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Hallucination Engine Revisited
The Psycho-dynamic Obsolescence of General Motors

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Hallucination Engine Revisited: Psycho-Dynamic Obsolescence of General Motors
I am a child of General Motors — an ex-auto junkie United Auto Worker raised in dealerships and auto plants. I am peak oil, the auto-sprawl, carbon dioxide, speed and redundant mobilty.

This is the intervention.

Today, I shop on the showroom floor of illusions. Amidst Ford‘s chest-thumping “we will survive without a bailout” proclamation, Chevy’s greenwashed prediction that their extended-range electric Volt (another candidate to overload the grid) will cure post-Chapter 11 pain, and taxpayers’ frustrated cries from adjusting to the dubious understanding that they have suddenly become stockholders with no voting rights in the sputtering American auto industry, my Zeitgeist – “What’s good for General Motors is good for America,” went bankrupt. Hummer rolled over; Saturn eclipsed; Pontiac and Oldsmobile phased out. While the post-bankruptcy GM announces it will focus on "developing vehicles that can excite buyers," all I feel is the wisdom of dead junkies, that but for the grace of God…, and the dynamic obsolescence of hyper-mobility.

I was a kid at a red light between the bucket seats of a 1958 hot-off-the-showroom-floor, two-tone Corvette convertible, top down under an surreal March morning sky, a Chevrolet jingle on the radio with a chorus singing "It's all new all over again." When the light turned green, the melody accelerated through my skin and evanesced into the hills above Sunset Boulevard. I was hubcap-eyed hypnotized.

At the wheel, wearing his favorite Don Loper shirt, Dad — a parts department employee at Martin Pollard Chevrolet — smiled sweet and satisfied like Jack Lemmon at 29. Next to him, Mom smiled back in Shimmering Rose lipstick and butterfly dark glasses, her Vera scarf straight in the wind. Cruising west on the Sunset Strip, we were enshrined in the 'Vette — a Panama Yellow and Snowcrest White barking GM spider dripping chrome.

My eyes locked on the cloud-and-rooftop horizon above the dashboard. Sparkplug bolts of electricity hard-wired my brain. After a fuel-injected hit of 20th-century freedom and mobility, I was never the same all over again.

"Let's make this thing work," said Dad stepping on the gas.

The engine om submerged me in a V-8 adrenaline bath. Lost in a 290-horsepowered paradise-to-the-bone, I was 8-years old and burning-down-the-house addicted to cars.

Before GM, we were clean. A few city blocks supplied all the life we needed. We walked to work, to school, to shop for groceries. The church. The dry cleaners. The drugstore. The bank. Our close friends. Get in a car to visit them? Never. Cars were meant for a trip or a special occasion — not for a mundane commute or errand. Let me explain in market terms for investors in the new GM. Back in the day, stocks were based on earnings, not derivatives; executive salaries had something to do with portfolio performance; you had to have verifiable income to qualify for a loan; people had some idea of to whom they owed money and sense of where that money might come from. Get it?

But we became addicts. We dressed for cars, schedule for cars, wished for cars, cursed for cars and lusted for cars. Our leisure time, speech, manners (or lack thereof), where we did business and pleasure was auto-dependent. We loved and hated cars, gave them names, sang about them, insured their bodies, rubbed them until they shined. Deluded into thinking that the outward rush of motorcar markets could expand infinitely, we came to think of our planet in the same way — an inflating globe growing without limits.

At first it was 10 miles…then 50…100…200 miles a day. Soon we couldn’t even eat without a car — all of our behavior deformed in a Möbius strip cloverleaf head-on crash. And now, GM is back from DOA. If that’s a good sign, fuck me.

On my way to work this morning, out-of-control Japanese taillights flare and spin by. I've almost been hit by a rice rocket trying to avoid a squirrel. My Camaro is okay, but I'm a wreck. I take a deep breath.

"Try to relax," I say. "Blend into traffic. Sink into your leather seat. Get lost in the drone of the engine. Flatten the wayward squirrel."

But when I arrive at my office, I'm shaking — my malignant inclination driving me downhill, shifting me between loving cars and desperately needing cars. Jesus Christ in a GTO, I need help. It's time to call a doctor.

If anyone can make me feel good about my automotive Jones, its Dr. Kenneth Green, the ex-Director of Environmental Studies at the Reason Public Policy Institute, now-Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He’s an old school invisible-hand-of-the-marketplace libertarian. Surely, he can talk me back up.

"There's no validity to the argument that we are somehow addicted to cars," Green says. "When someone approaches me from your viewpoint, I just say two words: 'Conestoga wagon.' The truth is, we've wanted greater mobility since the covered wagon."

Cool. I keep quiet and listen. Economics is the driving force behind the preponderance of cars, according to Green. We are, essentially, going places either to get money or spend it. A wagon. A bicycle. A horse. An Acura. To a good American with his head on straight, they're all simply economic conveyances. I sense that this might be useful information in my new role as a multi-tasking taxpayer / stockholder in the new GM.

Outside my second-floor window, a Harley Davidson rumbles past, its antisocial posture splitting the lanes of the stagnant citizenry. I reel in a learned neuro-synaptic response. A dopamine surge brings me to my senses. What a load of crap. A car is so much more than a vehicle. It’s part of our identity. A 57 Chevy is not a conestoga wagon. It’s an obsession.

"We have a demand for mobility that is almost insatiable," Green informs me. "There's no limit to how far people will want to spread out."

I'm listening, but an engine starts humming in my head. The room undulates. The ceiling peels back, and a dark universe emerges above me. I rise into it, enveloped in a future where only one person inhabits each planet: A deep-space version of an upscale gated community — Cota de Caza resized for libertarian futurist philosophers strung out on mobilty. Powered by economics and an insatiable primal urge to spread out, Dr. Green rockets by me punching a Turbo 400 Buick Grand National into the endgame of the Big Bang.

An unanticipated coherent question pops out of my mouth. "Shouldn't we be focusing on the sustainability of higher-density cities?" I look behind me to see where the voice came from.

"Most people don't want to live in cities anymore," Green says. "Cities create faster social disharmonies. Riots spread faster. Pollution is in a higher concentration."

I look out my office window. There's a gas station (CARS), a backed-up metered freeway onramp (MORE CARS), an overpass (EVEN MORE CARS), and beyond that tract homes in every direction (CARS TO THE EXTREME). I see no human face.

"I don't believe we're addicted to the car," he says.

Green and I are clearly wasted.

Below me — like a three-grain shot — a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 350 in mint condition makes a turn out of the parking lot. On its rear passenger-side window is a sign that reads "FOR SALE."

As if in the expanded seconds of a car crash, my mind races between my loyalties to the old order, my responsibility to taxpayer interests in GM’s recovery, and an addict’s rationalization that this may be the best of all highs – snorting the ashes of Ford — the enemy and one of the founding fathers of the American industry.

Inside my head a neon sign flashes, "YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE THAT MUSTANG."

I drop the phone, run downstairs, and jump into my baby. With a sharp left, I'm in pursuit, zipping by Old Town Irvine and its blacksmith-shop theme restaurant. Strip-mall history offers the locals a romantic image at the area’s history. They eat fries and burgers under horseshoes, next to a blacksmith's forge, basking in suspended disbelief about the dangers of cholesterol as well as their denial that transportation in the days when a horse was an urban necessity smelled like shit.

Imagine a horse-drawn metropolis on a rainy day, the street bubbling with the stanky gumbo of ass goblins; on a summer day, the unscooped, infected fecal ooze dehydrating and crumbling into a fine dust rising burnished into the air, coating everything. Within that environment, the car became our junkie Jesus of locomotion — the savior and tempter of our muddy urban souls.

Before its advent, thousands of dead horses were carted from our city streets each year — unless, as often happened, municipal street sweepers struck, stayed home or stayed drunk. In that case, decomposing corpses — spinning with flies — dished up tongue and anus feasts for ravens.

What did the future look like in 1890? Statisticians predicted that by 1940, people living in densely populated cities would be up to their knees in horseshit.

Rolling through the yellow light at Culver Drive, I follow a different horse — the Shelby Mustang. In its contoured body is the narrative of a hot romance…a torpedo full of adventure for a twisted new age that promised to deliver us from air pollution, congestion and death. Yeah. Now I’m feeling better.

The Mustang rolls into a carwash. What the hell: There're bugs on my windshield and parkway sprinkler trails on my hood. I can get a wash, meet the owner and score the Shelby all at the same time. I pull up to the vacuums, leave my key in the car and follow the Mustang man to a spot under a patio where we watch a dozen Latinos sweat and wipe the water off sparkling hoods, roofs, trunks, fenders, doorjambs and windows. Thin, long-faced, wearing a tweed suit and a small brimmed fedora, the mustang owner has an unsettling resemblance to William S. Burroughs from the dead risen.

"That's my Ford," he says before I get a chance to speak.

"How long have you owned it?”

"It was 1910 when the first Ford Model T came to Orange County." I don't think he hears my question. "All black…squared-off…a production line, one-size-fits-all piece of history…the beginning of the modern industrial age…the harbinger of the Carnuba Sealer Wax shine," he says

I flinch at the rush of precise details delivered in a measured gravely voice. Was this another smug Ford asshole gloating over the government-sponsored new GM’s lack of foresight?

"How much do you want for your car?" I ask.

He shivers.

"Henry Ford cut the Model T's original price in two, because he wanted everyone to own one… get them hooked… even farmers. Their wheelbase is exactly as wide as a horse-drawn wagon's."

"So what?" I say.

The Mustang man pauses and looks me in the eye. "They fit right into the ruts already worn into the roads. The suburb and the car were the perfect bump…a synchronized transmission. During the honeymoon, the future looks limitless."

I smile impatiently. "How much do you want for your car?"

He still doesn't answer.

"Bill?" says someone whose shirt is embroidered with the name "Ramon."

The man who looks like Burroughs gives Ramon his receipt with a tip and gets into the Mustang.

"Is your car for sale?" I ask.

"No," says Bill, who's already beginning to drive away.

I stare down at the ground, exasperated. Through a crack in the pavement, glistening with soapsuds and Armor-all, a spike of green stares back. It's a sprout rooted in the best agricultural land in America — the grade-A fields and orchards buried under the asphalt here at the Irvine Auto Spa. This could be a remnant of the walnuts, strawberries, asparagus, oranges, corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, beans and sugar beets worked by Ramon's ancestors. “Ready” he says. I hand him seven crumpled dollar bills and start my engine.

Things aren't so limitless when I get on the Santa Ana Freeway. It's jammed. Every new northbound lane all the way to the Orange Crush — a world-class entanglement of freeway intersections where the main arteries between San Diego and Sacramento wrap around one another, strangling the flow of commuters in their quest for a mythic ever-expanding market — is locked up with heavy metal. No matter how much road we have, we always need more.

Ahead of me, a lifted Toyota 4Runner signaling in a frenzy, attempts to change lanes. A Lexus doesn't want to let it in. Over wild honking, the lips, fingers and faces of contorted frustration are contained behind two windshields.

I punch the auto-scan on my radio, seeking traffic reports and Sig-Alerts.

"And now the news," a voice chimes in. "It may be easier to forgive bad drivers after you've gotten even with them. This may be the case for some motorists, according to a recent survey of traffic-school participants. The survey found that 31 percent of the participants have sought revenge by chasing another driver, 12 percent threw an object at an offending car, and 5 percent rammed the car. Three percent had loaded guns in their cars; almost 2 percent waved the guns at another driver. And slightly less than 1 percent pulled the trigger."

Outside my Camaro the traffic begins to grow horns. A horde of engines growl. I get an icy look from a middle-class teen confused wanna-be Scarface with an achy-breaky haircut — the one in the 4Runner pickup. Will he seek revenge? Is he armed? The traffic is at a complete stop. He stares at me as if it's my fault. He revs his engine. I look down, trying to avoid locking eyes. Then I see it — a black, slick, bubbly ooze seeping through the floorboards. Before I can react, I'm up to my ankles in a warm pool of oil — crankcase drips, tanker spills, toxic shit — rising off the road.

"Get me the fuck out of here," I yell at the dashboard as my knees start to simmer in the muck. "We've got 4 million miles of highways and streets in America. Hasn’t anyone heard of peak oil?"

Traffic creeps forward. CONSTRUCTION AHEAD, reads a caution-yellow sign. The oil line in my car hits my waist.

The 4Runner teen reaches into his glove carpartment. I think he's got a gun. I'm about to leap out the door, when someone toots a horn. It's Bill in the Mustang. I motion frantically for help as the oil hits my chest. Bill just points to the yellow signs as the oil bubbles up my nose.

"Exterminate all rational thought," he yells out of his window as he inches by.

It appears we have.

The next few moments are a stretch of lost highway that's been blanked out of my memory.

When I snap to in a Harbor Boulevard gas station minimart's secured-for-my-safety restroom, I'm splashing water on my face and rubbing my clothes with a cardboard pine tree shaped auto air-freshener to chase the smell of 40-weight oil from my cognitive memory. Outside, in the afternoon sun on the street corner, a small crowd gathers at a bus stop.

There was a time in this country when most people got to work by foot or by public transportation. In the 1930s, seven billion commuter trips each year were taken on electric systems like Southern California's Red Car line.

Where did all our streetcars go?

Some say that the oil, steel and rubber industries — trying to heighten our addiction to the automobile — bought the lines and plowed them under (see Who Killed Roger Rabbit?).

Others say those same industries invested in electric-powered mass transit only to discover the systems were falling short of our transportation needs (see Alice in Wonderland).

For whatever reasons, General Motors, Firestone Tires, Standard Oil and Mac Machinery bought out more than 100 electric rail lines in 45 American cities over 13 years. By 1950, 90 percent of those were destroyed, including the Pacific Electric from Los Angeles to Santa Ana. Now, in its place, we have GM’s legacy — miles of congested roads.

I return the restroom key with its miniature tire fob to the clerk at the counter and browse the magazine rack. Car and Driver, AutoWeek, Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Car Collector, Car Craft. Next to Muscle Car Review, I spot a pamphlet titled "Solutions for an Auto-addicted Orange County."

"You can have a wonderful life without a car," it reads. "Get in shape. Lose weight and increase cardiovascular fitness. Save money. The average price of a car in Orange County is $21,544, and it begins to depreciate in one day. Breathe easier. Cars are the major source of air pollution."

There's a phone number included: (949) 452-1393. Is this a message from the god of public transportation? Have I found my cure for pain?

I rush outside and fumble for change at the pay phone as the bus-stop crowd watches me miss-dial, dial again, miss-dial, dial again. A drunk had plowed down the cellphone tower on the corner earlier in the day. The signal-less Bluetooth in my left ear clacks annoyingly against the heavy plastic receiver cradled between my head and shoulder. I worry about the ergonomics of the situation.

At last, Jay Laessi of Auto-Free Orange County answers.

"I'm addicted to cars. What can I do?" I say.

"Try walking…first try walking," says Laessi as if he handles 100 calls like mine every day.

"Where?" I say. "I'm surrounded by cars."

"Orange County is one of the worst areas in the country for that," he says. "But if you can’t walk, try taking a cab. They're $1.90 a mile. If you can share one, it's even better. Or get on a bus."

Maybe I should, but I'm apprehensive. How will this help taxpayers get a respectable return on our government-mandated investment in the American auto industry?

"No, thanks. No bus. Mass transit can't work in the suburbs," I say, avoiding the real issue. "Southern California is too much of a sprawl for public transportation to work. There's no central point of departure."

Laessi disagrees.

“Smart people ride mass transit,” he says. “You can get your work done, read a book or meet someone. The first step is to call 1 (800) 636-RIDE.

Can you hold for a second?"

Before I can answer, I hear another number being tone-dialed.

"Thanks for calling the Orange County Transportation Authority," a new voice says. "Can I help you?" Laessi has forwarded me through to bus-route information. I freeze and babble something into the phone. A minute later, the sweet voice at the other end of the line has informed me that OCTA can get me home in 30 minutes.

30 minutes. Am I kidding myself? I’ll miss my drive-time junk: my daily two-hour taillight tripsomania. I’m in hurry. Let the man go through. The smell of fresh asphalt wafting across the street from the new right-turn-lane replacing the sidewalk grips me like the dry-heaves.

“30 minutes,” the transit authority operator’s kindness calms me. I can do this. I join the crowd at the bus stop. They eye me suspiciously at first and move imperceptibly away. I know we’ll grow to be friends eventually. If you're going to break a habit, you have to get hooked on something else.

Waiting, watching cars, a chill hits my body. I do a wet-dog shake as an engine hums in my ear.

It's Bill. This time he's driving a 1959 seagull-wing Chevrolet convertible – a throwback to GM’s golden days.

"'Give to every people of every land better roads and more automobiles, and we shall do away with most of the ill will that exists between human beings,'" he says mockingly. "Some jackass named Irwin Cobb wrote that in 1923. He believed that World War I wouldn't have happened if the world had more cars."

"Really?" I say. Silently I wonder. Was Cobb alive to see WWII? What would he have thought of this new millennium, where American need for petroleum-based mobility secured an involvement in seemingly endless foreign conflicts? Would he have thought the American auto industry deserving of redemption in the form of a bailout?

Bill looks me up and down. "You need a lift somewhere?"

I hesitate. Shouldn't I get on the bus? Don't I want to kick the habit?

"Are you going to pass up a ride in Mr. Fin's first Chevrolet?" Bill asks.

I have no idea what that means, but before I know it, I'm heading south, lost in the huge expanse of the Chevy's red-and-white interior.

"What happened to the Mustang?" I ask.

"Who needs that shit?" Bill says. “I’m a Chevy man. With fins like these, I can peel the skin off a bag lady. You can thank Harley Earle for that. General Motors hired him in the 1930s after seeing the custom cars he designed in Hollywood. At GM, Earle reached down into the cars' guts and pulled out a personality. They called Earle "Mr. Chrome." One of his protégés — Bill Mitchell — became 'Mr. Fin.' He cooked up this Chevy.

"GM had Earle making major design changes every year. Without this year's model, you were yesterday's news. He called it 'dynamic obsolescence.' General Motors called it huge profits."

We wait at the onramp of the 5 Freeway to cheers of pedestrians. The gull wing generates its own audience. It's Pop sculpture on wheels.

"Earle's beautiful machines crept through traffic nightmares in the 1930s," Bill says, sliding into the free-flowing eastbound traffic. "Southern California had streetcar-scale downtowns packed with GM cruisemobiles. It was a mess."

Bill reaches into the glove compartment and pulls out a copy of Los Angeles Times dated 1938.

"Where the hell did you get that?" I say.

"Shut up and listen. The automobile, which was 'designed to be the emancipator of man,' was 'defeating its own purpose,'" he reads to me, slapping the paper for emphasis. "'Man is being enslaved again by the servant he created.'

"So what did L.A. do? Lloyd Aldrich, a city engineer, pushed through a plan for 600 miles of multilanes penetrating downtown. Right then and there, the fast-lane lifestyle was born.

"When the car and the city merged, urban energy was sucked away. Cities became diluted…borderless. A crisscross concrete grillwork defined Southern California, scattering businesses and homes to places ruled by the car. Dynamic obsolescence described our way of life.

Southern California became a microcosm of suspended disbelief, an object lesson in pushing a flawed plan forward on the specter of aggressive market expansion — manifest destiny without regard for the realities of resources.

Through the Chevy's huge windshield, tract homes and strip malls float by. We're above the flatland of Orange County on the elevated, quater-mile long carpool lane linking the Interstate 5 to State Route 55 southbound. Bill continues.

"Cramped non-ethnic Californians were enchanted by the spectacle of Motorama during the '50s and into the early '60s; it was GM's car-show vision of tomorrow. At the Pan Pacific Auditorium in L.A., a scale-model of a future metropolis paraded cars through pollution-free air-tight Corbussier vistas.

"That was the blueprint," he says like Rick Warren in a self-possessed rant. "In 1955, the blueprint was made real with the opening of Disneyland and the Santa Ana Freeway. Some people thought Disneyland would be a permanent world's fair. I say Orange County is Motorama."

We cross five lanes of traffic in less than a half mile to glide onto Interstate 405 south, flashing by the blocks of steel, glass and concrete that is South Coast Plaza. The 1959 Chevrolet feels like an E-ticket ride.

"Even our goddam president started pushing the car," Bill says, attempting an impression of Dwight David Eisenhower: "'Automobiles mean progress for our country, greater happiness and greater standards of living.' That's what Ike said.

"Congress agreed and laid down the cash for the construction of a system of interstate highways. It was a public-works scam as big as anything FDR finagled, but with a 1950s propaganda spin.

"With the Soviet Union supposedly ready to drop the Big One on us, the Feds said new freeways could be used to transport troops and evacuate the population. I guess we were supposed to believe that when the commies launched the H-bomb, we could jump on the 99 and be in Barstow in time to watch the fireworks."

This isn’t the version I remember hearing in the chrome and formica booths at Cantor’s Deli in my youth, but Bill was on a roll: Interstates created a colossal, taxpayer-funded sprawl. Automobiles powered our move to the suburbs — the largest migration in U.S. history. I was part of that move when Orange County became my home. On my last day of citizenship in Los Angeles — my last hour — I sat in the parking lot of the Chevrolet Plant in Van Nuys where I worked. My eyes stung. The air was green with smog and tasted like dirt. I left and took it with me. As I headed out of LA, a 40-foot tall cat with glowing green eyes maintained his vigil over Felix Chevrolet, smirking down at me as though I missed the joke.

“People didn't want to live in cities anymore."

"Bullshit," Bill says. "The planners of this sprawl could have been visionaries instead of pimps. They could have been leaders and shown some courage. Instead, those assholes developed land faster than a $2 blowjob."

Today you have to spend $30 in gas to drive into LA for a decent $40 hand job. Just ask Charlie Sheen.

As Bill brings the Chevy to a stop in front of my car, I realize we've been traveling in a circle. "Hasta la vista," Bill says.

"I don't want to drive anymore," I say in a panic.

Bill laughs. “Get out and face your fears," he says.

I'm only half-way out the door when Bill jerks the car away, spinning me stumbling through the mini-mart lot. Hissing rubber on pavement, the Chevy's low rumble fills the night air — it's gull wing disappearing into Harbor Boulevard traffic. I find my Camaro, slip inside, breathe deeply, and drive.

On the ride home, Bill, Dr. Green and Laessi do battle in my head. I don't care if the car is a primal instinct or the end of a hypodermic. I have a duty to break the chain — clear up my country, the economy, my lifestyle.

Up the driveway, in my suburban garage, my Camaro is secure and serene — but I'm jacked. I flip on the TV and channel-surf the news. There's a gang shooting on Olympic Boulevard and a follow-up report from a previous drive-by in Compton. The local news codifies a message: high-density cities are dangerous, while the crabgrass frontier is safe. It's easy to watch, closing your eyes to the peril: Underestimating the risks of driving and overestimating the risks of crime. The auto-dependent family nestled in the hills of Rancho Santa Margarita will never admit that BMW is more of a menace to society than N.W.A ever was. Yet, automobiles and auto accidents lead to more deaths and injuries in suburbs than guns and drugs do in cities.

On the 11 o'clock news, the video-clip pool of blood spreads from a chalk-body silhouette in South-Central, not a crash on El Toro Road. Between each news segment, a different car, a different make, a different model advertises an endless expanse of rural roadway, signifying the only way out of the theoretical urban hell.

I aim and shoot. The TV's off.

A week passes. No cars. I think I’m clean. But I need to test myself.

This morning, I walk on carpeting milled to resemble roadways and intersections — a black low-pile with lane stripes. Automobile logos hang from above. On either side of me, beyond the Scotch-Guard road, are cars. Here, at the California International Auto Show at the Anaheim Convention Center, is a Motorama for the new millennium.

"There's so much to see," I hear an overjoyed woman in a Dodge Hemi T-shirt and fanny pack exclaim.

In the air-conditioned auditorium, surrounded by these quiet and motionless exhibits of contemporary auto culture, I feel like an academic, successful in isolating my subject from its environment. Here, it's easy to believe that Dr. Green is right. Like a transportation diorama at the Museum of Science and Industry, the automotive display is located right next to the Conestoga wagons. Engraved plaques inform us that the unquenchable appetite for mobility is spun from our brain's core.



Nevertheless, everyone at the exhibit looks as if they sense our subjugation. The car has put too many miles between us. It dominates. No one talks about standing in the place where they live and making it better.

"It’s harmony between man, nature and machine," announces a woman in a black business suit to no one in particular. "It" is the Third Generation Prius.

Utilitarian, unpretentious, easier on the gas and chuck full of “green technology” the Prius is heroin lite – our mobility methadone. It doesn’t cure us of our addiction, it just makes the dope easier to stomach. The Prius’ is user friendly and green as a hemp shower curtain, but no one from Toyota talks about consuming less. It’s all about going where you aren’t, not growing where you are.

We mill by the car that creates “harmony between man, nature and machine" only mildly amused. But across the hall, a crowd pushes toward a stage. Cameras flash. Grown men and women gape. Children squeal ecstatically. Before them is the Corvette ZR1. It’s the old side of the new GM.

I've never wanted to drive a car so much in my life," I hear someone say.

It's Bill in the crowd, staring desperately at the ZR1’s air scoop streamlined snout. A taste of GM metal in my mouth wakes me. Weak with craving, I manage to spit it out.

What I need isn't on display here or at Motorama or any Car Dealer's Association exhibition anywhere. What I need vanished when America stopped walking, slouched in their cars and drove away — when we hooked our Kerouacian mobility solely to the road and lost sight of everything else.

I stare into the ZR1’s headlights, but it looks past me down some undetermined dark highway. “Get in,” it seems to say. I hop over the driver's-side door and turn the ignition key. The roar of the engine silences the hall.

"It's time to meet the future!" I yell.

The crowd is startled. Bill hops the barrier and jumps in with me.

"To the cities!" he shouts.

I’m staring into the eyes of a dead junkie. Distorted and distant, the voice of the transit authority operator floats through my frontal lobe.

“I know why you’re dead,” I say killing the engine. Bill grins and searches his pockets for exact change. I pull a mangled bus schedule from my pocket.

"Blasphemers," the crowd hisses as we abandon the display, asking directions to the exit and nearest public transport. But they part as if we hold stone tablets, a new set of commandments, keys to a different gospel.

There's the road, the car and the dynamic of speed and space pinning us against a dichotomy of resources and horizons. But there’s a life beyond this subjugation. There’s our hometowns, with neighbors and friends. Places where we can live free of bankrupt greenwashed showroom floors.

Listen. I know you’re as strung out as I am. Let’s make this a mutual intervention. Take a cleansing break. Push your hands into the asphalt and bring up some dirt. There. It’s good. Relax. Take a staycation. Visit your local library or park while you still have them. Open yourself to the adventure of the world that’s right around you.

Think about the place where you live.
Wonder why you haven't.

As for mobility, economics, and ecological sustainability, opening your imagination to the possibilities of where you stand is the best defense again dynamic obsolescence.

Your feet are going to be on the ground.
Your head is there to move you around.

Let's make this thing work.

— Nathan Callahan, July 17, 2009

A Clinton-era version of Hallucination Engine appeared in The OC Weekly, March 14, 1997.

— Nathan Callahan


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