Last weekend, my wife and I took a ride purely out of boredom on a Sunday afternoon. Headed to the North Shore of Oʻahu, I avoided the highway and took the leisurely road that slinks up the windward coast of the island. To those readers who have seen the wilds of Kahana, the curves of Waimea Bay, or the perfect waves at Sunset Beach, you know that views along this slow drive are well worth the added trip time. In my mind, I had nothing, but a hazy idea of a destination. Maybe sunbathing at the beach or lunch in the cute town of Haleʻiwa; it didn't matter. The serene ocean views beyond the windshield and the lazy conversations with my wife were the only factors needed for a successful trip.
And a successful trip it was until an unsettling realization hit my mind. Gas prices! At upwards of $4.50 a gallon in fuel costs could we really afford to whimsically drive my red Chevy truck for an hour or two with no practical destination? After spreading a few words of thrifty reservation across the miles, we finally decided to just turn around and go home. We never even made it to Haleʻiwa. I traded an outdoor lunch by the Pacific for cold leftovers in my fridge and a couple of extra gallons of unleaded regular in the truck.
What kind of America is this anyway where the hallowed pastime of the leisurely Sunday drive has become an agitator of remorseful conscience?
As a kid, I remember many weekend drives through the fields and mountains of rural Pennsylvania to see my grandparents. In my teenage years, friends and I ventured further through the pine barrens to the seaside towns of South Jersey, and by college we were taking long road trips to visit other schools out in Western PA or to spend Spring break in Montreal. All these driving memories are formative and priceless to me now, and I don't think they are uncommon for the average American. The freedom and challenge of taking road trips in one's youth eases the travels and risks necessary in adulthood. I am sure that those early jaunts have contributed to my ability to move over 5,000 miles away from my hometown, and I am glad for it.
So why do I feel guilty about last weekend's Sunday drive? Everything is more expensive in Hawai'i; why not just roll on in spite of the high fuel prices? Usually I am able to chalk up minor frivolous spending on the weekend to the justifiable costs of entertaining myself after working all week and move on. But this time we actually stopped mid activity and turned around. That's never happened before, so there's something separating this expenditure from a meal out or a Friday night bar tab.
A couple days of reflection and I've figured out why. The difference lies in the grey area between shame and guilt. Guilt is an internally motivated emotion. Since casual weekend driving has long been part of my upbringing, I can't muster up all that much internal guilt about it. Nor should I. In my value system, driving has always been morally acceptable, if not a good method for fostering responsibility and self-reliance. What has changed is not me, it is society as a whole. What I felt last Sunday was the externally imposed emotion of shame in response to my frivolous driving.
Look at all the factors that have lined up over the last twenty years to contribute to this shame. We have seen fuel costs increase by a multiplier of 5. The holier-than-thou green movement tell us that driving fossil fuel-burning vehicles is akin to committing a mortal sin against Mother Earth. We have had multiple wars fought with no small amount of consideration given to dwindling oil resources. From devastating oil spills, to HOV lanes, hybrid compact cars, ethanol and more, society's constant message is that you are a shameful person if you are driving for any purposes other than pure necessity and even then you had better be car pooling.
As an American boy born and bred in the second state of Pennsylvania and an adult transplant to the fiftieth state of Hawai'i, I reject that notion. I will drive where and when I want to and not be made to feel bad about it, and the system should accommodate that. It is only patriotic! Bring gas prices down, and stop shaming us into reluctant environmentalism. If the politicians and corporations running this country can't do that, than put affordable prices on electric cars and get them going farther than 100 miles in one trip. I want to have my driving fix without feeling like I have to step inside a confessional afterwards. From Manifest Destiny to the Great Migration, freedom of movement built this country into the great land it is today. I am for preserving the culture of the Sunday drive even if it means we start drilling our own oil. Go west young man, and gas prices go south!