Contemplating America's Love Affair With The Car Millions of Americans are on the road today, driving home from Thanksgiving festivities. And guest host Robert Smith talks to a few of them at a welcome center off I-95 in Maryland. The topic? America's love affair with the car — despite the danger it provides. He also consults Catherine Lutz, an anthropologist and author of the new book Carjacked.

Contemplating America's Love Affair With The Car

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NPR: Unidentified Woman #1: That's a tiny fraction of the 37,000 people killed in crashes last year.

: Unidentified Man #4: Telephone poles.

MELISSA BLOCK: Unidentified Man #5: The combination of horsepower and testosterone.

BLOCK: Unidentified Man #11: And there are other dangers for cars.

: This morning, I went out to a rest stop on I-95 in Maryland. Pat Smith(ph) from Richmond, Virginia, said he came close to dying just last week.

PAT SMITH: The lane in front of me was stopping. I stopped. And I told my partner that was with me to hold on and brace for impact. Thank God for anti- lock braking systems now, she was still able to steer her vehicle and go around me on the right hand side, in the emergency lane.

: Across the parking lot, Greg Fooblas(ph) says his love affair is with the car itself, one car, his 2003 Honda Accord.

GREG FOOBLAS: It's my baby.


FOOBLAS: It's a nice ride, smooth ride, pretty good features. I love it.

: So even if your baby is a little dangerous, even if your baby is the thing most likely to kill you, you still love her?

FOOBLAS: I still - I mean, honestly, a lot of things can kill you. I love (unintelligible). She get me where I need to go.

: But it's not like car culture doesn't have a dark side for Fooblas. His best friend died in a car accident a couple of years ago. I mean, he thinks about it, but it hasn't changed the thrill of driving.

: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effects on Our Lives." We drive cars, she says, as naturally as we wear clothes, and we don't think about all the consequences.

CATHERINE LUTZ: That's the nature of culture, that it takes a lot for something that's become normal, that a whole culture is built around, our infrastructure, our - you know, where we choose to live. All of those choices that come before the decision to get into the car make it very difficult.

: Jim Brown(ph) from Centerville, Virginia, used to be a cop. He's seen some terrible accidents and has mixed feelings about cars.

JIM BROWN: You need them, and you hate them, and you love it, everything else. It's that American independence, to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. Just think of it. Any time (unintelligible), I can get up and go anyplace I want. I could drive to Massachusetts. I could drive to Cleveland right now. I can go to Wal-Mart. I can go to a grocery store. I can sit at home, whatever I want to do.

: Even if you're not going to do those things...

BROWN: That's right.

: ...having the opportunity, the freedom.

BROWN: Absolutely.

: Maybe it's a giant SUV, perhaps a Volvo with side airbags. Marlene Davis(ph) from Teaneck, New Jersey, uses an enhanced safety feature.

MARLENE DAVIS: I pray each time when I'm taking a long trip like this is, Lord, take this car, bless my driving and bless the driving of others.

: That's a lot of pressure to put on God because there are some crazy drivers out there.

DAVIS: Yes. Yes. Yes, but I think he can take care of it.


DAVIS: I think he can handle it.

: Perhaps it does come down to control. Driving is obviously dangerous. But there's a catch. We feel if we are good enough, smart enough, alert enough, then we can avoid that danger.

: I'm an excellent driver. But when I pushed Smith, he admitted that he had fallen asleep at the wheel twice and been in some harrowing accidents.

: I used to drive fast when I was a kid, and I survived all of them days, too. So I just worry about my children. I'll be on the road and hoping they don't drive fast and...

: Hoping they don't drive like you.

: Hoping they don't drive like me, right, exactly.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.