The Last Road Trip
SUBHEAD: Freakishly cheap gas? Nation broke? Just hit the road! By Mark Morford on 31 December 2008 in SF Gate - http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2008/12/31/notes123108.DTLImage above: Those who bet on cheap oil are once again being rewarded... but for how long? Something is deeply wrong. Something is bizarre and upside-down and perverse and it's not just fish pedicures or Rod Blagojevich's hair or the fact that people still care in the slightest about the sad and toothless chyme that is Britney Spears' White Trash Lite™ career. It's gas. The price of oil. Or I should say, the stunning, creepy, impossibly low price of Satan's lubricant, Bush's blood, our own personal Jesus. Have you noticed? How could you not? It's one of the more disturbing indicators in recent memory, easily the most ironically depressing sign of doom and downturn you get to see every single day as you careen around the city streets and look at the signs and blink a few times and go, wait wait wait, what year is it again? Are you kidding me? A buck seventy five? For premium? WTF? It is the frightening rule du jour: the cheaper gas gets right now, the more completely screwed you know we are. At the same time, a cheap tank of gas is one of the few strokes of fiscal relief we have right now, a tiny reprieve from the brutal economic turmoil. What a thing. But on the whole, it is not good news. Normally, the price of a barrel of crude drops a couple hundred percent in less than a year and we'd be out celebrating, joyous in the knowledge that ExxonMobileShellScrewYou must've just shoved an enormous drill bit the size of Sarah Palin's vacuity deep into Russia or Venezuela or a precious Alaskan wildlife preserve and come up with enough pure, sweet crude to last us until you're very, very dead and your grandkids are using the burned-out hull of your Chevy Tahoe XLT as a bomb shelter against the global warming food riots. Not this time, baby. No one, not even the most right-wing, SUV-loving Peak Oil denier, is claiming the crash in oil prices is actually a righteous and positive sign overall, despite how some economists say it's the one thing that's kept us from complete fiscal Armageddon, at least for now. This is what it really means: massive production slowdown, worldwide. It means: Auto industry collapse. It means: demand is so freakishly low that even coddled Saudi sheiks are parking their chrome Mercedes McLaren SLRs at the guest mansion and driving the lowly Cayenne Turbo to their gilded office towers made of diamonds and virgins and cheap immigrant labor. See? Bleak all around. But like any bizarre, inverse hunk of temporary reality that shouldn't really exist right now, if you close your eyes just right and spin yourself around and pretend the world is made of honeysuckle and pie and dreamy roadside cafes, you can make yourself see the tiny, tasty upside. Shall we? You have but to ask yourself: What can I do in the midst of one of the most savage economic recessions since the Depression, when Americans can't afford a good latte anymore and retail's in a tailspin and no one's buying anything over ten bucks? Is the answer not obvious? Did you not read the headline to this column? That's right: Road trip. A big one. Cross-country, all over the map (maybe wait until Spring for the northern regions), see the sights, burn off any number of tanks of cheap petrol for the last time ever and get the Saturn/Chevy/Chrysler serviced one more time before all dealerships close and your creaky American car is suddenly worth less than a used skateboard. Doesn't it sound about right? Really, the signs all seem to be aligned. Gas back to pennies per gallon for perhaps the last time in your lifetime, trips abroad still impossibly expensive, America on the verge of her next big leap forward, roads less congested (due to everyone being laid off), lots of free parking at the roughly 10,000 strip mall Targets and Wal-Marts and that still plague the land like a big-box cancer, a thousand small businesses scattered across a hundred small towns that could sure as hell use your patronage. What's not to like? Imagine the sights: All those bizarre new ghost towns, huge, tract-home megadevelopments with no one around to mow the perfect 13-foot squares of sod; tumbleweeds rolling like lost macho dreams across all those shuttered Hummer dealerships; bigwig bankers out in the street, begging for alms, $4,000 Armani suit in tatters. Or at least, a bit smudged. Honey, get the camera. Plus, you can wave a final farewell to George Bush's America, the sour megachurches and the gun shops and the liquor barns (usually all in the same mini mall), the giant industrial feedlots and the creationist museums and the prisons overflowing with white collar criminals and hey! Isn't that Scooter Libby, hitchhiking down the highway toward Sodom? Can we take a quick detour up to the Minneapolis airport so I can take one last snapshot of Sen. Larry Craig's favorite "I am not gay" totally gay restroom before it vanishes from the tourist map forevermore? Cool. More seriously: A shift is nigh. It feels like it just might be the end of that classic, nostalgic America of yore, the last gasp of that sweet, impossible snapshot you might have of the classic road trip, all charming roadside attractions and funky cafes and strange, tiny towns dotting the byways like weird hallucinations. Plus, filling the tank for 25 bucks? That's just ridiculous. After all, America is changing, and not a moment too soon. Our once noble but greedy land of cheap gas and giant cars and hot concrete ribbons stretching to the horizon is finally be shifting to something slightly more... I'm not quite sure what. Responsible? Mindful? Shrewd? Less oily? We can only hope. What we know for sure: Principal Obama is about to step in and take away much of our unchecked gluttony, the belt tightening will go all the way to the spine, cheap, plentiful oil is going the way of the rain forest, giant, lumbering cars are more irresponsible than letting your kids watch Fox News and even Wall Street kingpins are being slapped down a few dozen rungs on the ladder of respect and admiration. End of an era? Sort of. More like: End of an identity. Does it not seems like the road is beckoning, one last time? Hell, right now a good road trip is cheaper than a plane ticket. You need no new clothes. You need no real agenda. Stock up the cooler with a giant bag of trail mix and a case of cheap Sauvignon Blanc from Trader Joe's, map out a loose route on the iPhone, fill your tank, take aim, see the nation one more time before the economy recovers and gas leaps back up to eight bucks a gallon and we all come to our senses and start driving Smart cars to the corner market to pick up our monthly allotment of basic decency and newfound global humility. Fun!