Me and Myself and the Mets

Shea Stadium - 2007 New York Mets-Boston Red Sox
Image via Wikipedia

To my friend David, who is convinced that on the first day, God created the baseball stadium – and it was good.

April 17, 1964 – David was 8 years old, the same age of his father when his dad died of a sudden heart attack.  The father’s painful loss was hidden away like an old memento stored in the dark crawl space that lies between the present and the past. In a working class family, the patriarch was king.  To lose a father as a boy was to suffer an egregious identity theft, a deeply traumatic felony that robs a child of innocence and adolescence. The son, now a father, was suddenly fitted with size 34 pants and spent the next decade growing into them.

But on this day, for the father to be taking his young son to the opening of Shea Stadium, after a morning at the New York World’s Fair, must have seemed like he had hit a celestial round tripper.  The son clutched his father’s hand, a great catcher’s glove of security and watched as the world unfolded in a great sea of orange and blue.   It wasn’t the young boy’s first major league game but it was unlike the ancient brick of the New York Yankees.  There was a thrill of seeing something new, a franchise and a stadium with its whole future ahead of it, unencumbered by the gilded chains of nostalgia.  For father and son, the day represented all of life’s possibilities.

The Mets were hapless supporting actors in a play that ran every day in Queens.  “ A face only a mother could love” a favorite expression to describe anyone whose endearing under-achievement and ineptness condemned them to the fringes of society. The Mets, not unlike their fans, were a roster of young and old assembled by a general manager making the best of a tough situation.  In their first seven seasons, the team was a combined 394 – 737 for a winning percentage of .348.  For many in Queens, the basement seemed a familiar, reassuring place.

The father and son never had season tickets for any New York area sports teams.  In life and in sports, the father was never a great spectator. That dark corridor that he was forced to walk alone between eight and eighteen left him focused on doing, not vicarious living. He never went to college.  It seemed as if he was born and then went to work.  But like so many of his era, he never shirked his responsibilities.  He married, enlisted in the service during the Korean War and came home to start a family.  Yet, he was drawn to the Mets.  In life and in baseball, great teams were characterized by a blue collar work ethic – – the predictable integrity of repetition and the character of never accepting a mediocre result regardless of how mundane your own assignment might be. . The Mets represented a less than glorious franchise, located in perhaps the least glorious part of town.  Some called them the workingman’s team.  His loyalty to the Mets somehow softened his hard childhood – abandoned by his father and their baseball team, the Giants, who left NY to move to California in 1959. It just made sense that this orphaned soul would adopt this team.

In a world wracked by uncertainty, the son looked to the father for predictable leadership.  The son’s successes were nourished by the staples his Dad provided – durability, punctuality and resilience. With his son, the father maintained the distance of a third base coach and his star player, choosing to convey his delight or displeasure with subtle signs and signals – – a twitch of an eye brow, a hand to the chin or the sudden clap of determined encouragement, “C’mon, get a hit!” Trust, emotional proximity and unconditional support were the foundation of their relationship. It was as if they were seated next to one another in life’s stadium – each with their own ticket but sharing the game together.

Life is all about perspective. In the 1960’s, most of the boy’s friends were Yankee fans.  Following the Bronx Bombers seemed to represent a superficial kind of loyalty – something borrowed because it was popular and easy.  At 13 years old, the boy was at the peak of his adolescent fanaticism. He had recorded the entire Mets line up neatly on my seventh grade denim three-ring notebook. In June, the boy asked his dad if he would take him to a Mets game.  The entire neighborhood was elated that the lowly Metropolitans, a team that had lost 120 games in 1962 and were synonymous with last place, were now in first place with a chance for post- season play.   The dad asked his son to get him the schedule, and confidently pointed to the last home game of the season and boldly announced “The Mets will clinch the division championship here”.  On September 24, 1969, they were rewarded with a miraculous NL pennant for their unwavering loyalty to “ the Lovable Losers.”  1500 miles away, Chicago Cub fans were writing another painful chapter in their star-crossed history.  To this day, the son reminds his father of his Kreskin-like powers of prediction.

The son still recalls that night – the air thick with cautious anticipation and an ill fall wind that seemed full of broken promises for a winning season. When the Mets won the game, father and son erupted with the entire sea of humanity spilling on to the field. Today it would be impossible to penetrate the phalanx of mounted police that line the field.  That night, they roamed the stadium as if it was their own front yard.  On that day, the boy began to understand what the father had always conveyed to him – that anything was possible.

September 28, 2008 – It was never an option that they would not attend the final game at Shea Stadium to pay their respects to the passing of an age of innocence.  The father, now 80, complained to his son about his legs, and in doing so, foiled the boy’s best laid plans to retrace their 1964 “walk” into Shea.  The son, now a successful executive, had season ticket located two rows behind home plate.  Their journey from nose bleeder bleacher seats to the prime field level real estate was a map of their life’s journey.  The father had not seen Shea in 20 years.  The Mets lost, eliminating any hope of a post-season birth.  Yet, it was somehow apropos.

For a team as famous for losing as winning, it was a fitting eulogy.

Wide Open Spaces

Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out To find a dream and a life of their own A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone Many precede and many will follow A young girl’s dream no longer hollow It takes the shape of a place out West But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed She needs wide open spaces — Wide Open Spaces, The Dixie Chicks

 

My summer journey is always the same. The trail climbs through deep forests of conifers, pines, birch and aspen into mountains that heave out of the ancient earth and cut across an entire horizon with jagged, saber-gray lines. The air is thin here, as elevations soar from 4,000 feet to heights almost three miles above half mile. Below these eagle’s nests of granite, an endless steppe of prairie grass sighs. It is a gulf stream of constant motion, bending and bowing to relentless winds that bullwhip down from lonely ridges and high passes. It seems that a benevolent, shadowed hand is constantly caressing this hard, muscular place.

To walk in these blue shadows is to be a character in a Russian novel, dwarfed by circumstances beyond your control, mesmerized by the sheer magnitude of nature and seduced by a relentless drumbeat whose percussion of life and death creates an irresistible cadence for every living thing.

 

I pass along a rapidly moving creek that disappears around a quivering stand of cottonwoods and aspen. It is a glorious day. It is a moment in time where the brief promise of wide open spaces and a chance to live more deeply intermingle and move the soul. I consider a time where there are no roads or people. It is not too hard to imagine anything here. It is the cradle of possibility.

Out west, a day is a sinewed, maverick roan that is impossible to fully tame. It is not enough just to hold on. A true westerner must dig in his spurs and bring each moment to heel. It is a land of tall tales and pregnant exaggeration that constantly antagonizes the imagination. It inspires, engulfs and transforms everything while never really changing its own relentless cycle of life.

 

Each summer pilgrimage to the Western mountains is a drink from the deepest and coldest of natural springs. It reminds me that I will barely bend a blade of grass in the years that I walk this earth. The great sculpted mountains endure as silent sentinels indifferent to the foibles of governments, business and individuals. When the last financial instrument or currency crumbles into dust, these massive displaced plates of earth will remain unmoved.

The West remains my reckless, wild-haired companion relentlessly tugging at my spirit and whispering to me to follow her into a twilight of mountains and high alpine meadows. Lavender lupine, blood-red paintbrush and soft purple columbine color the edges of this world. I always return to her and find myself wrapped in her swirling hot breath and relentless gaze. She is my oxygen and my midwife. Each summer, she delivers me into the world and I am reborn.

 

Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life. — John Muir

I am not alone in my love for the West. For centuries, people have found redemption, resurrection and rebirth in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada ranges. The Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana remain the grand portal that all Americans must navigate to find the Eden of opportunity that awaits somewhere off to the west. The Teton Valley is, by all definitions, the front door to Mother Earth herself. The cathedral of peaks known as Le Grand Teton literally translate from French to mean “the large bosom.” It is a sacred place — a gateway to Yellowstone and the northern wilderness of Montana and Canada. To the south, the peaks are called the Sangre de Cristo — the “Blood of Christ.” Native Americans drew deep satisfaction from their connections to the mountains, rivers and forests. There was a common belief that these places brought sacred connection to the Great Spirit and healed the People. The prominent Tetons were called “The Four Grandmothers Standing Tall” by the Shoshone, who saw the mountains and wide open spaces as a centerpiece to a connected ecosystem where man and nature lived in symbiotic harmony.

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. — Eagle Chief Letakos-Lesa of the Pawnee

There are those who come to the West wanting to become someone else and those who make a living off of being exactly who they are. A real cowboy loathes talk, loves action and speaks in grand hyperbole. “That canyon was so big, why I could yell Good morning’ at 9 o’clock at night and nine hours later, my echo would return to wake me up.” It is a kingdom of balance and diversity. The equilibrium is found in the eddies, channels and cut banks of Wyoming’s ancient Snake River that changes each day as water levels rise or fall. Balance is heard in the cries of osprey and bald eagles as they clasp cutthroat trout with black razor talons. It is fields of sage and wheat grass which move rhythmically in hot mistral winds while great moose, elk and bison move like phantoms across the grand plateau. It is the serene silence of a glacial lake fed by a thousand silver veins of frigid water as it cascades through stands of blue spruce, aspen and cottonwoods. A great owl swoops across an open marsh in search of an early dinner. A trout rises to a mayfly as the river becomes a boiling cauldron of feeding fish. A bison bays a lonely cry across an open plain. It is an anthem of renewal and return. The Tetons are the bones, skin and sinew of mother earth herself.

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied — it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. — Ansel Adams

If a person finds cause or passage beyond the spectacular Rockies, he or she will encounter the Sierra Nevada, which stands as a serrated knife-edge before gently sloping to the San Joaquin valley and the Pacific Ocean. The Sierras explode into view from the bleak high deserts of eastern California’s Owens Valley. They are the spine of California and its headstone, marking the deep fissure of earth which was its birthplace and perhaps one day might be its epicenter of destruction, the San Andreas Fault.

The heart of this magnificent expanse of mountains is Yosemite. One of the United States’ first national parks, Yosemite is a massive national monument of polished glacial domes, snow-fed waterfalls and meadows of white-tailed deer, black bear and beaver falling like celestial steps to the deep gorges carved over thousands of millennia to become the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Photographer Ansel Adams captured the essence of this “range of light” giving physical form to the words and journals of Scottish naturalist John Muir, who viewed these mountains as his living companion.

Each western summer eventually loses its vitality and slips into a deep, frigid sleep. The first snow comes surreptitiously, scratching at cabin doors in late September, early October. Winter lingers until the rebirth of the people and the land the following June. The mountain summer never really goes away. It hangs in the air, a dusty perfume of sage and smoke that instantly reminds of warmer days and greener grass. She is our past, present and future all intertwined across a horizon of wide open spaces.

Chronic

2D structure of eszopiclone (Lunesta)
Image via Wikipedia

 

Chronic

 

You take the blue pill, the story ends.  You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.  You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland.  And, I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  ~ Lawrence Fishburne, The Matrix 

Thirty years ago, chronic conditions were attributed to a much smaller subset of society.  People who had anxious limbs were encouraged to cut down on chocolate and caffeine, get more exercise and perhaps drink more water.  Drivers who became apoplectic at the reckless maneuvers of other drivers were “hot heads.”  People who experienced the occasional down day were considered to be feeling “blue.”  Older men needed to use the bathroom more frequently and people in high stress jobs often found themselves reading books at night, unable to fall asleep.    

It’s taken years for me to realize that I grew up chronically ill.  I had a short attention span, wiggled like a worm on a hook and wheezed when I ran, especially if I hadn’t exercised for weeks.  My penchant to eat too many cookies, tell lies when confronted with a punishment, forget to do my homework, chase girls, suffer the occasional nightmare and routinely punch my little brother when he bugged me – were all chronic conditions that went undiagnosed for years.  I do not have the heart to tell my parents that the punishments they meted out were visited upon a hopelessly sick child.  Thanks to Mike Adams of Natural News and the pharmaceutical industry, I now understand that I suffered from restless leg syndrome, attention deficit disorder, exercise-induced asthma, low blood sugar, chronic denial, irrational attraction, recurring hallucinogenesis, and periodic anger.  It’s a miracle I made it through elementary school.

The medieval treatment for many of these non-progressive conditions involved a leather strap around 36” long, applied vigorously to the afflicted child’s gluteus maximus until the symptoms ceased.  Other therapies were administered with open hands or common household implements.  Supplemental cures included total quarantine or gardening and the sanitation therapy of cleaning latrines. 

Physicians today are generally appalled at these methods, as we now know each of these conditions can be resolved with a prescription drug.  We now understand that our DNA strands are virtual Rosetta stones, revealing myriad predispositions to illness.  As we further explore this final frontier of divine programming, we rapidly develop drug therapies to arrest these genetic troublemakers in their tracks.  You can now travel to Canyon Ranch and, for a small fortune, identify genetic markers that indicate how you might metabolically respond to certain diets or drug therapies.  You can answer such nagging questions as “Am I more likely to respond to a low-fat or a low-carb diet?” and “On which psychotropic drug am I less inclined to gain weight?”  It’s all very uplifting.

While it is exciting to watch the evolution of genetic therapies lead to a next generation of “designer” drugs, we are also descending into an era of increased self-diagnosis – and an expanded definition of what it means to be “chronically ill.”

I can’t watch television anymore without seeing a luminescent butterfly gently raining pixie dust on an entire city of sleep deprived type A personalities.  They awaken after a fresh Lunesta induced sleep, rested and ready to operate heavy machinery.  The Flomax commercial makes me have to go to the bathroom.  I am jealous of these fishing, biking, and rafting crazies who spray each other with water and have not used the rest room in four days.  Going to the bathroom never seemed so fun.  High cholesterol and acid reflux ads show people eating pizza, cookie dough and possibly dirt while dropping their LDL lower than a Marin County vegetarian.  And there are the ads dealing with, well, how should I say, erectile dysfunction.  Everyone looks really, really…really happy.  The men are mischievous and the women are playfully coy.  The mood music is playing when suddenly, 50 of your closest friends drop in.  But don’t worry; you will be on your game, potentially for the next 20 hours.

As we enter the 21st century, we must not let up.  We must push for new therapies.  Research is already underway for the following progressive conditions:

• Combat Disassociation Disorder – CDC affects millions.  It is characterized by a complete disregard for the fact that your nation is at war.  Symptoms include lack of concentration on issues relating to foreign policy, energy or deficit spending.  In extreme cases, a CDC sufferer may attempt Richard Nixon impersonations.

• Situational Narcolepsy Syndrome – The drug industry hopes to eradicate this crippling condition that impacts one in two adult males worldwide.  To quote an industry insider, “The market for an SNS cure is huge!”  The condition is characterized by men absorbing less than 50% of information conveyed to them by their spouse or significant other.  In clinical trials, a combination of drug therapy and super amplified hearing aids has shown remarkable success.  A typical SNS sufferer might hear, “Honey, I need you to…Stamford…Johnny and Timmy…don’t forget…5 p.m.”  After clinical trials, the same respondent was able to absorb the following: “Honey, I need you to get to Stamford by 4:30 to pick up Johnny and Timmy.  Be sure to tell Carol that Timmy does not need a ride to soccer and call Sarah and tell her to walk to Starbucks at 5 p.m.  I will pick her up there.”

• Vicarious Delusion Syndrome – The Fairfield County Athletic Association has recently contributed venture capital to JSU (Just Shut Up) Biosolutions, a biotech research lab focusing on therapies to treat individuals who attempt to live vicariously through the athletic careers of their children.  VDS is characterized by fits of anger and limited peripheral vision.  Hearing is often impaired and public outbursts may be followed by periods of profound social and personal alienation.  Clinical trials have shown the experimental drug Justagame to work on the most advanced cases of VDS – parents who hang out at the local fields even when they have no children playing. 

Thankfully, our friends in the biotech and pharma industries are hard at work to attack these and other illnesses.  Imagine a future of malleable teenagers, attentive spouses, cooperative coaches and civilized spectators.  Consider a life where you can sit through an entire episode of The Hills with your teenager without feeling nauseated. 

It’s just around the corner, and I can’t wait.  In the meantime, I will have to deal with anxiety, uncertainty, stress and anger the old fashioned way – through exercise, traditional medications and eating right.  Tomorrow can’t get here soon enough for me.  Actually, I’ve been told my constant preoccupation with the future is an undiagnosed case of Random Anticipatory Anxiety Syndrome; soon it, too, will be treated. 

Better living through modern chemistry. Thank heavens!

Golf Rules

Caddyshack
Image via Wikipedia

We learn about life playing games. Sports reveal much about ourselves, our fellow man, our characters and which of us should be allowed to work with children and the elderly. I have learned many lessons coaxing a reluctant, dimpled ball into a 4 ¼”” cylinder.

The ancient game of golf is not simply a means to avoiding taking out the trash, but a cunning allegory for living. As with all “simple” games, following the rules of golf, living its etiquette and protocols and remembering to practice those principles in all our affairs, can prove daunting. Golf’s rules and lessons, when properly followed, can help a person accept life on life’s terms and at the same time, learn colorful swear words.

Golf is life and each public or private course presents us with a range of opportunities to excel or fail. We are confronted with hazards, rough lies and blind shots while all the while seeking the holy grail of par with chivalrous aplomb. To play the game of golf is to vacillate between anger and joy – – similar to spending four hours anywhere with a teenager. Golf offers us wisdom and perspective. We learn to interact with our fellow man, navigate the most treacherous of circumstances and win money from other people without having to cheat. Perhaps if Wall Street executives just had fulltime caddies, we would not need Sarbanes Oxley.

For those who do not play golf but are in search of a theology for living, consider the following gems mined from a life spent hitting from the woods and off hardpan.

Wait Your Turn- Some golfers play golf as if they are the only people on the course. They hit before it is their turn. They putt out that three footer ahead of you (a putt which they usually miss ) saying, ” I’ll just get this out of your way”. This behavior is not confined to the links. These are the same knuckleheads that try to cut in front of you and the mile long security line at La Guardia impatiently saying to the TSA attendant, “I have a plane to catch. “ Uh and I don’t ? These type A’s abuse the gentrified rule for improving speed of play known as “ready golf”. In many cases, there are good reasons for waiting to go until it is your turn, particularly when it comes to death and taxes. Remember that patience suggests emotional maturity and is very handy when there are five people and only four pieces of pie. We all respect someone who can wait their turn. Even the bible says, “The last shall be first”. In the end, the patient golfer wins respect and the first piece of pie in heaven.

Treat Everyone Like a Valued Caddie – Why is it that men will not ask for directions or accept the most basic input from their partners but treat as gold the advice of a bloodshot, toothless caddy named Newt? Because they believe the caddie knows more about the course than they do. In golf and life, there are those that know more about the course, the slope, the dress code and the back alleys of Norwalk than we do. Listen and learn. Asking for help is a sign of maturity. Occasionally, you may get poor advice. Don’t chastise your caddie for a bad read. Take responsibility and remember that it was you that asked that 14 year old kid who thinks Croatia is in South America for advice on the most important shot of the day. Grow up. After the round, big spender, don’t stiff your caddie. Give him/her a big tip and remember that they are not nearly as amused by your tired jokes or honored to carry your bag as you might think.

No Gimmies – Allowing yourself to be “given” a short putt distorts your handicap and puts you at future risk to miss knee knocker tap-ins when something big is on the line. Nothing in life is free and “helping” your friend or customer by giving them a short putt is setting them up to choke. Gimmies are like gateway drugs. It starts with giving each other a few putts here or there and ends up with the two of you knocking off a liquor store in Stamford. Bernard Langer and his buddy, Uwe gave one another gimmies for years and well, look what happened to Langer at the 1991 Ryder Cup?

Never Bet What You Cannot Afford to Lose And Pay Promptly– Do not wager more than .000001 of your net worth in any round of golf. If this results in the need to pay someone using currencies such as the Turkish Lira, than so be it. Money ruins things faster than a 22 year old European au pair. A person will remember the fin you never paid well into their next life. If a guy cannot honor a $5 wager, would you invest in his company?

If It’s Not Yours, Leave It – You hook a ball into the woods and are clinging to a one stroke lead. You find a ball but it is clearly not yours. The angel appears on your shoulder, “Take a lost ball penalty. Remember when you say nobody will see you cheat, you are saying you are a nobody. You will have to live with your dishonesty like a rock in your shoe. Your ball was a Titleist Pro V1, not a Calloway 3” The Devil appears on your other shoulder, “Dude, are you kidding? Your opponent would sell you and his mother to Al Qaeda for a dime and a free drop. Your buddy, Mr Foot Wedge won’t know. Hit the Calloway and beat his right wing, neo con butt”. A word of advice: Leave the Calloway where you found it and take the penalty, especially if the ball is pink.

Never Cross A Golfer’s Line – This, my friend, is the golden rule of man law. A player’s putting line is a sacrosanct, fragile thoroughfare– easily disturbed by poorly mended divots, pebbles and other forms of microscopic debris. To walk across a person’s line is the equivalent of smearing cow dung on their front door and then when caught say, “Ooops, oh, gee, sorry.” The concept of the sacred line applies to a range of other areas such as friend’s spouses, another car while driving in Rome and that Fixed Income job your buddy has at JP Morgan. Don’t cross the other guy’s line. It’s very bad form.

Say No To The Aloha Press- The “Aloha Press” is a desperate, last hole double or nothing bet and was invented by someone who now lives under the Taconic Bridge. The Aloha usually leads to double your misery. If you are getting your rear kicked, it’s usually because you are playing poorly. What is it about human beings that finds us denying 17 holes of empirical evidence for the low probability of one last hole of redemption? The concept of the desperate last gasp gamble is not new and has led CEOs to jail and to the 1995 collapse of Barings Bank when rogue trader Nick Leeson decided to gamble with the house’s money just one more time. Just say no to the Aloe.

Never Bet Against a Guy With a Nickname – Ubiquitous people with names like “Duke”, “Champ” and “Cap” never actually leave your club and sleep on chairs by the pool at night. They are paying alimony to at least three ex spouses. They got their nom de guerres on the practice green, around the course and in college. These back slapping, ambassadors of fun are not retired or independently wealthy, they are actually broke and living off of their inflated handicaps and your hard earned cabbage. Ask Michael Jordan. Unless they are your playing partner, stay away from these adolescent lost souls and don’t ever, ever fix them up with a single friend.

The games of life and golf are inexorably bound. Each day, each round and each hole offers an opportunity for redemption, reflection and reinforcement. A country club is really a microcosm of society, except everyone looks the same, wears ugly pants and cash is not accepted at the bar. In golf as in life, we can achieve happiness and avoid a ” good walk spoiled” by simply showing up on time, following the rules, asking for help, wagering only what we can afford to lose and resisting the temptation to relieve oneself behind a tree.

Simple stuff, really.

An Affair To Remember

A high-occupancy vehicle lane on Ontario Highw...
Image via Wikipedia

 

An Affair To Remember

The car as we know it is on the way out. To a large extent, I deplore its passing, for as a basically old-fashioned machine, it enshrines a basically old-fashioned idea: freedom. In terms of pollution, noise and human life, the price of that freedom may be high, but perhaps the car, by the very muddle and confusion it causes, may be holding back the remorseless spread of the regimented, electronic society. ~ J. G. Ballard, “The Car, The Future”, Drive, 1971.

In 1960’s Southern California, rapid transit was considered ill conceived, inefficient and in many places, nonexistent.  Public transportation was considered by many Los Angelinos to be a painful, high risk last resort – – the bone marrow transplant of travel.  Unlike the great train and subway societies of the east coast, the new cities of the West had less infrastructure and little inspiration to replicate their past lives.  Voters shuddered at the thought of being one of many “trapped in the belly of a great iron beast” commuter train.    Private transportation meant independence. Self reliance was a value coveted by those who had emigrated west in search of escape from what Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation”.

 

The American West was now a more mature version its former self.  In the 1860’s, the horse was a prized possession. In the latter part of the 20th century, it was the automobile that defined the individual.   The car not only afforded us freedom but it transformed society.  With the advent of the freeway, suburban flight accelerated.  The person who once lived, worked and served as a strong thread in the fabric of an urban area would now labor all day in a metropolis and conveniently flee the chaos and social obligation for the bucolic white fences of a distant commuter town. Suburbia thrived and urban America began its decline.

 

Los Angeles was hardly a destination, it had no real center. It was a sprawling, ever-expanding ocean of houses, apartments and condominiums.  As residential prices soared, people would increasingly travel great distances to find affordable housing, choosing to comute vast distances to jobs in the aerospace and entertainment industries.  Years later, Southern California would spawn a new term, “super commuter” to describe the poor pilgrim who travelled at least two hours each way to work.  This led to millions leading double lives – – content in the bosom of their family each weekend and then reluctantly returning to the clutches of their automobiles each work week. 

 

In age of Aquarius, affluence was a luxury automobile.  One could airbrush their circumstances with the purchase of a Cadillac or full sized sedan.  Fathers drove the “nice” car and would occasionally allow their spouses to drive their vehicle but only under strict supervision.  The matriarch got stuck with a rolling landfill, “ the second car”  that often looked and smelled like a refugee camp.  Like so many of his generation, my father adored his car and maintained it with a pathological zeal.  He scrupulously recorded his mileage and changed the oil more often then he changed his children’s diapers.  He required his sons to clean his rolling palace once a week with a special chamois, “shammy”, cloth made from animal skin no larger than a handkerchief.   Washing the car with the shammy was the equivalent to cleaning the Meadowlands with a toothbrush. He countered that the factory paint job was rubbish and only the soft shammy could preserve the color. Nothing was too good for his four wheeled girlfriend. 

 

Dad preached that how one maintained their car spoke volumes about their self discipline, respect and personal hygiene. An unattended dent or scratch was a sign of moral and financial decline. We did not realize it but we were at the tail end of a golden age of transportation where cheap gasoline and an endless horizon line of superhighways, freeways and expressways beckoned Americans to drive everywhere.  We were a society of open spaces and vast distances.  The long scenic stretches of American interstate such as Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway symbolized the unrealized potential of a nation still growing into itself.  To a Southern Californian there was nothing more satisfying than driving one’s car – – to the store, to work or just down the driveway to get the mail.  Everything was accomplished with one’s motor vehicle. 

 

Our passion for automobiles may have been brought on by excessive exposure to the sun, lack of rain or attending one too many Burt Reynolds’ Smokey and The Bandit movies.  Our need to drive everywhere and often by ourselves, was seen as a birthright and a necessity given the vast distances one needed to travel between planned communities and urban centers.  My theory on our obsession was simple – – half of us may well have been conceived in the back seat of a ‘59 Dodge Lancer.  Whatever the impetus for our relentless preoccupation, we were initiated at an early age to believe that four wheels trumped two legs. At birth, we were handed a pacifier and a Match Box or Hot Wheels racing car.  Those infants that did not choke on the toys, graduated to watching Speed Racer cartoons and riding go-carts.  We had more bootleg copies of Motor Trend than Playboy and spent hours debating the superiority of Mustangs over Cameros. Yet, our amorous obsession eventually became an unhealthy addiction.

 

The energy crises of the 1970’s shocked us and confirmed our deep dependence on our cars and the dark, narcotic sold by exotic sheiks that fueled them.  We drove, drove and drove more.  We jammed our roads so much that we created pollution called “smog“( smoke and fog) which when inhaled made you feel like you had smoked five packs of filterless Camel cigarettes.  We had “smog alerts” at school and were told to stay indoors because of poor air quality. We determined that we must wean ourselves from our transportation habit.  We promised to abandon this destructive affair with cars for the honor of energy conservation and the environment.  We grudgingly got rid of our two ton concubines and launched a generation of economy cars that consumed less gasoline.  We watched as HOV lanes condemned the solo driver to sluggish traffic.  Secretly, we despised these changes longed for our beloved Rubenesque, full figured vehicles who were now transforming into waif-like, Twiggy compacts.  We loathed taking Amtrak and Greyhound. We convulsed under automotive abstinence.  We walked, took the train and carpooled.  It was a dark time in the Force for the motor headed Jedi.

In the 90s and into the new millennium, we quietly rekindled our affair of consumption. As with all serial recidivists, we could not stay away.  We did not want to think about the consequences of fossil fuels.  We ignored the signs of global warming.  We rejected the Kyoto treaty. We tolerated what we felt were egregious pump prices of $ 1.75.  We denied that we were actually undermining ourselves.  We went back to purchasing massive gas guzzlers and rationalized that tougher emission standards and engineering advances had again made the affair possible.   

But suddenly, the jig was up.  The world went sideways and we were caught en flagrante dilecto with big cars and no protection.  Most of us can no longer even fill our car at the gas station as the pump is programmed to cap out at $75.  There’s no avoiding the truth.  We are going to have to leave her for good this time and return to tin cans and public transportation.  We may even lose GM and a few other enablers along the way. For this reformed Californian, it’s still all a little inconvenient.  Yet, I know it’s only a matter of time before there is standing room only on every train and I am cramming my oversized body into an undersized Mini, Prius or hybrid.

It’s finally over but we had some good times, didn’t we?  It was an affair to remember…..