MAD DOG: I'll take Ass-Backwards Solutions for $500, Alex

There's nothing like driving for five hours to make you think about cars. And why not? It beats thinking about the iron you left on, the lack of cats living near that taco stand you stopped at for lunch, or whether you should flip a coin or draw straws to decide who to vote for in the presidential election.

As I watch the cars whiz by I realize it's true: we do have a love affair with our cars. What I can't figure out though is how we manage to keep that affair from our significant others. And not wind up in the emergency room with exhaust pipe burns in delicate places. But now, thanks to the high price of gasoline, people are starting to examine this affair of the heart. And like any relationship, breaking up is hard to do.

First, let's establish that we're spoiled brats. Even at the current price of gas we're paying less than just about everyone else in the world. In Europe, for example, gas costs a lot more and is inconveniently sold by the liter. You don't hear them whining, do you? Besides, you have it easy. When I got my first car I had to walk three miles through hip-deep snow barefoot to get gas, so quit your bitching.

There are a lot of places to put the blame. There's OPEC for charging too much for the oil. There are the gas companies for making record high profits. And there are the car companies for not making cars that get 1,000 mpg (actual mileage will vary). Luckily we have people like Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to get to the bottom of things. She suggested that Congress suspend collection of the 18.4-cent per gallon federal gasoline tax in order to help bring down gas prices. Now that's getting to the root of the problem. Of course she is from Texas where a large part of the economy is based on oil and gas, so what did you expect?

The truth is, if we really want to remedy this situation we're going to have to shoulder some of the blame and take things into our own hands. Oh yeah, I forgot. We're Americans. We don't take responsibility for anything. I would have remembered that except my third grade teacher didn't spend enough quality time with me, BIC didn't put enough ink in the pen so it ran out before I could write myself a reminder, and the dog ate my gingko pills.

What we need to do is what the rest of the world has done for years: drive smaller cars. Think about it. If you dumped your big cars, SUVs, and RVs and got something smaller it would not only save money on gas, but mean more parking spaces, and if you've been to a major city lately you know what a problem this is. In New York City there are 30,000 legal curbside parking spaces and hundreds of thousands of cars. In Los Angeles there are over 7 million cars registered, which is more cars than licensed drivers. You do the math. Assuming, that is, your third grade teacher spent enough quality time with you and you learned how.

In San Francisco a group called the Business Owners and Managers Association ("Better living through rent increases") wants the city to add 10,000 new parking spaces in the South of Market area. Obviously the city's not going to build more streets just so there can be additional curbside parking. That means they'll have to build parking garages, which can't be cheap. Especially when you figure that this is a city where home prices increased 32% in the past year, where people bid on apartments, and where you have to go out of the city to find a cemetery plot, paying as much as $2,500 each. And it only sleeps one.

While people say it requires an act of God to find a parking space in San Francisco, in Rome it actually does. Not long ago the Vatican opened a $40.5 million parking lot under Gianicolo Hill. When it opened, Pope John Paul blessed the parking lot, probably invoking a prayer to St. Seinfeld, the patron saint of lost cars in parking garages. While this will make parking a little easier in Rome, we'd better hope the Catholic Church doesn't decide they like this business model or they'll start handing you a ticket when you walk into mass, charge you by the hour, and then swear up and down they didn't put that dent in your karma.

So think about this the next time you're at the pump filling out a second mortgage application so you can fill the gas tank of your big car. Or when you're wasting that expensive gas circling the block looking for a parking space. Think about how much easier your life would be with a smaller car. And how much money you'd be saving. But most of all think about how you wouldn't have to listen to members of Congress give the wrong answer to another question. That alone could make it worthwhile.

More Mad Dog can be found online at www.maddogproductions.com.

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