It’s a cliché to say that old habits die hard, but like most clichés, the truth is evident. One of my worst habits is that I continue to watch television newscasts, especially at 10 p.m. I’ve been a consistent watcher of the late news ever since my parents relaxed my bedtime back in the early 70s, so my habit has lasted for over 30 years now. Back in Wisconsin, it seemed that most of the local news involved bad traffic accidents and barn fires – this was apparently an especially acute problem in the Manitowoc area, based on reports by “Lakeshore Bureau” chief Carmen Winkler back on WBAY news. There was something almost soothing about these shows, with the calm litany of misfortune, followed by the avuncular weatherman, then the smattering of Packers news. A thin but nutritious gruel, and served comfortably warm.
Things change, though, and now watching a 10 p.m. newscast has become increasingly difficult. It’s almost like a toothache – you know you shouldn’t put your tongue up against the aching tooth, but you can’t help yourself. My wife and I typically watch WCCO, the long-time CBS flagship that has been, for better and worse, the gold standard of television journalism in the Twin Cities since the medium began 50+ years ago. The 10 p.m. newscast is a marvel of market research and focus group dynamics; news is shaped to fit templates and is presented quickly and typically without context. This can be irritating, especially when the earnest anchors and reporters prattle on about something that is demonstrably false, but it’s often worse when the news folks try to frame their reporting within a context of their choosing.
For most of this year, WCCO has decided to run a series of reports under the heading of “Project Energy.” The tone and tenor of these reports have been that of a jeremiad, essentially taking all of us to task for our profligate energy use. We’ve been treated to reporting that has asserted that we are now past “peak oil,” that global warming (sorry, I mean global climate change, since somehow global warming has made some places cooler) is quickly destroying the world, that we continue to use SUVs, which are apparently the mark of the beast. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an Escalade driver to park at Ridgedale, I guess. Anyway, WCCO earlier this week asked, through their “Good Question” feature, “why aren’t we using less gasoline?” Since prices have been within sniffing distance of $3/gallon, apparently we were all going to stop using our cars and join the enlightened souls (and panhandlers) on the light rail. But it isn’t happening. Odd, huh?
I’d like to propose a few answers to this “Good Question.”
· Not everyone wants to live and work in the urban parts of the Twin Cities. Minneapolis and St. Paul are both lovely, but urban life has its hassles and many suburban areas are more peaceful.
· If you work in Blaine and live in Golden Valley, light rail is useless.
· Try to carry $75 worth of groceries on the bus sometime.
· The light rail won’t get you from your job to your son’s 6 p.m. baseball game at the Lily Pond. A car will.
· Panhandlers are never in your car.
· Cars don’t have second-hand marijuana smoke unless you put it there yourself. Bus stops on Hennepin Avenue often do.
There’s too much to unpack in a single post, but the war on the internal combustion engine is not going nearly as well as some would hope. I don’t begrudge anyone who chooses to use public transportation – I rode the 4 bus from my house to downtown Minneapolis for well over 5 years, and took other buses (the 33, the 94H, etc.) when I lived elsewhere prior to that. But making the commitment to doing without a car means that you have to change your life in fundamental ways. For most people, it’s not an option.