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A half-penny is only a fraction of what our love affair with our Almighty vehicles truly costs us.

LEXUS -- Vanity plate on a Lexus SUV. Seen on Alvernon Way, March 1, 2002.

Personally, I'm voting against the half-cent sales tax. Here at The Weekly, all the freelancers have to toe the party line or give up those humongous checks. (Joke. Really. Especially about the size of the checks.)

No, the real reason I'm voting "no" is that, as a long-time Tucsonan, I believe that all change involving backing bells, heavy machinery and uprooted brittlebush is B-A-D bad, and I get a small but distinct thrill out of just saying no to it when asked. Of course, to clinch my momentous decision, there was also the computer call during dinner from my friends at Let's Go Tucson.

(Why do these people have so much money and why are they thanking me for my support while my pork chop cools and my Chianti warms? And why would they think I might want an absentee ballot? Has someone added three decades to my age in some database? And, now that we're on the subject, how much does it cost me, Ms. Taxpayer, to have all these special-order ballots mailed for every semi-rigged election to thousands of people too lazy or infirm or generally absent to hie themselves three blocks to their precinct voting place? Just asking. One comfort is that the development lobby is wasting their plentiful simoleons on this particular Get Out The Vote, since the election is about money and your basic elderly Republican usually declines to unclench his osteoarthritic digits from around even a fraction of a cent.)

Not that it matters. Nothing can change the course of development in Pima County. People cannot be saved from themselves, especially by other people. Heroic civil engineers cannot change the physical facts of Tucson, or, even more hopeless, the psychological processes that have made it what it is. The development of Pima County--which has actually been decreasing in density over the last four decades, thus increasing our absolute dependence on automobiles--is a straight-on manifestation of the collective unconscious.

Which means that it's scary, atavistic and uncontrollable, and there's just no point arguing.

You think I'm exaggerating? OK. Take the findings of a recent study by the Surface Transportation Policy, recently reported (April 28) in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.

The study shows that we, as a nation, love our cars. Big whoop, you say. But wait--how much we love them is actually pretty amazing. In most parts of the country, "people now spend more on transportation than on medical care, education, clothing and entertainment--combined." And in a number of metro areas, people now spend more on cars than on housing. The kicker, as the Times reporter points out, is that we don't even complain about what our cars cost us except to whine about the price of gas, which is by far the least of it.

Why? Because we love them, truly madly deeply. Even though the average price of a new vehicle is now $26,000 (before financing, insurance, licensing, maintenance or road taxes), we love anything with a motor and wheels that goes vroom so much that we're willing to sort of pretend it isn't costing us as much as it is. The fact that a house out on the periphery--cheap! cheap! cheap!--actually costs many thousands a year in commuting costs doesn't faze us. The commute is an excuse to go out and get an even bigger SUV.

James Hillman, a great depth psychologist with a penchant for analyzing the everyday world, has explained the attraction. It goes beyond the superficial fantasies constructed for our benefit by marketing execs--you only think you're sitting through the fifth light at Tanque Verde and Sabino. You're in a Navigator, or an Explorer, or a Pathfinder, going ruggedly wherever such people go--Sonoma, Siena, Sierra or Tacoma. (The last model-name cracks up my brother, who used to live near that aging nest of paper mills. "Ah yes, Tacoma. Ugly, smelly and hard to clean up.")

In reality, you're probably going to work, because while you have to have a car to get to work (especially here), it is equally true that you have to work to afford a car. In his wonderful book on the vanity of human wishes, Why Things Bite Back, Edward Tenner cites an analysis concluding that, taking into account all the time we spend working to pay for vehicles, we get roughly 4 miles an hour out of them. That's walking.

So why do we give up our lives to ride around in a big hunka metal? According to Hillman, underlying all our readymade gasoline dreams is a fundamental human fantasy--one that happens to be encapsulated in the very word automobile. Self-moved mover is one of the standard definitions of God:

"We are forced to recognize that transportation awakens profound fantasies about motion. Driving to center city, covering space with speed, my foot on the accelerator, puts me automatically into the fantasy of motion as an actual experience that before our automotive age was imagined only in terms of gods, stars and atoms. ... To restructure the relations between private driving and public service means coming to terms with this gigantic fantasy of our godlike power over motion and death."

It's going to take more than a half-penny.

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