The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

WE'VE GOT GAS!: It is August here, although in all probability you won’t be reading this until sometime in March—laziness is my besetting sin, I fear, if you want to look at this in theological terms—but right now it is August here, as it is everywhere else as I write this, chronology being the unimaginative concept that it is, and while their elders gasp under the burden of sweltering heat and air noisome with the smell of sweat and rotting roadkill and having the consistency of chocolate pudding without any of the accompanying rich and creamy sweetness, happy high school graduates here in our happy little burg are busily preparing themselves for their freshman year at college. This is usually a bittersweet time, as mothers try to reconcile themselves to the loss of one of their precious babies and fathers steel themselves for the inevitable long-distance and reverse the charges, operator calls in the middle of the night pleas for additional money to tide the graduate over to the week after mid-terms. The younger siblings will regard the graduate’s exit with a weepy eye and a droopy lip, and there will be hugs and kisses and promises to write or to call as often as possible, and while the graduate wallows in this overheated bathos of sentimentality, the siblings, the very siblings who cling so strongly to the graduate and plead with him or her not to leave them, are all the while plotting with Machiavellian intensity the one against the other to secure the graduate’s room for themselves. Thus we see that all is as it ever was, the rhythms of life continuing on as they ever do. The parents send forth their children, who is their turn will send forth their children,”…the thing that hath been, is that which shall be; and there is not new thing under the sun…” as the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes.

This is nonsense, of course, but it’s a little late in the day to call the Preacher on it. The Preacher could get away with this sort of rot because he didn’t quit his day job as king of Israel and consequently did not have to shell out a fortune for gasoline. It’s easy for guys that high up in the civil service not to worry about such things; not only do they make more than most people, they have access to your money as well, and it’s easy not to worry about gas prices when someone else is footing the bill. When you have to pay for your own gas you are likely to have a different perspective on the matter.

For many parents throughout the nation, this different perspective requires some difficult and painful choices as they weigh the cost of their children’s education against the requirements of their automobiles, and as this is America, in all too many cases the family’s immediate transportation needs win out over the long term educational requirements of the college bound student. College admissions offices throughout the country report that more and more qualified applicants are declining to enter colleges that require more than a half a tank of gasoline to reach, a practice which, if allowed to spread, will invariably shrink the pool of available undergraduates to a geographic bare minimum.

Faced with this threat to their long-term economic viability, colleges are finding new and innovative ways of getting potential students to attend their schools. The State University of New York’s main campuses at Albany, Binghamton, and Buffalo, for example, are now offering a free oil change, tire rotation, and three free gallons of gasoline for every out of state applicant who opts to attend the three university centers; out of state applicants who wish to attend one of the other SUNY schools like Purchase, Brockport, and New Paltz will get more or less the same deal, except that they will have to pay half-price for the gasoline. New York residents will get the Albany/Buffalo/Binghamton deal, along with a set of glasses emblazoned with the SUNY logo.

In the Ivy league, where the competition is particularly fierce, Harvard is not only offering parents a full tank of gas at 1955 prices, but throwing in a large beach towel, a set of steak knives, and coupons for a free lube job every five thousand miles or so. Yale, not wanting to fall behind in the hunt for warm, paying bodies, is now offering every accepted applicant two years’ worth of free car washes as well as free brake pads and a half-tank of free gas. Princeton, by contrast, is offering applicants very little beyond a three-year supply of those pine tree shaped air fresheners. While this may be due to a certain snootiness on the part of some Old Tigers, the inside scoop on this skimpy inducement package is that Princeton’s admissions office believes that playing up Princeton’s location in New Jersey, where for reasons no one fully fathoms, gasoline is thirty to forty cents cheaper than it is in neighboring New York, will encourage many students and their families to attend who would otherwise look askance at the idea of spending time and money in the Garden State.

There is a sadder aspect to all of this, however much we may choose to ignore it. The need for gasoline is now so great that many people are now taking out second mortgages on their houses and raiding the kids’ college tuition money in order to buy a full tank of gas. Loan sharks are now doing a thriving business as people desperate to keep their vehicles on the road borrow the Mafia’s money at the usual exorbitant rates of interest and the FBI reports that the number of assaults by loan sharks on hapless over their heads in debt motorists has skyrocketed exponentially over the past few months. In such a world, with gas deprived petroleum addicts thinking of nothing but how and where to get their next full tank of gas or heating oil, it should come as no surprise that a college education is now seen by many as a bourgeois superfluity, unneeded and largely unwanted by the masses. Many high school graduates are skipping college at this point and waiting for better economic times, a decision that might damage many an institution of higher learning in the short run and will certainly annoy the graduate’s younger siblings no end: they were counting on getting that vacant room.


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