It's been brewing for a long time, but I feel this Memorial Day is the time for me to finally come out of the closet and admit to my true self. Given the level of mockery, disdain and, yes, hatred directed toward my people, there is some risk involved in this revelation. But I am strong enough and sure enough to state it unequivocally and without reservation.
Comedians, politicians and people with very little tolerance for anything have been decrying the rise of a "PC culture" in America. And no, they don't mean that not enough people are using iMacs. They're complaining that it's not okay for us to use terms considered offensive to some groups, and that jokes aimed in the direction of an ethnicity, religion, disability or point of view are no longer acceptable to the general public.
Personally, I say boo-hoo to that, but it's beside the point.
There are still a few groups who, even in our supposedly too-polite world (has anybody been reading the newspaper lately?) are considered not off-limits. It's still okay, for example, to make fun of overweight people. It's not outside the realm to mock short men. (Stop me if you sense a pattern here.) You want to write characters from the South who are stupid and bigoted? Enjoy.
But undoubtedly one of the weirdest groups to deride is owners of the Prius. The little hybrid car from Toyota that looks a little goofy and isn't built for the Indy 500 is frequently sneered at by comedians. People on the road actually pass us when we're driving well above the speed limit because it's a supposed embarrassment to let a Prius drive faster than you. Owners of said vehicles are asked if it's "really like a regular car" and told that we're smug just for having purchased one.
Some Prius owners are smug. Not as many as those driving Mercedes or Audis, but some. When you sell enough of a product (say, more than three) the chances are good some of the owners are going to be smug. Yes, like to mention that we can get 51 miles to the gallon. Sure, we might feel we're doing more for the environment than a suburban dad driving a Chevy Silverado to his job at an insurance office. Imagine that. Is it possible we think of this dinky little machine as a status symbol? I won't say no. But I bought my first Prius when I was 48 years old. It was my midlife crisis car. Aren't there points for not getting a red convertible?
Worse, I own a Prius c, the even smaller, even weirder-looking version, that can be parked in the glove compartment of most SUVs. People see it, look puzzled, then see the "Prius Hybrid" plate on the back, and I can see their faces change to something approaching disgust.
Are people subjected to disdain for driving a Honda Accord? Do buyers of Volkswagen Jettas have to justify their purchases on moral grounds? Is it assumed that because you tool around town in a Hyundai Sonata your very personality is in question?
Frankly, it gets a little wearying. The rolling of the eyes. The late-night TV jokes. The insistence of having decent pick-up when up-ramping on the New Jersey Turnpike. All I wanted was a car that would cost less on the weekly gasoline bill and maybe do less damage to the planet.
Hath not a Prius a fuel pump? Hath not a Prius axles, steering wheels, brake shoes, windshield wipers? Powered with the same (though admittedly less) fuel, damaged with the same sideswipes, subject to the same bird poop, cleaned by the same car wash, warmed and cooled by the same heater and air conditioner, as a gas guzzler is? If you prick our tires, do they not go flat?
In other words, what's your problem?
All I'll say is this: my wife and I took a trip to presidential estates in Virginia one weekend not long ago. We drove from central New Jersey to Alexandria, Virginia (George Washington's Mount Vernon) and then to Charlottesville, Virginia (Thomas Jefferson's Monticello). Then back. Including a few short side trips for dinners and whatnot, that's about 650 miles.
We filled up before leaving and once before the return trip. That was it. Total gasoline cost: Less than $40. I commuted to Philadelphia the day after we returned. I'm still driving on that tank of gas.
If I'm being smug, I don't want to be... what's the opposite of smug?
P.S. Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. It is a somber occasion that acknowledges and honors those who lost their lives in the conflicts their governments undertook. It's not just about barbecue and it's not Veterans Day, which comes in November and honors all those who fought in those conflicts and survived to tell the story.