Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sic Transit Gloria Equi

What’s wrong with six figures? Nothing at all if we’re talking about a salary offer or an IRA savings account. Something when we’re talking about an odometer. There are six figures on the odometer of my Jeep Cherokee, a vehicle which has served me long and well. Out of the 10 cars and trucks I have owned in my life, it is probably second only to my 1979 Ford F150 (which I shouldn’t have sold, but did, a few years ago) as my favorite. However, the time is rapidly approaching when it needs to retire, or at least be relegated to second car status. New cars are so ridiculously expensive, of course, that car ads hardly ever tell the actual price for fear of scaring customers away; they speak only of monthly payments (with some big initial downpayment in small print). I’m not looking forward to the outlay.

Whatever I end up buying will be nothing extraordinary. I’ve never been a gearhead, lusting after Porches and building hot rods in the garage. I have every respect for those who are – whatever fires your cylinders and all that – but I’m not one of them. Reliable transport for myself, the occasional passenger or two, and some cargo always has been more than enough to satisfy me. To be sure I enjoy the open road. Some of my fondest memories (long before $4 gasoline) are of motoring to the west coast of the US by the southern route and returning the northern, with jigs and jags in between. So too the more modest jaunts since then. But these were in a Ford Maverick and later equivalents, not a Mercedes SLK 350 Roadster. True, I really can’t afford one of those anyway, but, if I could, it still wouldn’t be on my Top Ten list of luxuries to buy.

Given my druthers, I’d pass on a car altogether. In my opinion, the highest form of transport is the horse. It took surprisingly long for humans to learn to ride horses. At first ancient peoples seem to have domesticated horses only for the purpose of putting them on menu. They were hitched to wagons sometime around 2300 BC and to war chariots around 1600 BC. Yet, we don’t see evidence of horseback riding per se until more than 500 years later when bits and tack start to show up in the archeological record. Cavalry – not horse-drawn chariots but mounted cavalry – made its appearance in the steppes of Russia around 1000 BC, but wasn’t employed by established empires, such as Assyria, until the 800s BC. This is strange, since, unlike wheeled vehicles which require at least some rudimentary unobstructed road or an open plain, a horse can go anywhere a human can, roads be damned. Nevertheless, once people mounted up, they stayed in their saddles for the next 2900 years.

As long as it took for people to adopt the horse, it took them scarcely any time at all to abandon the animal. In 1900 the horse was the basic personal transport; by 1910 the automobile had replaced it. (In 1900 there was one horse for every three Americans; today there is one per 40, and 90% of the horses are recreational.) Though there was a period of overlap, the automobile also made the roads unsafe for horses. So, for this reason and for more practical ones, my Jeep will be replaced with something that has four wheels, not four hooves. Still, there are times when I’d like to awaken in 1900 with the resources to duplicate my post-college auto trip around the US, but this time on horseback. It would take a year or two instead of a month, but that’s OK too.

No comments:

Post a Comment