Losing my Religion (of Car Worship)

I was probably six or seven years old when I watched a car summarily buried in a huge grave. It happened right in front of the cabin my dad used to own in Frisco, Colorado.The reason for the burial, as explained by my father, was that water flowed under the street, and needed a place where it could collect before it moved on.I didn’t get it. In fact, the idea blew my mind.

Summary Funeral for a Car - Frisco, Colo. 1969
I’m that kid mooning you from the edge of the grave.
I was young, but sufficiently assimilated into American culture to find this unsettling. The idea that a car — a car! — could be reduced to it’s corporal properties and repurposed into plumbing did not sit well with me. But I had to accept it. I became slightly less of an animist that day.It’s hard to say what lasting effect that had on me.In my teens, I admired cars; envied my friends who had them. But I could see right through my peers who invested too much social capital into their cars. Still I understood at a gut level that cars are outward manifestations of the owners — the shell we choose to represent ourselves in the world.
Hermet Crab in a Plastic Pipe
I totally get it.
I even speculated, at age 18, whether I might never own a car, and what kind of life that would be. I saw myself as a nonconformist, but the car-free thing didn’t happen.Not yet.I owned several cars, actually. Bucking the idea that a car had to be cool, I owned a couple of station wagons. Although implicitly, I was still making a statement — or trying to: Doesn’t it make you feel shallow how you obsess over your stupid Trans Am? Or, Isn’t it ironic how I’m choosing frumpy practical vehicles? My attitude was kind of proto-hipster now that I think of it.I was still captive to the idea that a car was necessary part of the persona I wanted the world to know. In the world of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, humans have animal dmons — the physical manifestations of their souls. It was like that, but with four wheels.Then I had a Datsun pickup truck. I loved that truck. I kept it clean. I did my own tuneups and any other service within my abilities. I installed an high-end stereo. I hardly ever used it for it’s truckishness, but still it made a statement I wanted to make.When I was getting ready to go away for two years in the Peace Corps, I called my insurance agent. I asked him how I might minimally insure the truck while it was stored somewhere, say, under a tarp in a friend’s back yard.My agent listened to me. When I was done, he said, “Sell it.””No. I love this truck.””It’s just a vehicle. It may be valuable to you, but in two years it will depreciate in value regardless of how many miles you don’t put on it. The rubber will still deteriorate. The metal will still rust. Sell it.”A man who clearly had a financial incentive to indulge my silly sentimentality instead chose to smack me around with some cold, hard, reason.And like that, I lost my religion. I’ve never been able to love a car since then. I owned one more car after that — a Toyota truck. But I stopped doing my own tune-ups and service. I almost never washed it. And I gradually returned to the speculating that I’d begun when I was 18. What would life be without a car?

Do you have a story of what led you astray from the religion of car worship? I’d love to hear it.

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16 thoughts on “Losing my Religion (of Car Worship)”

  1. I lost my religion when I had to plunk down $40K for a Chevy Suburban. I’m sitting in the dealership, thinking, “Wait, I ride my bicycle everywhere. What the hell am I doing?”

    But the wife, the 5 kids and 21 foot power boat at home all required it. Crap.

  2. Dan says:

    When I was in college I came back after spring break to find that someone had broken into my piece of junk Toyota Corolla and stolen the stereo. I was initially upset at the crook but that morphed into hatred for the car itself — it was ugly, ran horribly, and needed to be push started.

    So I called an ad in the back of the local paper (“I’ll buy any car for $100!”) and 30 minutes later, after helping the guy push start my car, I was enjoying a $5 burrito and loving life.

    20 years later, I do own a car. Nothing special, a little paid-for box on wheels. But I ride my bike to work 50% of the time and am still loving life!

  3. Joel says:

    I still have two cars in the driveway but cycling to the bus station has saved me from getting a third (replacing a work commute car that is no longer). I rarely drive the cars except when other family members require it. I do not worry about the ego of not having a car but I did not have much of one with a car.

    The light has been going on in my daughter’s head (19 years old). She has been cycling almost daily for 13 miles for exercise and has voiced a desire to cycle to her local college (seven miles one way) instead of using a car. I said to start by doing daytime classes and as she feels more confident, I will go on a few night rides with her if she so desires. She can get her exercise and save the miles on the second car for other uses.

    She sees how much I like riding my bike to the bus station and has noticed my improved physical fitness

  4. Ray Lovinggood says:

    I’ll say that I live “car light”; not quite “car free”. I don’t rely on the car for daily transportation since I “discovered” commuting by bike and bus. While the car stays parked Monday-Friday, it usually gets used on the weekends to get me to places that I can’t reasonably get to via bike or impossible to get to by transit.

    Ted, by the way, my first new vehicle was a 1982 Datsun Long Bed Heavy Duty pickup truck and that vehicle alone really put a bad taste in my mouth if not for all cars, it surely did for all things “Datsun”. What a piece of crap. I wonder how you loved yours? Not only did mine have practically no power from the 2.2 liter engine, it also had LOUSY gas mileage! I thought if you had no power, at least you could have good mileage, and vice-versa. Not with this P.O.S. from Datsun. When I eventually sold it, I had nightmares that the buyers kept bringing it back and demanded their money back.


    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Ray: I’m “car denying.” My wife owns a car. It’s in her name.

      Now that I think of it, my truck was a Nissan but it was when they still put “Datsun” on the lower left side of the tailgates so people would know that Nissan was the new name for Datsun. I never had trouble with that truck, but I never tested its MPG that I can remember.

  5. BluesCat says:

    Hey! I LOVE cars! If I had my way, my driveway would be filled with muscle classics from the late Sixties and early Seventies. First on the list would be a 1969 Plymouth GTX with a 440 Turbo Commander; Jamaica blue, with a white leather interior. I’d have to have a Mustang and a Camaro, too, so I wouldn’t slight any of the Big Three.

    Would I drive ANY of them to work? Heck NO! Leave those beauties out in the parking lot where they could get dinged up by those dimbulbs?? Are you CRAZY?!? If I could pull the car into a nice, safe conference room — like I do my commuter bicycle — I might consider it.

    Oh, and my second brand new automobile was a 1983.5 Nissan Longbed 4×4 pickup, with a 2.4L engine (you should waited a year, Ray). I still have it. It is the most reliable vehicle I have ever owned.

    And it makes a terrific bicycle transport.

  6. Vincent Lyon says:

    I never really joined the car religion, but I did just join the cult of motorcycles. I commute by bicycle every day, but if I need to travel over 20 miles and in a relatively short period of time, my little1976 CB125 gets 70+ MPG. I have a’98 civic too that I’ve been driving since high school (I’m 23) but it takes some extreme circumstances for me to leave the driveway on four wheels. There are just better options. I’ll take a bus or train before driving if the schedule fits. Cars are not to be worshipped. To me, they are just a (barely) necessary evil.

  7. Ted Johnson says:

    I didn’t mean to say that I didn’t like cars.

    I’ve just changed so that my identity no longer needs one. I figured others would have the same experience.

    Suppose that I was raised Hindu, but then lost faith. I could still appreciate Hindu art, and understand the relevance to my culture, couldn’t I?

    BTW: Hindus have their own form of car worship, called Car Puja:

  8. Jeff Gardner says:

    The traits of car worship seem less of religion and more of the actions of a drug addict. Even now I remain amazed at at the car-at-any-cost choices made by most people for all parts of the spector: vehicle; fuel; maintenance; casual acceptance of loss of liberty through voluntary licensure.

    All for the transport non-event between point A and the trip’s real objective, point B. Most of which, stats once showed, are 8 miles or less away — perfect bicycle distances. Yet so many folks, without much of a second thought, will give a large percentage of the year’s earnings to make such modest excursions.

    Sounds more like crack to me than it does communion.

  9. squeakycyclist says:

    Speaking of buried cars. I was going to link you to my scan of an old newspaper article about a buried Ferrari, but I found an online article!


    I WISH I could afford the car to which my identity aspires. And motorcycle. And bike.

  10. Charles says:

    Seriously you are that kid in the picture?

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Seriously. I came across this photo recently, which is what spurred me to think about my evolution from a car worshipper to a critic of car-centric societies.

  11. Kevin says:

    I’m losing it very slowly over the years. My longing for a hot car died in high school, opting instead for practicality. I’ve owned mostly vans and station wagons over the years. Most of them were old when I got them and cost a lot to keep them running. Right now I’m in Asia and drive my 1992 Honda Accord to haul the family to church every Sunday morning. Other than that it stays parked 99.9% of the time. I either ride my bike or scooter for everything else. When we return to the USA I imagine we’ll need a car, mostly for the wife and my last at-home teenager. But I’ll still be on my bike and scooter.

  12. Matt says:

    I was 15.75 years old. Through ridiculously hard word in restaurants and backyards, I had saved enough to buy a used car. I was giddy with anticipation. Then, my dad’s friend Ken said “the last time I felt rich was before I owned a car.” That took the wind out of my sails. He was right — I did feel rich and it was the last time!

  13. Karen says:

    I wonder if car-love is less problematic for women. I’ve owned several cars and they were more or less what I considered a necessary expense that sucked money away from things or activities I found more desirable – like a house, nice shoes, marathon entry fees and original art. When it comes to car ownership (we are car-lite), my only interest in fuel efficency, price and reliability. I am the Mr. Spock of potential car buyers and car sales people have not power over me in the least. The less I have to spend on the owning and operating a car is all I care about. I’ll also admit that before I started dating my husband, I was very anxious that he not turn out to be the owner of a flashy or unnecessarily large truck or SUV. I was relieved to find he drove an old Jeep Cherokee (and even more relieved that it didn’t contain either a child seat or floor boards filled with cheese-fish crackers), which seemed a logical vehicle for a recent Colorado ski-town transplant.

  14. Scott says:

    I realized earlier this week that my 35-year love affair with cars is over while talking to my insurer about rates for my son when he gets his license. I’m very close to deciding to give up my car when he starts driving regularly to school and other places. I’m just tired of all of the expense and work to maintain all of the vehicles to the point that I can’t stand the thought of adding another to the fleet. Besides, I enjoy my bike more than my car.

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