I’m a small town kid, having spent the majority of my formative years between birth and age 18 living in Oakland, Iowa, population somewhere in the ball park of 2000, located just east of the Loess Hills region of southwest Iowa. We did not have a stoplight, not even a yellow flasher — still isn’t one. When I lived there I could list the names of every family living on both sides of the street, and I lived on a long street! We had two small family owned grocery stores, three service stations, four cafes, two barbershops, a pharmacy, two hardware stores, two lumberyards, and a variety of other small retail establishments. If you lived in Oakland you attended either the Lutheran church on the hill, went to the Christian church near the school, or went downtown to either the Congregational or Methodist church. The few Catholics we had in town traveled fifteen miles up the road to Avoca. Yes, in those first 18 years of my life I spent a year and a half living in Ames, Iowa, and another five as a resident of Council Bluffs, both of them cities by Iowa standards. But even with those experiences, I was still a small town kid, proudly so!
In my adult life I have lived in a number of places, and through my professional life have met all kinds of people who live in communities vastly different from small town Iowa. I am fascinated by the differences in living in major cities, as well as in different regions of the country. I often think of how neat it would be to live in other places, recognizing some of the differences from what I am used to. I have shared with others the value of living in a small town in the middle of this great country, pointing out cons as well, such as vicious gossip that spreads like the plague. I can defend and rationalize a lot of the quirks of small town life, except for one — teenagers and their absolute need for a car. That is something I don’t understand, never have understood, and most likely will never be able to agree with.
Why the obsession with getting a car? Why do kids as young as fifteen think they need a car? Better yet, why do parents think they need to get their child a car? For the sake of clarification, when I say a teenager having a car, I refer to possession across the spectrum of actually owning a car to having almost exclusive use of a specific vehicle regardless of who owns it on paper. I will give you that living in a rural area and a number of our students living on a farm, or living in one of the towns other than West Union, it makes sense for those who are involved in after school activities to have a vehicle to drive. What gets me is that rather than driving the old family clunker generally they get a nicer one that they can call their own. And, what’s up with each kid in the family getting one? I can’t believe that there are families who live 15 miles from school having two or three kids driving back and forth each day, burning up fuel. How about sharing a ride in the family clunker!
Okay, let’s give farm kids, and those living quite a ways away from West Union a little bit of a pass in terms of needing to drive, but to have a vehicle of their own, I don’t quite buy it. That said, no way can I understand the reason kids living within the city limits of our town needing a car. I love it when our exchange friends from Germany come every other October. They walk everywhere! Go to any large city in our country and people walk! We have a huge issue in our nation with obesity among people of all ages and yet parents allow their child to have a car to drive a few blocks every day to school. What’s the point of that? I also hear from a number of our students “Well, I need a car to get to work.” Why do you need to work? “To pay for my car/insurance/gas!” How much sense does that make?
I understand that we live in a car world, but I am amazed at this perceived need. We have school provided transportation for everyone, except those who live close enough to walk. I guess it isn’t cool to ride the bus, but kids in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Chicago don’t seem to suffer by doing that. What truly bothers me is that we have high school students who should be focused on learning, and learning as much as they can, who love to drive around in their cars or insist on getting that aforementioned job to be able to have a car. And, some of the cars that are driven to school are a lot fancier than those parked in the teacher’s lot! The car becomes a focal point, and kids often make choices that impact their life just to have that car.
There reality is that a car is not a necessity for a high school student. More high school kids in our country don’t have a car than those that do! And while there is an argument for those living a distance away, there are alternative ways for a young person to get to school. A car is huge expense, not to mention the insurance and fuel costs. Yes, there is a lot that can be learned in terms of responsibility, but those lessons can be learned in terms of completing homework to the best of one’s ability or spending quality time with family. I guess this is one of those small town things that I never understood. Like a lot of things in life, after high school there’s plenty of time to have a car!