As I watched the apparently futile efforts of BP to cap the oil gushing from their damaged well in the Gulf and anticipated the looming ecological impact that is inevitable once this mess reaches shore, I felt a sharp pang of guilt combined with more than a little tinge of honest nostalgia.
Yes, I feel guilty, because my generation more than any other has contributed to the dependence on oil for transportation, but strangely I’m also nostalgic for the days when it was okay. I freely admit that I am addicted to the reciprocating internal combustion gasoline engine and even as cultural bias continues to increase and age and maturity temper my enthusiasm slightly, I still look back fondly to the first time I saw (and heard) a Pontiac GTO … !!!
If you’re a guy (or maybe even a gal) who came of age in the late 60s and early 70s, aren’t you almost predisposed to feel this way? Don’t you get a certain thrill when you see a restored muscle car displayed at a classic car show, parked at a cruise-in, or actually rumbling down the street?
Doesn’t the allure of turning the ignition on that big-block V-8 engine, putting the top back and idling from stop light to stop light still have a strong appeal? Don’t you long to pop the clutch and “chirp” the tires a couple of times just to see the reaction? Be honest … do you find yourself channel surfing on cable and being unable to pass by the classic car auction show where people about your age (who are obviously a whole lot richer than you) bid insane amounts of money to satisfy this urge?
Even in this era of oil shortages, sky-high gasoline prices, and petroleum-related environmental disasters do any of us of a certain age feel any less nostalgic for the days when horse-power was a far more potent influence on us than horse sense? As a baby-boomer, oil is in my blood. I simply can’t help it.
For Americans in general, the gasoline powered automobile is deeply ingrained in our collective psyche and will probably remain so for the next couple of decades. But, as fossil fuel becomes scarcer and dearer and problems related to finding it economically and safely grow, our deeply rooted cultural influence will almost certainly give way to the imperative that we move on to a more sensible and responsible method of getting around.
Probably our children, and with little doubt our grandchildren will not be dependent on oil nor the gasoline engine as a mode of transportation when they are our age. By necessity and probably by choice, advanced technologies will prevail and electric and/or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or something even more wizz-bang will take over.
Already, the major auto manufacturers are beginning to produce viable alternatives to traditional gasoline powered automobiles. At least outwardly, these new entries still bear a strong resemblance to the super cars of our past. The new Chevy Volt, while offering complete departure from its gasoline powered predecessors, produces the type of performance that will probably satisfy the needs of future generations of enthusiasts.
And I’ll be okay with that. In fact, I already want one. If I’m lucky enough to own one in the future, my only disappointment will probably come at the stop light when I try to rev the engine and produce only a barely audible “hum” and my attempt to “chirp” the tires fails completely as I remember that popping a clutch is now in the same historical category as popping a buggy whip.