An Anchor in the Whirlwind

Dear Will:

On my way into work yesterday, I heard a report on NPR saying that, according to the Department of Transportation, Americans drove 10 billion fewer miles in May of 2008 than they did in May of 2007. That’s 10 billion. Imagine a guy who normally drives 1,000 miles in a month simply deciding not to drive anywhere for 30 days. You’d need 10 million such guys in order to make 10 billion. Incredible.

That’s what happens, I guess, when gas settles in at over $4.00 a gallon. Just this morning I filled my tank and paid only $4.15. And I was thinking I got a pretty good deal. That’s crazy.

Which is why I recently found myself online reading about how to get more miles per gallon without switching cars. It’s pretty simple, as it turns out: Accelerate slowly. Lose speed when climbing a hill. Coast whenever possible. Drive without the AC. In other words, all I have to do is change all of the bad habits I’ve formed over years and years of aggressive driving. (Update: I’ve tried, and it’s not going well.)

I also went online to figure out how to get to and from work if I were to rely solely on public transportation. It’s more straightforward than I expected: I can catch a bus on Chapman, ride it down to the train depot, and from there catch a second bus which will drop me at the corner by my office. Piece o’ cake. The only catch is that the one-way ride will take me two hours. (Let’s just say I’m not ready to make that switch just yet.)

I bring all of this up because I work for a large advertising agency. Our biggest client is a Japanese carmaker. So these issues affect more than just my “carbon footprint” and my disposable income. They threaten my very livelihood. It’s more than a bit unsettling.

Of course, I’m not alone when it comes to feeling threatened. You would be hard-pressed to name an industry which isn’t affected in some way by this recent shift in our economy. Transportation and manufacturing costs are skyrocketing even as real estate prices are plummeting. The price of everything is affected. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do get the sense that we are in the midst of a permanent shift to which we are all going to have to adapt. It will be painful, no doubt. Change generally is.

In times of such uncertainty, I confess that I draw a great deal of comfort from my faith. I get nervous for the future just like anybody else, but I feel as though my foundation is solid nonetheless. I’m reminded of these words from the Book of Mormon:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

Now I’m not trying to suggest that our current economic woes are the work of the devil. All I mean is that in the midst of the current whirlwind, I feel anchored, confident that, come what may, my family and I will make it through. Somehow.

That’s my prayer, in any case. May God bless you likewise.

PW

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Living in Fear of Parked Cars

Dear Will:

Consider yourself warned: My son Luke (15) has started to drive. Like any rational being, I face this prospect with dread and foreboding. And with good reason:

  1. I was 15 once. I remember what a good driver I was when I had a learner’s permit . . . or even a year later when I had a driver’s license for that matter. I vaguely recall running over curbs and bashing in some guy’s passenger side door. (All right, I admit it: I vividly recall those humiliations.) After failing my first driver test, I passed the second time by the thinnest of margins—and the evaluator told me he regretted that he had to give me a passing score. I was a danger to anyone near a paved road in the San Gabriel Valley. You should feel lucky to have lived through it.
  2. I’ve spoken to my insurance company. My premiums are going to go up a couple of grand about six months from now. The alternative is to buy an old junker, cover it for liability only, and put Luke on the vehicle instead. Know anybody with a $2,000 car that runs great?

I now find myself a passenger in my own car, which I hate. It takes much longer to get anywhere now that the driver is often going below the speed limit. And don’t get me wrong: Luke is turning out to be a genuinely OK driver, but there’s something about his tendency to drift to the right (where all of the cars are parked) that for some reason makes it hard for me to relax and enjoy the ride. He also hasn’t yet mastered the art of checking his mirrors and blind-spot before switching lanes—let’s just say it keeps me alert.

I’m sure that the day will come when I am thrilled that he can drive himself to jiu-jitsu and early morning Seminary (hooray!), but in the interim my beard is growing grayer by the day. I would anticipate my hair falling out in clumps had it not all fallen out in clumps on its own several years ago.

I can’t help but wonder if my state of unease (and occasional terror) is in any way akin to what our Heavenly Father must feel as He watches us career through life with little regard for the basic rules of the road. Wouldn’t we all just love for Him to simply take the wheel and deliver us where He wants us to go? But alas, it doesn’t work that way, does it? We must find our own way, mastering the skills required to navigate the roads of life on our own—come what may.

Perhaps that analogy is a bit hokey, but you can’t blame me for having a heightened awareness of an imminent afterlife. After all, now that I’m in the passenger seat there isn’t much separating me from those parked cars over on Hewes Avenue!

PW

Vacation Was a Gas

Dear Will:

A couple of weeks ago my family and I returned from a vacation in southern Colorado. We enjoyed a week of rafting, horseback riding, soaking in hot springs, hiking, exploring ancient ruins, and lots of driving—2,300 miles worth. We had a marvelous time, but as you would guess, by the time we finally pointed the car toward Orange, I was ready to be back in my own home.

So it was that we found ourselves, rolling down I-40, trying to take our minds off of the road. As we approached Havasu City, I remember noticing a Pilot station selling gas for “only” $2.39 per gallon. “Pretty good deal,” I thought—which will tell you all you need to know about what I was paying in and around Durango. As I drove past that exit—the last before we crossed into California—I discovered that I was running low on gas and would need to stop.

(Those of you familiar with that stretch of I-40 can probably anticipate the rest of this story. Having never traveled that stretch of road before, I was not so fortunate.)

When we got to Needles, I took the first exit and pulled into a Union 76 station that was charging $3.09 for a gallon of low-grade unleaded. “I’m not paying 3 bucks for a gallon of gas!” I exclaimed as I drove right through the station without stopping. Assuming that the first exit would offer the most expensive gas, I got back on the freeway and tried the next exit instead.

“Three-nineteen! I’m not paying $3.19 a gallon. This is ridiculous. We can get gas in the next town.” Once again I got back on the freeway without refueling. I looked at the gauge and concluded that I would have plenty in the tank to get me to Fenner—only 38 miles away.

Not far down the road the low-fuel indicator came on. I was averaging 17-18 miles to the gallon, so now I was worried. I had my whole family in the car and the in-dash thermometer indicated that it was 122 degrees outside. I imagined my wife and children baking in the unrelenting heat while I shuffled up the road, gas can in hand, in an ever-growing state of delirium. The desert stretched before me, blank and unforgiving, and the word hubris pounded over and over in my head. Somewhere nearby a lizard laughed. Hysterically.

We came over a rise, pushed onward by the last few drops of fuel in the tank, and finally saw in the distance evidence of what we thought must certainly be Fenner, California. As we drew nearer, however, the highway was pinched down to a single lane. Road construction. “Just watch,” my wife said. “With our luck the exit will be closed.”

It was like some kind of sick joke. The exit was closed. As we drove past the exit and saw the gas station—tantalizingly close, but unattainable—I gnashed my teeth and berated myself for my pride and stupidity. If I were a swearing man, I’d probably have felt a little better right about then, but not much. The next town was almost 60 miles further west.

Quickly I saw what I must do: At the first opportunity, I broke several traffic laws by driving across the median so that we could head back the other direction (there was no construction activity westbound) so that I could get to Fenner. We limped into that gas station, hot and relieved . . . and gladly paid $3.59 for a few gallons of gas.

PW