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A stranger here myself: Americans' unhealthy lifestyles rely on machines

The current data from the United States Department of Energy has a joke underlying it somewhere, I’m just not sure what the climax of the farce is at the moment.

The data they’ve accumulated of recent shows that transportation costs in the U.S. constitute about 10 percent of total consumer expenditure. That is just behind housing and shelter.

We actually spend less on health care than we do on fixing our cars and buying gasoline.

See what I mean? It’s funny — or maybe just necessary to keep from cracking under the idiocy of it all.

It does make sense in many ways. We’re far better off than less-developed nations. We have money to blow on toys such as cars. And when we do need some health assistance (which is quite often, seeing as the leading causes of death in this country are heart- and cancer-related), we simply call upon insurance companies to do our bidding.

That isn’t what I want to linger on, though. What’s better to ask is this: Why do our transportation costs amount to so much? Look around sometime and I’m sure you’ll have the answer. I’d wager that you even have it at the present: We’re a nation of drivers.

We adore the automobile. It’s a symbol of Americana that’s thrust down our throats from the day we first gasp for air. We need cars. No sane person wouldn’t have one — says the television, the magazine, the radio. Besides, they’re sexy.

Let’s not even get into the issue of greenhouse-gas omissions. Let’s not even touch upon the argument for a cessation on support of foreign oil bought by blood, both of soldiers and civilians.

Let’s not worry about current “hybrid” vehicles and other deterrents that block the bigger picture.

What’s really important is to break down our current situation as it stands. What we have is a society that’s geared to the individual driver.

It all began with the push for an interstate highway system to connect the country. The rails were soon all but abandoned. They pushed working families to the suburbs to “escape” the city life.

And to get to that daily job? Workers drive from a plush home out in the middle of nowhere where they live with other chumps in a milieu of lugubrious, day-to-day “lives.” On their jaunts to the city, they face congested highways, dire conditions and others who are just as irritated about having to deal with driving again.

Why do we do it then? Why do we subject ourselves to lives as machine-dependent entities?

My guess is that, just as it stands, the system is meant to work effectively in one way only: It all fits conveniently into the “Great American Narrative.”

My advice?

I say we get going while the going is good. Take a step toward convenience. Live near work or school. Realize when walking or biking is a highly advantageous choice.

Even if, by some chance, greenhouse-gas emissions are having no environmental impact, think of the benefits of reduced car use — let alone no car use: money in your pocket, lower levels of stress, a chance to just breathe for a moment and notice the surrounding world.

Live in a sensible location. Imagine the convenience found in the ability to walk to the store, the cinema, your job and even school with your future (or present) children.

There’s nothing quite as bonding as walking hand-in-hand with a loved one to that concert in the park, the local art exhibit or whatever you’ve got on your plate.

The health benefits of alternative transportation? Just try it for a month and see if your system isn’t as free and clear as you like. My money says you won’t even look back once you get going.

This is only the beginning of the battle, though. I urge you to contact me sometime to really get into how we can begin changing the current structures in place.

I guarantee it will be the most trying undertaking of our times, along with untold other issues.

Joseph Barbaree is a graduate student studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. Talk transportation with him at

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