The wonder of cars


Cars are an amazing invention. With no effort on your part, they can take you all over the country. Shame they cause global warming and all that.

I’m torn.

On one level, I enjoy the natural environment. I love unspoiled forests, quaint coastal towns that will need more canoes and taller gumboots when sea levels rise, and being able to breathe.

I know traffic congestion interferes with people’s quality of life and I’m familiar with the pleasure of walking or cycling to one’s destination.

On another level, I realise how freaking awesome cars are.

I’m not talking about shiny mags, V6 engines, spoilers, nitrous kits, or red paint–which makes cars go faster, in case you didn’t know. (Yes, I dated a car guy at one point. No, hubby is not a car guy, thank goodness.)

I mean the fact you can get into a chunk of metal, rubber, and other materials I don’t want to know about and, with minimal physical effort, end up at the top of a mountain or on the other side of the country. (New Zealand is quite narrow.)

No matter what you think about cars, you can’t tell me that isn’t amazing.

I realised this the first time I went tramping (hiking for Americans) for five days.

I love walking through the bush with a pack on my back and letting my mind roam freely for hours, but tramping makes you realise how much energy it takes to move your body even short distances.

That little rise might look like nothing, but by the time you reach the top your heart will be pounding and your legs will have doubled in weight.

When you walk, you quickly discover it takes less effort to step over roots and keep your body at the same level than to step up onto them and lift your whole mass by 10cm.

When you get a chance to rest, sitting still and doing nothing is a joy.

I digress.

After five days of winning each foot up every hill with sweat and scroggin, I got in a car, sat back, and relaxed.

Through no effort of my own, I began to move. I sat still in cushioned, air-conditioned comfort and watched the ground whizz past far faster than I can walk.

Cars are amazing.

I’ve had a similar experience with lawnmowers. For a couple of years I lived in a cute, somewhat damp flat with a modest-sized lawn on a mild slope.

Wild goats lived in the bush below the garden, but sadly I never saw them. I planted two feijoa bushes in the lawn, which never fruited.

Being a good little tenant, I went to Mitre 10 and bought one of these:

push lawn mower
The mower, not the lawn

They work fine when several conditions are satisfied:

a) They are new. That is, they’ve mowed less than three square metres of lawn.

b) The grass is perfectly dry, the way it only gets in summer.

c) The grass is short enough that it will be fine unmowed for another week.

The corollary of point c is that by the time you need to mow the lawn you can’t.

For two years the push mower and I struggled with the lawn, our battles all the more bloody for being infrequent.

Blood was never literally involved, though the neighbour’s cat did have an unnerving habit of pouncing on the mower as I pushed it.

Mowing was hard work (not as hard as writing, obviously), but I survived it.

Then, in anticipation of moving to a house with a larger lawn, we bought a motorised lawnmower.

I pulled the starter thingy until it started roaring, and pushed it across the grass. With almost zero effort on my part, and hardly any desperate back-and-forthing, it cut straight through the blades of grass.

It was like magic.

I feel guilty every time I buy petrol to put in my lawnmower, but I push it over the grass and it makes it shorter with so little effort. I’m sorry, but I’m not going back.

Do you ever feel guilty about using modern life’s conveniences?

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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

26 thoughts on “The wonder of cars”

  1. “I digress.”

    You certainly did. I was like, “Wait. Why are stepping over branches, again?”

    At first, I kept Reading this post title as “The Wonder of Cats” for some reason. Cars are a wonder to, I guess, but they’re not nearly as cute. I have a lot of cats in my neighborhood that rub up AGAINST my car. Not sure what my point is in bringing that up.

    1. You’re right, cats are more wonderful than cars (even though they won’t take you to the supermarket). But they’re so self-evidently wonderful that you don’t need to write a blog post about it.

      We used to have a cat who liked to ride in cars. That was weird.

  2. I do often feel guilty about using life’s modern conveniences, but unfortunately we are at a point where it is often unrealistic to do without them. I bike and take public transportation as often as possible, but there are certain things I just can’t do without getting in a car. I think the best approach is to try to be a good steward of the earth in other ways. Plant some trees, eat organic foods that are in season, that kind of stuff.

    Regarding the lawnmower. . . certainly Tesla or someone is working on a solar model. Of course we won’t be able to afford it until the price comes down, at which point we’ll probably be too old to mow lawns anyways. . .

    Finally, I think I’m going to start using the word tramping. It’s way more fun than hiking!

    1. That’s a nice idea of compensating in other ways. I planted trees. Some of them are even still alive.

      A solar-powered lawnmower is certainly a nice concept. It makes me think of a machine lazing around in the sun on the lawn drinking cocktails. I’m not sure it will actually want to do mowing.

      And you’re right, tramping is a great word. (I tend to clarify it for Americans, who sometimes misunderstand.)

      1. An electric lawnmower (and yes, they do cut as well as a petrol-powered one) that is connected to your house power that’s provided by solar panels. 🙂

        I think the trick is to use technology with consciousness, to keep your carbon footprint as small as possible within the constraints of your life, to look for alternative technologies if the one you’re using doesn’t sit well with your ethics, to be OK with learning new ways of doing things, even if they shift you outside your comfort zone for a while. Comfort zones are surprisingly elastic. 🙂

        1. Perhaps I’ll consider an electric mower next time I need to buy one. I do try to be conscious of my effect on the world, and minimise the undesirable parts of it, but some days it’s all I can manage to feed and clothe myself.

      2. I probably would’ve gotten ‘tramping’ out of context, but I might have laughed and scratched my head for a bit. Thanks for the preemptive translation.

        I’ll come to New Zealand and mow your lawn for you if I can lay around in the grass all day and drink cocktails. You’re right, I won’t actually want to do any mowing, but I’m fairly agreeable, so I won’t put up too much of a fight if you insist. Also, I suppose if I were to go on a vegetarian diet, I’d technically be solar-powered. Take THAT Tesla!

        Just. . . tell the neighbor’s cat to keep a safe distance. After all those cocktails I might not be very coordinated, and that could end badly for an unsuspecting feline in the my path.

        1. If you could, that would be great. Thank you! My lawn is about two feet long and perpetually wet (probably because it doesn’t go more than half a day without raining). So you might get a wet butt lying on the grass drinking your cocktails.

  3. I love driving my car just for the sake of it, then I remember I live close to LA, and the traffic here makes me regret it! Lol

    But driving has some sort of healing power when there is no traffic. It’s you and your thoughts, you and your loved ones, or you and crazy friends.

    1. Haha, yes, driving in traffic is less than fun. I do know what you mean about the healing power of driving. Like when you were a kid and you went on a long road trip with your family, and for hours or days the car on the road became this magical little world where you talked and laughed and ate and played games. As an adult, I find I prefer the healing power of walking, especially in nature, but it’s a lot more effort. 🙂

  4. I learned early in life after dealing with my father’s rusted make-do prehistoric tools that the right tool for the job makes the job almost a pleasure. Great post!

  5. I have quite mixed feelings towards cars as well. I do enjoy their convenience and what they have allowed me to see, but I also think about how long people existed quite happily without them.

  6. What are these guilty feelings you speak of? 🙂 I do sometimes wonder if I’m too dependent on things, like lights. As far as cars though, I drive very little as it is, work is 7 minutes away, and I’m still a fan of hybrid vehicles and want very badly to get one some day, sooner than later. I hate buying gas. I’m looking forward to the day when we just live that in the ground and power our cars with sunlight and garbage, which we make in abundance.

    1. Ooh, I love lights! Without them you have to stop reading as soon as the sun sets, which is way too early for half the year. I’d like very much to power my car with sunlight and garbage. Even better, I’d rather never have to go anywhere…

  7. Ugh, that lawnmower brings back memories! When I was a teenager, one of my chores was mowing the (rather large) lawn with one of those archaic grass-rippers. It was ancient, rusty, and horribly hard to move – and I swear the lawn looked no different when I was done. My other chores included picking up the dog poo from the lawn (this is why people have kids, I’m sure of it). When the grass got long, things occasionally got unpleasant…

    I’m not a big car person – if I can, I’ll walk and bike everywhere. But they are undeniably convenient.

    1. I knew there was a good reason to have kids. Darn it! 😉

      I do enjoy cycling, but not on roads that aren’t designed to be shared by bikes and cars, so not in Wellington. I prefer my brains on the inside.

  8. I love most modern inventions, particularly the dishwasher, washing machine and car. I’d never survive without them.

  9. You’ve hit on something profound here. If we could just stop being all judg-y about our (inarguably regrettable) carbon footprints for a second . . . we could, like you, reflect on how we are surrounded by modern miracles. Cars, yes! Airplanes, where you sit in a chair in the sky and someone brings you fizzy drinks while you’re traveling hundreds of miles an hour through thin air! Vacuums and blowdryers and microwaves and TOASTERS, for heaven’s sake. Really, we should all be delirious with glee. At least for a minute.

    1. Yes! I think you’ve hit the point exactly. You should have written this post instead of me. I am delirious with glee at least once a day about all these things. Then I go back to feeling guilty. 🙂

  10. Hilarious about the reel mower/push mower. We bought one BECAUSE we hated using the gas ones all the time. But yep, I can hardly do it at all, and the grass needs to be short and dry or my husband hates his life the entire time he’s struggling with it. Yet, we still use it. 😀 He have a hybrid too. I think it’s good to have certain things you car about. But it doesn’t mean we don’t own and occasionally use a gas mower or that we don’t take road trips. It’s definitely good to appreciate the modern conveniences we have.

  11. We got a lawnmower about three weeks later than we should have, and it took days to get through all the mowing of my modest yard. Not only was the grass about three feet tall, the pull-cord snapped off when I started on the back yard and then it ran out of oil.

    As to your question… The microwave is so evilly convenient. I like cooking, but sometimes I’m just too lazy to fire up the stove or wait for something to bake in the toaster oven. At the very least, I haven’t microwaved eggs since high school.

    1. I feel your pain! I’m looking at a three-foot-long lawn now. The problem is it won’t stop raining for long enough for the grass to dry so I can cut it. Or, possibly it occasionally does but I’m too busy editing to notice.

      Microwaves have saved my life so often! Funny you mention microwaving eggs – scrambled eggs done in the microwave is one of my standard work breakfasts.

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