There was this car commercial a few years back where George Washington is depicted as routing the British while driving a Dodge Challenger. After watching the Americans chase the Red Coats into retreat a voice says simply, "Here are a couple things America got right. Cars. And freedom."
When I first saw it I thought it was supposed to be an over-the-top joke. But if you watch it again, you'll notice the serious music, the grim looks of determination. I don't think it was meant to be ironic. I think they were serious, which makes it, for my money, just about the stupidest commercial I've ever seen.
But, regardless of the intent of its creators, that Dodge commercial represents in its purest form one of the biggest misconceptions about America: that the proliferation of cars somehow makes us more free.
After World War II, we built countless subdivisions that were absolutely auto dependent. You couldn't get anywhere -- the grocery store, the barbershop, the park, your bank -- without driving there. If you wanted to walk, bike or take a bus you were pretty much out of luck. Driving was mandatory.
For a lot of us who grew up in that kind of suburb, the problems with it are becoming poignantly obvious now. Our parents who still live there are getting on in years and, when they can no longer drive, they're captives in their own homes until they're forced from them.
Rather than building places for cars, it would be better to build them for people. Real freedom means a community in which you can walk, drive, bus or ride a bike to get safely to useful destinations. It's not about being anti-car; it's about being for freedom of choice. What could be more American than that?
Than there's the freedom of the pocketbook. The average American spends about $10,000 a year on their car. A bike, once purchased, is virtually free to operate. Bikes mean economic freedom to spend about $10,000 a year on whatever you want. Hot dogs, tickets to baseball games, more flags, whatever.
So, during Bike to Work Week, stick an American flag on your bike. Stand up to the tyranny of the car culture. Strike a blow for transportation freedom!
If George Washington were alive today, he'd be riding a nice new Trek, or maybe a Schwinn.