Day 143 & 144: MLwC and the way we were (less efficient was perhaps better…)

My partner and I were riding back from the west seattle farmer’s market today, transporting precious cargo in our panniers and the little stow-away on the back of my bike: rainier cherries, fresh pasta, tomatoes, bibb lettuce, red onions, spinach.

As we peddled home I started thinking about when I was a kid and how my mom got food to our baby-boomer household: once a week, a trip to the store and our local farmer’s market and back home again with a load of food for a family of six. That was pretty much the regime. We didn’t get in the car again for days.

If we ran out of something, we walked to the nearer store–not as big, not as cheap, but a nice walk and easy to do.

The deal was: we didn’t jump in the car for everything. We just didn’t. And I grew up in Southern California–it’s not like I didn’t grow up in a car culture, I did. But using a car was sort of a big deal back then–it was expensive and also, walking and bike riding were more common. When I stayed at my grandmother’s house in Los Angeles, we rode the bus everywhere–it’s just what you did.

Then I got to thinking about the price of gas now compared to then and thought driving was probably so much more expensive then. When I got home I checked out the price of gas adjusted for inflation and here’s what I found:

pump price from then to now

Turns out we were paying per gallon back in 1960 about the same price we’re paying now. What happened, how come We’re driving like fifty times more! Upon more investigation, what happened was this: in the late 70’s and early 80’s, gas prices soared, we were in the midst of ongoing crisis in the middle east and the government called for more efficiency and less reliance on middle eastern oil. Car companies responded by making more fuel efficient vehicles–compared to the cars we had when I was growing up, the Country Squire station wagon we had, for example, these new cars were wildly efficient. The old cars had terrible mileage–like 6-10 mpg, making everyone very careful about when and how they drove. So, enter the age of the fuel efficient car.

station wagon promo pic

Does the fuel efficient car help us use less gas, make us less reliant on ME oil? Hell no! It helps us drive wherever, whenever, and in the largest-ass car we can get anytime we want. We’re using per capita way more oil now than we were back then when cars were completely inefficient. So, was the drive to efficiency (no pun intended) a good thing? Not so much, looks to me.

Anyway, back to my ride home….I recognize that I’ve reverted to that earlier model now. I’m going to pretend that my car gets 6 mpg and that fuel is more expensive than water. And I’ll be calmer, happier for it. Cars are incredibly addictive–I know I’ve said this before, but I was just marveling at it again today, so it’s on my mind. I’m feeling sort of old fashioned, in a weird way, and I like it. Simpler. Calmer. Easier.

Daily stats: (Saturday, Sunday)

Car: 0
Bike: 6.2 miles
Ped: approx 3 miles
Bus: 0

7 responses to “Day 143 & 144: MLwC and the way we were (less efficient was perhaps better…)

  1. Cass,

    I love this post of yours. The mind never ceases to amaze me. It is all about the mind, isn’t it, and what we do with it. By the way, check today’s post in my blog. I hope you won’t mind if I quoted you. More mind stuff. You and I are on the same wavelength.


  2. I was having a conversation with my partner last week that echoes these thoughts. As folks wake up to the notion that we need to change how we do things, both business and political leaders assert that we can change without changing our “way of life.” Which makes me laugh and cry at the same time. It’s sacrilege to consider re-adapting some former ways of being that worked wonderfully for our parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents. I don’t mean to imply that we should go back to horses and buggies — more that there are a lot of ways to life that don’t require big, faster and more. As you said last week, leaders will not lead us in this direction, but we as individuals can begin to notice the results of our actions and routines. Progress doesn’t have to imply moving only in one direction. Reflection is progressive as well.

  3. Pingback: Day 145: MLwC and the little things « What it’s like

  4. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  5. I saw the comment that going to horse and buggy may be called for…

    Seriously, the are over 200,000 Amish people in North America who have made that stance! With their additional resistance to utilizing line-power electricity, they have become for-runners in sustainable living.

  6. I ran across this post while looking for something else entirely. I grew up in Michigan, then heart of the auto industry. Fuel economy mattered. I remember by grandfather, father, and other men, when someone got a new car, asking “what’ll she get?” – meaning mileage. Only later did they ask, “What’ll she do?” – speed.

    The old flathead engines of the 20s and 30s were not very efficient, just in terms of their intrinsic design and physics. A Model A Ford, with a puny 40 HP engine, got less than 15 MPG. In the 1950s, the “modern” V-8 proved to be much more efficient at turning gasoline into energy, and contrary to modern recollections, 50s cars where not yet huge. Cars got 15, sometimes 20 MPG. The engones were reasonable in size – 265, 292, 312 cubic inch. A “big” Caddy engine was only 332 CID.

    It was really only the very late 50s, and mostly the 60s, when engines, and cars, got really big. Engines got up to 400+ CID. But until the emissions regulations kicked in, mileage was still decent – 15 to 20 for most cars, unless you really stuffed your foot in it. In the early 70s, the emissions regulations killed efficiency – mileage dropped below 10, just as the cars were getting even heavier.

    But yeah, you’re right – we drive too much.

    • Really interesting comment, George, thanks so much–it’s a brief chronicle of the move from function to form, and it seems once a function has become commonplace, form takes over, often with significant downside or consequences. Thanks for sharing this info–great stuff.

      Sent from here.

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