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David Bouchier: Life on Wheels


There are so many vague and disturbing predictions about what life will look like after COVID19 that I thought it was time to weigh in with something clear and definite. I predict that, in the future we will live even more in our cars.

This is not guesswork but a forecast based firmly on a long, steady trend. Cars have been moving into the center if our lives for over a hundred years, ever since Henry Ford’s Model T showed that everybody could have one. There are now almost two cars per person in the US. They have taken over the cities, created the suburbs, and defined how most of us live. Kids get to school in them, adults drive to work, and everyone take their car to shops or on vacation. Like the famous credit card, we don’t leave home without it. City dwellers pretend to despise the automobile, but they are getting out of the cities as fast as they can and there are no subways in Wyoming.

We have adapted to pollution, and enormous traffic jams, and even to 36,000 highway deaths a year. We love our cars. They offer a refuge and quiet space that is increasingly hard to find. Many car commuters, in the old days, would look forward to this as the one peaceful time in their day. But you don’t need to commute, or even to drive. You must have noticed, as I have, that cars are often parked for long periods with a single occupant. In the privacy of a car nobody can hear your unauthorized phone conversations, or comment on your taste in music. The family can’t see you ruining your diet or taking a long nap. An air conditioned car parked in an attractive spot is the ultimate freedom capsule. It fulfills the second promise of the Declaration of Independence, “Liberty,” and possibly even the third “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  Two out of three is not bad.

Cars, like their drivers, have become larger and larger so that we now have an epidemic of automobile obesity. The tank-like SUV is now the most popular style, loaded with equipment for entertainment and comfort, and more and more like a mobile home. We are already halfway to living in our cars. A bathroom is the only missing feature, and no doubt that will soon come. Some ingenious people have found ways to work from their cars, using cell phones and internet connections, so that “working from home” may soon take on a whole new meaning. When this thing is over we may never need to abandon our wheels ever again.

In the age of COVID, a car is the ultimate Personal Protection Equipment for the whole family. If you stay in the car you’re safe – apart from the other drivers. The world is adapting. We have Curbside pickup, drive-in movies and concerts, drive-in churches, and drive-in COVID testing.

News reports have shown people lining up at food banks in cars that cost thousands of dollars. These people are suffering real hardship, but you could say that it is progress compared to the depression of the 1930s when the food lines consisted entirely of pedestrians. Even poor people these days are rich. An economist might ask how long this economic model can be sustained. But, while we wait for an answer, the shiny SUV can at least get us in comfort to the breadline.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.