Cars in our culture

“You got a fast car. Is it fast enough so we can fly away?” — Traci Chapman

Elizabeth Ellis The Good Wife

Cars are no longer just transportation, just a way to get from here to there, no longer just about moving it down that road we share with others. Cars have shifted their role in our society, and these uses weigh on the duty of traffic officers. Municipal courts teach their staff — and preach — that a drivers’ license is not a right, but a privilege.

Cars are a person’s moving office, a portable multi-tasker vestibule, and a phone booth, an open line to business and social schedules and events. The telephone used to be stationery on the kitchen wall. Now at all times and in all aspects, when folks travel they take that wall with them into traffic, our traffic, the flowing asphalt stream we share.

Cars are a person’s lunch box and break room. Some people’s lives fall out of their cars. I’ve ridden with people who say, “Here. Let me get those wrappers out of the way so you can sit down.”

Some cars are showy, a symbol, and reflect the identity of the drivers. In some cultures men are “by nature, proud, untamed, restless; insatiable.” (Josiah Royce (1855-1916) Popularity (belonging) is a strong motivator; rejection, an inhibitor.

Getting a car is like getting a boyfriend — you hope it’s not a lemon or that there’s hidden damage under the hood.

Einstein said he got his best ideas in the shower; poet William Carlos Williams got his in his car. People in cars can’t be approached without affecting traffic. They are encased in their iron lung. People on foot can approach other pedestrians. Bikes have to be aware of hostility on main drags.

Ask a woman to go for a walk, and likely she’ll go for goings sake. Ask a man, and he’ll demand, “Where are we going?” Men drive to get somewhere.

There’s more to manhood than virility and strut. “Toxic masculinity [is] the concept that all men have to be aggressive and unemotional.” (MN Daily) Cars can talk loud and aggressive for their drivers.

In certain cultures some men express male cultural values of dominance, physical strength, and violence. “It is impossible for man to divest himself of his own culture, for it has penetrated the roots of his nervous system & determines how he perceives the world.” (Edw. T. Hall)

Social expectations enforced by peers are expressed through squealed tires. “Just as a billiard ball transmits the impact of the cue to another ball,” so temper can be directed “on some completely innocent person.” (Stefan Zweig)

It used to be one car per family; now, we want one per working adult. When we don’t keep up to the changing times of our generation, it’s like trying to merge onto the freeway at a standstill. It doesn’t work. We’ve got to adapt, get up to speed.

Somerset Maugham claimed, “You believe with your generation.” Our definition of our generation comes from the mortar and brickwork we’ve built; the foundation, the outcome and the summation of this culture’s decisions. Times change, but the core of what’s human doesn’t.

The sign in the parking lot said Patient Parking Only and you wonder, “Where do impatient people park?”


Elizabeth Ellis is a Baby Boomer with a BA, born in Minneapolis and mother of three grown children. She welcomes reader responses to