High gas prices are threatening an almost sacred American tradition — driving around aimlessly, cruising, if you will.
Driving around aimlessly is such a part of our culture that it has its own signature film, "American Graffiti," in which a group of teen-agers spend the night driving aimlessly around Modesto, California.
There is even a female version of driving around aimlessly, ‘"Thelma & Louise," in which two women drive distractedly and aimlessly toward Mexico. The trip ends badly, but as any small-town kid who spends summer evenings driving up and down Main Street could tell you, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
America’s roadside culture grew out of driving around aimlessly. Drive-in malt shops and drive-in movies sprang up to give some sense of purpose to just driving around. There is a whole genre of music, largely but not totally from the 1950s, to drive aimlessly by. The music is sold in boxed sets by public television and on late-night infomercials.
In the musical play "Grease," whose teenagers would be driving around aimlessly if only the stage were larger, part of the set in the productions I have seen is a car, a ’49 to ’51 Ford, one of the great cruising machines.
An end to cruising has broad social implications for the nation because it’s how suburban young people meet and eventually propagate. We could be facing population loss.
And it’s just not young people. Adults will often prolong their drive by taking the long way home, taking "the scenic route" as it’s sometimes known. Oh, they might say they want to catch a few more minutes of Rush Limbaugh’s rococo tones or the last inning or two of the ball game but in fact they are responding to the primeval American urge to drive around aimlessly.
There’s no way public transportation can fill that need. If a bus driver said he was going to detour past the mall on the off chance that some of his buddies might be hanging out and on the even more off chance that some women might be hanging out with them, we would revolt. True, part of driving around aimlessly is doing it with all your friends, but the people on this bus are all strangers.
The enemies of the internal combustion engine will hail the end of driving around aimlessly for ending a waste of time and the Earth’s irreplaceable precious natural resources, blah, blah, blah. It’s simply the natural human urge to cramp someone else’s fun in the name of the common good.
But on a balmy summer night with not much else going on, when the house feels cramped, the TV is irritating, even these scolds deep in their souls feel something, somewhere calling them. It says, "Get in the car. Turn up the music. Check out your old neighborhood haunts." Maybe you’ll see some, maybe not. That’s the whole point of driving aimlessly. You can’t be disappointed. But do it before gas prices go up again.