I have childhood memories of frozen toes waiting for the bus at the corner of Finch and Birchmount. That may help explain why I fell in love with Springsteen's Racing In The Streets, a song that still ranks in my top 10.
But, alas, car love has eluded me. When you grow up in a public transit dead zone, you wind up with one of two dreams: either to buy a car or, if you can, to move downtown. I chose the latter, but among the throng at this year's Canadian International Auto Show (February 16 to 25 at the Metro Convention Centre and Rogers Centre), I feel decidedly in the minority.
Odd that in the age of global warming this exhibition isn't a shameful, hidden little affair attended by guilty holdouts from a bygone era. Instead, here I am wandering through a parallel universe where, despite token hybrid offerings, the biggest hunks of metal with the nastiest combustion engines are the stars.
But I'm not braving this alone. I've got my 18-month-old son with me, the only person I know who's bound to eat this all up. Yep, he's pegging his early identity to the red-meat district of car and truck lovers everywhere. It's awesome to witness.
So what do people do at car shows? Mostly they stuff themselves into brand new sports cars, trucks and SUVs and sit in them for a while. They fondle the stick shift, maybe catch a glimpse of themselves in the rear-view mirror, grip the fresh steering wheel and then squeeze themselves out. They take photos and movies. They paw the smooth exterior of the latest offerings from Suzuki, Toyota and General Motors. This necessitates squads of workers, chamoises at the ready, to keep things glittering.
One of the attention-grabbers is DaimlerChrysler muscle car redux the Challenger. Aglow in orange with black trim, it's accorded a reverential 30-centimetre-high plexiglass perimeter (no greasy palm prints from the hoi polloi) and a neon clock telling the encircling throng of mostly guys (and one salivating baby) that they have only to wait 351 days, 12 hours, 30 minutes and 24, 23, 22 seconds until they can buy one.
With little regard for that small modern detail of fuel efficiency, this two-seater can go from 0 to 96K/hour in 4.5 seconds. Impressed at first, I then wonder if this feature isn't like selling an electric can opener that can also cut through metal telephone posts. When do you ever need that kind of power?
Here is 850,000 square feet of urban real estate being used to display over 1,000 cars, none of which are really welcome downtown, choking as we are on smog and worried about climate change.
But while cars have been cemented in the (mostly) male psyche as status symbols by years upon mind-numbing years of commercials, it occurs to me, standing here, that owning one of these babies is not really true luxury today. The real indulgence - available for too few of us - is to live in a high-density neighbourhood with a streetcar or subway around the corner, where jobs, friends and other kids' birthday parties are never more than half an hour away, where you never get stuck in gridlock and the cost of an automobile doesn't suck away your paycheque.
This kind of freedom is beyond even the wildest car fantasies. The fact is, the auto/industrial complex has a flat tire and a burnt-out clutch and is speeding toward a head-on collision with enviromental reality. Standing in the middle of all these gleaming cars, I remember that we were once addicted to another dangerous product that promised status, sex and freedom. If folks can liberate themselves from tobacco, there's hope for auto junkies.
But watching that neon clock count down the time till the Challenger's arrival, I have my doubts about that happening any time soon.
Total number of light vehicles sold in Ontario, 2006: 601,448
Sub-compact and compact: 63,189
Luxury and luxury sport: 55, 285
Sport utility: 130,229
Pickup trucks: 65,553
Hybrid cars sold in 2005: about 1,000
Source: DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, Government of Ontario
Additional Audio Clips
NDP leader Jack Layton hosted a screening of Al Gore's AnInconvenient Truth at Riverdale Collegiate Friday March 2. Here'ssome of what he told an enthusiastic crowd in the packed gymnasium.
On the power of Gore's film
On Cancelling the tax cut for big oil
Jack Layton and Gord Perks beg to differ on "Cap and Trade" : Jack Layton