My Economic Plan: Hit the Road, Jack

Took some time off and went out to do my bit for the welfare of these United States. Understand that by “welfare” I do not mean the horrific system by which the national treasury is depleted through the handing out of money to poor families. This practice, as is well known, is a bad thing, for it encourages dependency and other evils, and is not to be confused with the handing out of money to rich people and corporations, which is not welfare at all and is therefore a good thing.

No, sir: When I say that I did my bit for the welfare of these United States, I mean that I contributed to the national well-being by operating a motor vehicle for hours at a time through various portions of the Northeast. This may seem but a small measure of devotion, but consider what the economists and boating enthusiasts call “the ripple effect.”

In making splendidly inefficient use of the regional highway system thanks to a potentially deadly outbreak of Map Avoidance Syndrome (this is a common ailment among males who have fewer brain cells than their motor vehicles have cylinders), I helped wear out concrete and asphalt in no fewer than five states. Thus, the legislators, lobbyists, bond underwriters and construction moguls who inhabit five state capitols now have fresh statistics to bolster their claims that all those billion-dollar highway repair contracts are necessary and are certainly not to be confused with the system of bribery, extortion, waste and patronage known as “local politics.”

In the course of 12 days spent contributing to regional economic development, my individual transportation unit traveled about 1,000 miles. During the course of these travels, my family unit-consisting of two adults and two toddlers-made 147 visits to roadside merchants, spending an average of 11.2 minutes per stop, during the course of which the family unit contributed $32.76 to purveyors of fast food, trinkets and toilet paper. According to Dr. Petrol Glutt, an economist with the Enterprising American Institute, this bit of patriotic consumption led to the creation of two seasonal construction jobs in New Jersey, four part-time gas-pumping positions in rural New England, 14 hamburger-flipping posts in the Hudson Valley and 217 full-time openings for construction lobbyists, transportation consultants and legislative aides in Albany, Boston, Hartford and Trenton. “Best of all, from an economic development perspective, you avoided mass transportation,” Dr. Glutt said. “This is what distinguishes a genuine American from the sort of namby-pamby person who insists that World Cup soccer is a form of athletic artistry.”

I certainly felt like an authentic, all-American, job-creating entrepreneur until Dr. Glutt raised objections to my particular sort of individual transportation unit, it being of the subcompact variety, chosen for the large distances it can travel without need for fuel replenishment.

“How very late-1970′s of you,” he sneered. “No doubt you are the sort who puts on a cardigan sweater rather than turn up the heat in wintertime.” I confessed that I was, although I pointed out that the cardigan was made in the United States. “Fiddle-faddle,” Dr. Glutt replied. “America hasn’t knitted together so much as a sleeve on a sweater since the last days of Jimmy Carter. So your sweater is at least 20 years old and you’re driving a car that gets 30 miles to the gallon, and you call yourself an American? Get with the program, son: This is the 1990′s, and they’re almost over. You’re missing out on the greatest American party since the 1980′s!”

As you can imagine, I was chagrined. I had spent 12 patriotic days on the highways, suffering from Map Avoidance Syndrome, wearing and tearing at concrete and asphalt, visiting gas stations, stuffing my toddlers with Happy Meals, and now Dr. Glutt was saying it was all for naught. What a shame!

Sensing my mood, Dr. Glutt recommended a stroll along any north-south artery on the island of Manhattan, where, he said, I would learn a lesson in 1990′s-style Americanism. I told him this could present a problem, as the Mayor insists that such passages are fraught with danger, what with all the hot-dog carts clogging the sidewalks. “Forget the sidewalks!” he said. “Look at the roads! See America in action!”

I followed his prescription, and soon found myself surrounded by Cherokees and Mountaineers and Pathfinders; Navigators and Foresters and Durangos. There they were, parading through the streets of Manhattan with their gas-eating, consumption-celebrating, red-blooded-American sport utility vehicles! Behind the wheel of each of these massive trucks was a smooth and confident baby boomer, proud to be stuck in traffic with a vehicle that spoke of rugged, rural Americana. How had I missed this transformation of the boomers into self-absorbed, self-indulgent, mega-consuming, airheaded, status-seeking, planet-destroying morons?

I posed this question to Dr. Glutt.

“The answer is simple,” he said. “You have to get out on the road more often, like a good American. And you really ought to watch more television and read more slick magazines.”