I Need a Ford Excursion.
I knew it the moment I saw the description--"suburban assault vehicle"--in the news reports. I live in the suburbs. I need an assault vehicle.
The 2000 Excursion weighs 3.5 tons and measures nearly nineteen feet long. I need it.
It comes with a cowcatcher attached beneath the front bumper so small cars can't pass me beneath my axles. But I need to find out how fast a Volkswagen New Beetle can do on the highway with a 7,000-pound truck a half-inch from its taillights.
I need to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while driving so I don't starve; there's just no time to worry about the traffic or the bends in the road ahead. With the Excursion I'll just turn on the cruise control and I can pay properly close attention to my meal or take a well-deserved nap without fear that anything that gets in my way will stop me. I need to feel safe.
I need a Ford Excursion because it gets twelve miles to the gallon. The Sierra Club calls it "a garbage truck that dumps into the sky." Dan Becker, director of the club's global-warming program, is quoted in news reports as saying, "This will be the most polluting truck on the road and will set a new low for Detroit."
The Excursion has six doors and is six and a half feet wide. I have a parakeet and sometimes have to drive it to the pet store when it needs its toenails trimmed. I need the space.
There are three engines available. I need all three but I'll settle for the biggest: the optional V-10. My driveway is on an incline; you can tell because the rain runs toward the street. I need the power.
No doubt there are individuals who'll say that my need for an Excursion is a Freudian matter. Those who say such things are pathetic, envious people who don't qualify for a second home mortgage and so can't drive an Excursion themselves. And let me assure you, Freud has nothing to do with it. I need an Excursion. I need it because the neighbors have to see the big bulge in my garage door. I need it because it's long and hard. And I need to flip it into four-wheel drive and thrust forward, ever forward, and ram deep, deep--oh, so deep--into moaning, shuddering woods where no truck has gone before.
Did you know that the Ford Motor Company didn't display its new Excursion at automobile shows this past spring for fear of a bad reaction from the public. What does this tell you? The message it conveys is that, for all the outcry that America is becoming too permissive with its children (which may well be the case), it's hardly noticed that society has become far too bossy with its adults. Frequently this takes the form of social pressure to engage only in approved activities, and often this institutional authoritarianism takes the form of the passage of bad, restrictive laws, like those against streaking at sporting events. We still give lip service to the notion that our nation is a land of liberty, but that has largely ceased to be true. The Dan Beckers of this world--and there are many--have nearly taken over.
This relates not only to Bill of Rights issues, such as the incendiary question of flag-burning, but to the erosion of ordinary, everyday liberties. Ninety years ago people ingested cocaine in soda pop; now you can get a prison term for the same thing. Fifty years ago a fur coat was a nice thing that kept you warm during the cold winter; today it's still warm but amateur Mussolinis, who enjoy pushing around human beings by feigning deep concern about mindless beasts, have intimidated pelt owners to the point where you hardly ever see a fur coat in the winter. Forty years ago the means of disciplining your children was your business as long as you didn't do any physical harm; today it's an orthodox dictum that spanking is abuse.
Twenty years ago you could unbuckle your seat belt if you wanted, you could smoke indoors if you chose. At the beginning of the decade computer hacking was a learning experience for college students. Now all these behaviors can be crimes.
What can we do about this? At a minimum, we should take back our little share of this country by openly doing as we please. For me that's going to be cruising the interstate in the biggest gas pig I can get on credit--a wasteful, expensive, polluting rolling meat locker that's frowned upon by every ideologue and rulie who thinks there's a right way and a wrong way to do everything.
For you it might be something else. If you don't feel like toting separated glass in a plastic box to the curb on garbage day, go ahead and pitch those recyclables in with the rest of the garbage. If you want to toss a Snickers wrapper on the side of the highway, feel free. If it appeals to you to let your lawn grow wild or smoke some smuggled Cuban cigars or light a row of fire-crackers or have rock candy and Jack Daniels for dinner, go right ahead. And if you don't want to do these things but your neighbor does, shut up--it's no concern of yours, Buttinski.
Do your patriotic duty to behave as you wish--as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. Life is short, particularly if you see me in your rear view mirror. Because I'll be driving a Ford Excursion.
Clifford Falk is an attorney in private practice in Niagara Falls, New York.