Thursday, May 25, 2006

68. There's no humor in Hummer

From a social and ethical standpoint, the decision was long overdue. Of course, it was not made from the social or ethical standpoint, rather, as always, it was an economic decision. Hummers (H1), the oversized, gas-guzzling symbol of American greed and materialism, have finally been discontinued by General Motors due to poor sales. General Motors will, however, continue to make the similar, but smaller, H2 and H3 models. The last Hummers are scheduled to roll off the lines in June, 2006.

Hummers (with this term, I am referring specifically to the H1), weighs up to 8500 pounds, gets an estimated 10 miles per gallon and cost between $120,000 and $140,000. The weight of this vehicle brings forth two, not so insignificant, issues. First, it is not subject to fuel economy regulations, which is why it is only estimated. Secondly, its weight fell, until recently, into a tax loophole that allowed purchasers to deduct a considerable amount of its cost. The tax regulation was originally created to offer a break to farmers and small businesses that relied on large and expensive capital purchases. I guess, not so surprisingly, Hummer owners quickly took advantage of this loophole, one that was never intended for their benefit.

A commercial, by Volkswagen I believe, takes issue at the purchase of expensive vehicles, specifically, the reasons why individuals may do so. From a megaphone, individuals cite things like: their relationships with their parents, the need to flaunt their wealth, the desperation for attention and the compensation for personal shortcomings. Whether or not any or all of these factors actually play a role in such a purchase, people believe that they do- at least satirically.

Of course, the most common retaliation by Hummer owners is that others are jealous, or in envy, of their ability to purchase and own such a vehicle. This argument certainly holds true for some, but even upon considerable wealth, I would never purchase such a vehicle. Neither would a lot of people. It seems that those susceptible to such gluttony cannot see value in this world past wealth and power. In fact, when I see a Hummer on the road, I think quite opposite. I think of the selfishness necessary to waste the world's most precious resources. And I sorrow for their materialistic values.

Some might view these opinions both unfair and without standing. However, whether we want to admit it or not, we are all judged on the decisions we make. I often hear that we do not have the right to judge another person. The truth is that judging, or forming the opinions about other people, is a part of life. The only thing that people can ask, or that I would ask, is to be judged fairly.

How fair is it to judge, or form an opinion of, a Hummer owner? From my perspective, perfectly fair, because owning one of these vehicles says a lot about the inherent values of its owner. While a Hummer owner might be ignorant to these facts, the more likely scenario is that he or she just does not care. Generally, the affluence necessary to make such a purchase encapsulates some worldly knowledge. The choice, is a conscience one, and a display of arrogance in respect to the generally agreed upon social faults of these vehicles.

As a social criticism, the denigration is justified based on the impact these vehicles make environmentally- and there is no one else to hold accountable other than the purchasers (and perhaps the legislators.) Consider if the Hummer had been even more successful. What would have been the consequences; how would it have affected the supply and demand (and price) of gasoline? America already dwarfs the rest of the world in energy use per person. Imagine if everyone in America drove a Hummer. Fortunately, many potential purchasers were short of means, if not ego.

General Motors marketed and sold Hummers for fourteen years, selling nearly 12,000 of them. For me, that was fourteen years and 12,000 Hummers too many. I am sure that I am not the first, or the last, to say, "Good riddance!"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

67. Tell Dad you love him now

If there is a song that puts a lump in my throat every time I hear it, it is "Cats in the Cradle." It is the music, the lyrics and, most significantly, the message. For me, and surely many others, it is a true account of time, growing up and relationships. It is about life and understanding how quickly life can get away from you.

The story, if it needs to be told, is that of a young father that has difficulty making time for his son. There were, "planes to catch and bills to pay." However, despite missing his father, the son takes his disappointment in stride- pledging that when he grows up that he is going to be like his Dad. Later in life, indeed, the tables turn. The father wants to spend time with his son, as the son replies, "What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys." Finally, in retirement, the father realizes that when his son still is not available (job's a hassle and the kids got the flu), he has grown up just like him.

The relationship certainly held true in the relationship with my father. Growing up, I wanted more time with him than he could spare, and before he passed, he had more time available than I could manage. My father did spend a lot of time with me and my family, so I cannot say that I grew up without him- but as a kid you do not understand the affect eight hours in a factory can have on someone. After my father retired, he seemed to love late night philosophical debates- even if we held opposing views on a number of issues. It is a little strange that growing up he answered all my questions and in the end, I spent my time listening to his theories.

I never appreciated what my father accomplished until considerably after his death. He had an eight-grade education and worked at General Motors all of his life. He grew up in the city, the youngest of nine children, without a mother. Later he picked up his young family and moved west to the country where he tried his hand at farming before opening up several small businesses. Often embarrassed in his difficulty with spelling and math, I never realized how ambitious he was. He was a risk-taker that never let his lack of "credentials" hold him back. As a businessman, he knew people. He knew how to talk to his customers, what they wanted and he always showed his appreciation for their support.

As a family, we had the usual peaks and valleys that were not short on unforgettable moments. We were a sports-oriented family that spent a lot of time on the baseball diamond and football field. Together we shared the heartbreak of Cleveland sports teams, comforted only by Mom's traditional homemade pizza. In our attempt at farming, we raised cows, pigs and chickens- sometimes chasing them down when they got out at 3:00 a.m. or rescuing them when they got stuck on the frozen pond. Finally, we worked hard to start and manage our family businesses.

There is never enough time; my father passed at the young age of 55. He did not see me earn my master's degree, receive my license in healthcare administration, coach high school baseball or read anything I wrote. He visited our house just once and he will never know his grandchildren- if we ever have kids. With time on his side, he would still be involved in my life. He would have told me how to coach and on what subject to write my columns. We would still have disagreed on a number of issues, and he would have frustrated me- but like anyone who has lost someone, I would welcome that frustration now.

They say time is measured in moments, not time. It is amazing how fast time passes. It seems like he has been gone forever.