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For the week of January 15 - 21, 2003

Opinion Columns

ĎThe Blaine County SUV Credit Fundí

Commentary by BETTY BELL


The other day I was stuck behind a Ford Excursion that was going even slower than I, in my full-blown maturity, usually drive. Sometimes when I feel the need to project a tad more aggressive image, I put on my bushy black wig and sit on my booster cushion. But in this instance, because the rear window of the SUV was so dark and so forbidding, so wholly disguising what kind of person, or people, or scary things it was transporting, I made no effort to fool anyone or to hide my trademark geniality.

Iíd read that the marketing strategy for SUVs is to project an image of intimidation ... of mastery of every road situation that could possibly arise. I believe the strategy works. If I didnít see actual drivers of SUVs when they get out of their modified trucks, Iíd think SUV owners were a whole new offshoot of Homo sapien. But they arenít. They-R-us. Good and bad. Pleasant and snarly. Honest and dishonest. Rich and richer.

So I stayed patiently behind that 6-foot-8-by-6-foot-8 wall paradoxically painted environmental green, thinking these SUV thoughts, waiting patiently until I could see far enough ahead to pass. I figured this driver was simply trying to save gasóthatís what I do since gas is closer to costing what it should cost and probably soon will. Iíd read that the Excursion averages 12 to 14 miles per gallon and even before I started to drive as if gas-is-gold, I averaged 26 to 27 miles per gallon in my Toyota Corolla. Now that I drive as if my gas line is an IV drip, not a fire hose, I get 32 to 33 mpg. Truly.

I do love to get 32-33 mpg. My record is 36 back in August when the engine was warm even before I turned the key and I didnít waste a drop starting. I felt smug about the money I was saving, but what I wanted to feel was morally superior. And that day putzing along behind that SUV, the moral hook I yearned for came like a revelation. HOSANNA! Iíd credit my extra five miles a gallon to a needy SUV. Iíd save the money and the SUV can boast a whopping 17 to 19 miles per gallon. I had a particular SUV in mind for my credits, one I see at the post office several times a week, an almost handsome hulk I wouldnít mind being caught dead in if it got decent mileage.

My excitement grew. Just think, I thought, all of us non-SUV drivers can increase our mileage five miles a gallon and credit those miles to needy SUVís. We can set up an accountócall it "The Blaine County SUV Credit Fund." How uniquely patriotic. If we start the credit fund here in our little valley, I donít see how weíll miss being featured on Peter Jennings some night. Then just watch the Credit Fund for SUVs catch on all over the country. Except for maybe Texas.

I can tell you all kinds of tricks to increase your gasoline mileage, but one is paramount. It makes all the difference. Think of it as a commandment: "Drive as if you have no brakes." I guarantee that if you do nothing more than this your mileage average will soar. And no-brake driving offers the perfect sound bite for Peter Jennings news too: "Theyíre driving brakeless in Blaine." Neighbors, weíre headed for our 15 minutes of fame.

No-brake driving isnít easy. Think about it: All that planning way ahead for every stop sign and every weird thing other drivers might do isnít fun until youíre skilled. As Alan Greenspan might express it, becoming a skilled no-brake driver takes exuberant patience. Even more than exuberant patience, it takes steadfast courageócourage to stay patriotic and keep your foot off the gas and keep on coasting when youíre still half a block away from a stop sign and the yahoo behind you is climbing up your exhaust pipe and making obscene gestures clearly visible in your rear view mirror. Thereíll be times when youíll be tempted to nudge the gasóbut if you do youíll waste half a cup, maybe moreógas wasted solely to keep that tailgater from a case of road rage. But steadfastness is its own reward, and true patriotism canít be turned on and off.

My job requires that I drive from Ketchum to Hailey every Thursday morning, and itís an exquisite thrill when I can drive all 12 miles without braking. Yes, I need lots of luck with traffic and lightsóbut good luck happens. Twice Iíve made it to my destination at the Courthouse and eased into a diagonal parking spot without touching the brakes from where I turned onto the highway south of Ketchum until ignition off in Hailey. I wouldnít have to brake turning onto the highway if there was a "yield" sign instead of a "stop" sign there. And it should be yield. Thereís little southbound traffic in the morning; a yield would still put the onus on me to neither cream nor be creamed. There are stop signs all over town that should be changed to yield. Add up all the gas saved at the end of a year and itíll fill a tanker.

Youíll feel great about saving up gas credits for SUVs. The only downside Iíve found is that once you become a no-brake driver, when you see a brake light flash and know that driver is squandering gas, it makes you cringe. Itís painful to see how many flashers there are: heavy-footed drivers quick-stepping from pedal to brake. We must learn to think of our gas tanks as toilets. Then weíll know that when our brake lights flash, weíre flushing.

 

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