Yep, they all say 60,” the staffer confirmed. “What are they going to do, send down an army to repossess the entire state?”

Carl looked at his letter again.  “My letter only gives me 30 days.”

There was a pause on the phone. “Are you sure sir?

“That’s right. I am looking at it as we speak.”

There was another pause.  “Sir, could you please hold on, while I inform the Governor?”

“The Governor?”

“Yes sir, we were scared that something like this might happen.”

“Like this?” Carl queried trying not to sound as confused as he felt.

“Yes sir, we were worried that they would try to make an example out of someone, and it sounds like you may be it.”

Carl let the phone down from his ear.  It was now perfectly clear to him what was happening.  The feds were going to come into town, seize his property, and haul him off to jail on national television.  They were going to use him to show the rest of the state what was coming if they did not get back in line.  Once again Carl felt a tide of rage rising in his chest.  He put the phone back to his ear.

“You tell the Governor, that if they want my business they will have to step over my dead body to take it!” he yelled at the shocked staffer.

“You tell the Governor that!”

Carl slammed the phone down so hard that the handset cracked.  “If an example is what they want,” he growled, “an example is sure as hell what they are going to get.”

<<To Be Continued in Part II next week>>

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How Green is Your Job?

Over the past year, we have heard a lot from the current administration on the development of “green jobs.”  In a recent article on the Planet Green website, Brian Merchant points out that President Obama has set aside approximately 2.3 billion dollars for the development of these jobs.  Despite this sizable investment however, there is still quite a bit of discussion taking place on what a “green job” actually is.  Even Newsweek Magazine, appears to be confused about the definition when they write:

“In large part, the very idea behind a green job ensures there will never be a full definition, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics agreed in April to start measuring data on them. (Critics, in response, quickly suspected that the BLS, an agency supposed to measure objective data, could soon help carry water for an administration eager to show the stimulus is working.) Several environmental advocates polled by NEWSWEEK defined green jobs the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously defined obscenity: I’ll know it when I see it.”

The popular definition promoted by the current administration has always been jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries. This would include solar cell and wind turbine manufacturers as well as a number of energy efficiency companies such as window and insulation manufacturers.   This conventional definition however, seems to leave out many “other” green jobs,  such as the nuclear power and clean coal industries.  By all accounts it seems that, despite the billions Obama is investing in them,  there is still no widely accepted definition for green jobs.  In fact, Head Muscle contends that a job’s greenness is not a binary attribute, and that there are already many jobs out there operating at varying shades of green.  All considered, to one extent or another, many of us may already be unsung green heroes!

For example, let’s accept for the sake of argument that  a solar cell manufacturer is green by Obama’s definition, and that the renewable energy company that uses the cells is green as well.  What then about the trucking company that transports the new solar cells across the country from the manufacturer to the customer?  Certainly the diesel truck pollutes, but without it the cells would never be distributed and utilized.  So, one could logically say that the trucking company, though polluting, is somewhat green in nature…maybe something in the “olive” category.

Through this example, it is easy to see that the definition of a green job has become somewhat restricted and that a more holistic, progressive-minded, assessment is in order. So, in an effort to help frame this new industry a bit more analytically, Head Muscle has come up with an Obama-friendly questionnaire designed to help readers determine whether or not their job is green:

Instructions for Questionnaire:

1. Read each question thoroughly and answer True or False to the best of your ability.

2. For every question that you answer as “True” add or deduct the number of points specified at the end of the question.

3. Your starting score will be -100 due to the fact that breathing introduces CO2 into the workplace.

4. Have fun!

Green Job Questionnaire (Starting Score -100)

1. I work for “big oil.”  (-1000)

2. I work at a conventional power plant. (-500)

3. I work at a gas station or any facility which distributes petroleum products. (-300)

4. Sandwiches from the vending machine at work give me gas. (-100)

5. I am a polluter but belong to a union. (+200)

6. My company donated to Obama’s presidential campaign. (+300)

7. One or more of the following are true about my place of work:

a. They built their office building out of old car tires, glass bottles, and dried cow poop. (+300)

b. They buy their windows from Serious Materials. (+300)

c. Al Gore is on the board of  directors. (+500)

d. They make a nice profit. (-500)

8.  My company transports its products to other locations for resale. (-500)

9. My company produces nothing tangible [ie. Government Agency] so no transportation is required. (+500)

10. My company subcontracts to other “polluting” countries in order to lower costs to consumers. (-500)

11. My company makes overpriced “eco-friendly” consumer products which do not work. (+500)

12. My company builds buildings and highways that support our nation’s infrastructure. (-500)

13. My company operates a land trust designed to prevent progress. (+500)

14. My company uses GM Hybrid vehicles to reduce pollutants (+500)

15.  My company uses Ford Hybrid vehicles to reduce pollutants (-500)

16. My company’s CEO drives an SUV (-300)

17. My company is a Nuclear Power Plant (-1000)

18. My company takes subsidies to grow corn for ethanol and other useless unsustainable bio-fuels (+500)

19. My company built Yucca Mountain (-1000)

20. My company is Fannie Mae and/or Freddie Mac (+500)

Scoring:

1. If you scored 1000 or higher your job is emerald green and you are serving both the godess Gaia and Al Gore well. Congratulations!

2. If you scored between 0 and 1000, your job is “greenish” but you need to take the next step and sell your Ford Hybrid for a better quality GM.

3. If you scored between -1000 and 0, your job is still part of the problem and you need to consider either taking a government position, or unionizing.

4. If you scored below -1000 you are  a greedy, earth-killing, profit-oriented, conservative Neanderthal .  Your job is as brown as it gets, and you should really consider having a fatal accident with your lawnmower.  Your only hope is that, on the day of great judgement, Al Gore will have mercy on your wretched soul.

Even though we have gone to great effort to ensure that the above questionnaire incorporates current progressive values to the fullest extent possible, we admit that green jobs are still somewhat subjective.  It is our hope that, by using the above questionnaire, readers will better understand where they are on the spectrum of green jobs, and use it as a guidepost for ensuring that they are living their lives in accordance with the current administration’s vision for our country.  It is our hope that, over time, most people will move from olives to teals and into deep forest green jobs.  If not for yourselves, do it for Al and Gaia.

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Hybrid Nation

After a five hour bumpy flight I landed at Dulles International Airport just west of Washington DC.  The wheels of my United flight hit ground about 11:45pm and by the time I rode the 1960’s vintage shuttle bus  to the terminal, got my bags, and arrived at my Hertz rental car it was well after midnight.  To put it mildly I was tired, grumpy, and feeling more or less asocial.  So, I loaded my bags into what appeared to be a perfectly nice Nissan Altima, wedged myself into the driver’s compartment, inserted the key, pushed the start button, and waited for something to happen.  The car’s dashboard lights flicked off and on a couple of times apparently attempting to communicate something to me in Morse Code.  So I tried again.  I ejected the key, reinserted it, and pressed the start button again – only a bit more decisively this time. Once again, as if on cue, the car’s dash lights flickered at me for a moment and came to rest in the lit position.  “OK, what in the heck am I doing wrong here,” I thought to myself.  “I am tired, and must just be missing some basic step.” So I checked the door to make sure it was shut, made sure the parking brake was disengaged, and double checked that the car was in park.  I went through my mental checklist with the precision of an airline pilot and everything looked right.  So I drew in a deep breath and pressed the start button a third time.  The car answered me with the same, now profane, dashboard blinks and then went silent.  “That’s it!” I yelled at the steering wheel. “I am a Hertz Five Star Gold member for crying out loud! You think they could give me a car that would start!”  I threw open the driver’s door just hard enough that it bounced back and smacked me in the head as I was leaning to get out. This succeeded in sending my frustration into apoplectic frenzy.  I popped the trunk, grabbed my bags, and drug all of my worldly possessions to the Hertz customer service counter.  I must have looked the way I felt because, when I stormed into the office,  the young counter clerk stared at me as if he had just seen Arnold Schwarzenegger with his titanium skull exposed holding a 40 watt plasma rifle.

“Can I help you sir?” he asked timidly.  “Yes you can,” I exclaimed making no effort whatsoever to hide my seething frustration.  “I just got off a 5 hour flight and want nothing more than to get to my hotel and go to sleep, but the crappy car you guys have rented me seems content with staying right where it is!” I blurted out.  The clerk looked at me somewhat bewildered and asked, “you mean it won’t start?”  I shook my head east to west not wanting to have to explain the entire ordeal. “Well I am very sorry for your trouble sir,” he politely continued. “Let me walk out to the car with you and, if we cannot get it started, I will get you a different car.  I grumbled something that I did not even fully understand and followed the young kid back out to my car.   He took my keys, hopped into the driver’s seat pushed the start button and watched as the dash lights flicked on and off.  “There you go sir,” he said with a confident smile, “she seems to be OK now.”   I was perplexed. “What do you mean she’s OK , the engine didn’t start,” I pointed out – just in case he had not noticed.  He gave me an embarrassed look and after a polite smile said,”sir this is a hybrid.”  I paused to let his words sink into my now completely atrophied mind.  “A what?” I pressed. “A hybrid sir, it is part of the new  Hertz ‘Green Line’ of rentals,” he proudly explained.  “Hertz is doing its part to combat climate change,” he gushed failing to contain his enthusiasm, “they are pretty cool cars.”

As I stood there growing my new donkey ears, I felt desperate.  I had to lash out in some final attempt save any vestige of my dignity.  “I ordered a car, not a golf cart,” I jabbed.  “Sir this is a great car,” he reiterated now showing a bit of frustration himself. “It is also the only mid-size I have left on the lot. If you want to switch cars you will either have to pay to upgrade or take an economy car.”  He had me and I knew it.  Score at the end of round two: 20 year old rental clerk 2 – 47 year old crabby renter 0.  “Never mind,” I conceded,  “I will just take it.”  The clerk smiled, tossed me the key, did a something of a victory lap around my newly adopted golf cart, and disappeared back into his office.  I was alone once again, just me and the car.  I cannot say for sure, but I think it was smiling.

If, like me, you are a child of the internal combustion age and have never driven a hybrid, the experience will trouble you from the start.  My personal vehicle is a Ford F-250 long bed crew cab pick up truck with a 5.0 liter turbo charged diesel engine.  When it starts, live squirrels get sucked into the air intake. I sit 3.5 feet off the ground in a fire breathing Detroit-made dragon and can feel gravity warp as I press the gas pedal.   It is a 350hp testosterone pump and I love it.  God help me – I love it so.   The hybrid experience on the other hand, is something completely different. When you push the start button you are greeted with nothing but a blinking dashboard and soft contemporary jazz on the radio. You know, the kind of jazz that makes you want to go out and buy a fern.  Your expectations of any type of mechanical affirmation are dashed and you are left feeling…well…green!

As the week progressed, I discovered many other hybridisms.  For instance, when you turn it on you have no way of really knowing it is on until you depress the gas pedal (if you can call it that).  The car rolls forward silently on battery and you feel as if you are having an out-of-auto experience.  How can a car move with no engine noise or rumble?  It is just plain wrong. Then as soon as you get comfortable with the silence, poof, an engine appears from nowhere and starts humming  in accordance with some complex software algorithm.  It gives you a few reassuring minutes of sound, and then without warning turns itself back off.  For those of us who grew up driving cars like the AMC Javelin, when the engine stops by itself,  it is time to pull over and flip the hood up. It truly makes one’s heart jump until you remember that you are  driving something that is half car and  half cart.   Another awkward hybrid moment occurs when you stop at a traffic signal on a busy 6 lane city interchange and the engine turns off.  Crazy thoughts race through your head.   Did it turn off on purpose, or did it break down?  When I press the gas pedal will it roll forward or will the hood fly open and one of those springy snakes leap out?  Then, just to add insult to injury, as you are sitting at the intersection fully immersed in your existential crisis, some dude in a Ford F-250 diesel pulls up next to you and guns it.  “What a jerk ,” you think for a moment as you look at your reflection in his shiny chrome hubcap.  Then you realize that the face looking back at you is no longer yours but that of  Stuart Smalley mouthing the words, “I am important” and “green is good.”  For those of us who like a little metal under the hood, it is a holistically horrible experience.  The only fun hybrid moment I had was when I realized that, in battery mode,  I could sneak up behind people walking in parking lots and follow about 12 inches behind them without giving myself away…until I blew the horn.  I have a court date scheduled for February.

Long story short, I kept my little hybrid for a week and, despite the overwhelming urge to buy a cat and go to an Indigo Girls concert, I got through it relatively unscathed.  The fact is, my little car got me from A to B just fine, and really did consume fuel from an eyedropper.  Still, it was a troubling experience for reasons more philosophical than practical.  In the days since my hybrid excursion, I have thought a lot about this little car and what it represents.  To understand my thoughts better I went to the dictionary. The first definition of “hybrid” on Dictionary.com is, “…the offspring of two animals or plants of different breeds, varieties, species, or genera, esp. as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics.”  This definition seems a bit inapplicable and gives me a disturbing visual of the Nissan production process. The fourth definition however, is much more germane:

…anything derived from heterogeneous sources, or composed of elements of different or incongruous kinds: a hybrid of the academic and business worlds.”

Basically, the way I read it, a hybrid is what you get when you cross something natural with something – else.  It makes a good car for a golf cart, and a pretty good golf cart for a car. It is, as the definition says,  incongruous. My F-250 may drink more gas going down my driveway than 12 Smart Cars in two months, but it is as natural to the American lifestyle as Bay Watch reruns on TV Land.  America is a wide-open land where freedom and self-determination rule, and one can drive their land yacht from one endless horizon to another and know that they will fit in and be accepted (except for maybe in Marin County California).  Waste and noise aside, my truck is a piece of Americana at its finest, something that sets us apart from self-righteous Vespa driving Europeans.   Yet like so many other pieces of Americana, the Detroit-made internal combustion engine is going the way of the western.  In fact it seems that we are loosing our cultural identity more quickly than ever.  Just look at the list –  freedom of speech (fairness doctrine), freedom of choice (public health care),  french fries (trans-fat warnings). It is all being changed right before our eyes. Your kid cannot even ride his bicycle on the sidewalk in some states without 10 pounds of protective gear.

Obama has also made it clear through his policy and speeches abroad that he intends to make us less American and more European.  We can no longer take pride in being loud mouthed, over opinionated, big car driving, jean wearing, damn the torpedoes full speed ahead Americans.  For some reason unknown to me, the popular sentiment is that we now have to be something else….something incongruous.  We are becoming a “hybrid nation.”  In hindsight,  my hybrid experience was not troubling because of the car, but rather because it was an omen of things to come, or should I say things to go.  “But aren’t you being a bit Glenn Beck-ish?” you ask.   “It is just a little car.”  Maybe so, but history shows us time and again, change can come in ways you least expect it…

“The Sioux warrior sat astride his Appaloosa stallion on the windswept hill, proud and confident.  Off in the distance he saw a curious thing.  It looked like a wooden box on wheels with a giant white hat.  It was  far away, but he could hear it as it rumbled over rocks and rivulets.  Was it alive?  He did not think so, because it appeared to be drawn by many long-eared horses.  He had never seen anything like it in his life, but was not too concerned. How could such a small awkward looking thing ever threaten the great Sioux Nation…” Anonymous

By the way, next time I am specifying a Lincoln Town Car.

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