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half enough

Japanese cars are better

In last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times (January 21, 2007), columnist Steve Lopez wrote about Hummers and the people who drive them, specifically Los Angeles’ transportation chief. This upset Steve. I also find it ironic and upsetting that the city of Los Angeles’ transportation chief would drive a Hummer. It would seem that people in public office positions, at least those who are in charge of things environmental, would drive more environment-friendly energy-efficient cars. The Hummer breaks every rule.

Steve’s column, naturally, made me think about my own lifestyle and the car I drive. I drive a SUV (sport utility vehicle). In addition to Steve’s article, the guilt has been creeping in lately with the documentaries about the earth submerging and television specials on the suffering ozone layer. I also work in the nonprofit sector and have friends who consider themselves environmental activists. Among my friends, I’m one of the few who drives a SUV. Initially, I bought my SUV because I preferred driving higher than a sedan and because I just liked it more. Now, I constantly think about various reasons on how to validate driving a SUV when the environment is suffering. One of my shallow reasons is driving my SUV is ok because at least it’s not a Hummer. Another one, which I find less shallow, is that my car is a Japanese make and has better mileage than most other American SUVs. The important question, I’m realizing, is why am I driving a SUV? And why am I feeling guilty about it?

Being raised in a mainly Japanese household (my mom was always the boss), my mother was very strict on not being wasteful. Some of the things she was strict about were not wasting money on refined sugar snacks and potato chips, sharpening my pencil until it could be sharpened no more, and eating every kernel of rice in my rice bowl. She was also especially strict about not letting the faucet run while brushing my teeth. To this day, I remember these rules and practice them now that I’m out on my own. We didn’t talk about cars, though.

Some may find it ironic that someone like me who was raised pretty much Japanese (at home with mom and at Japanese school and Buddhist activities with a lot of Japanese family friends on the weekends) drives a SUV. Some may not find it ironic because I’m also American. Born in the U.S. to a White American father and an American education.

So is driving a SUV an American thing? I lean toward yes. The reason being that SUVs are popular and whether or not young Americans admit it, we think they’re cool.

Because of my unfavorable financial situation currently and the fact that I have another two years to pay off my car, I’ve become more cognizant of how I can utilize my SUV toward the betterment of society. One is by designating myself a point person for all carpool needs in my volunteer organization. I also do the best I can in coordinating with my friends to carpool when we go out. I usually end up driving because my car can fit the most people.

I think my feeling guilty for driving a car that consumes more gas than the average sedan and thinking about strategically driving my SUV is a result of my upbringing with a strict Japanese mother. It might not explain why I bought the SUV in the first place but I feel good when my car is useful.

Reading Steve Lopez’s article did me some good. It made me reflect on how I view and live my life. I may not be the city of Los Angeles’ transportation chief, but what I drive and how I live my life matters because it affects the environment, and no one wants to live in a submerged Los Angeles or New York City, do they?

© 2007 Victoria Kraus

About this series

"Half Enough" is Victoria's first regular column series. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Discover Nikkei.