Sometimes a person has to look for answers outside of the regular routine of life. In cases like this I am sure, like me, you always look to Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention for inspiration. Here, over the pond in good old Blighty, we have a romantic notion of the American world of cars and youth made melodic truth by The Mothers’ Cruising For Burgers.
It is a song of freedom. That freedom is under threat from the money lenders.
Let me explain.
The other day I was tuned into a television program presented by the British traitor John Oliver. You will recall all the fuss about subprime mortgages. Oliver was rightly commenting on the recent rise of the subprime car purchase loan companies, which seem to be endemic in the American pre-owned automobile market.
Just a few days later, I was approached with a business opportunity by a UK company who, quite blatantly, wanted me to help them promote their subprime car loan enterprise – the first I have come across in the UK. We live in a world where those least able to afford to spend money are encouraged to do so.
Turning The Clock Back
When this sort of ugliness rears its head, it is comforting to turn the clock back to the days of carefree motoring as highlighted by Frank and the boys. I know that your United States makes a very big deal of individual State and personal identities. It has now come to my attention that, depending on where you live, American youth can get a learner’s permit as young as fourteen years of age. That’s outstanding, especially if you are a kid.
Driving is one of the rites of growing up for American youth. Songs have been sung (“Well you can’t use the car because you didn’t work a lick”) and legends created. Cruising for beer and burgers with a fake i.d. on Main Street USA; seeing and being seen alike are the great enduring images of teenage automotive life in America. Or that’s how it seems to our aggrieved British youth who can’t go near the steering wheel of a car until age seventeen.
Frank sings of cruising in daddy’s new car. It seems unbelievable that a fourteen year old with, effectively, a cheater’s permit can take to the road in new metal with the blessing of a parent. This easy-going attitude especially doesn’t translate to the UK and it can only be because of a different inbuilt attitude to driving that passes down through generations.
A British son or daughter, posing the same question, will likely witness the unedifying spectacle of their father rolling about on the floor, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes before standing up with an emphatic negatory. It just doesn’t happen.
Dream on kid.
One of the hardest things in the world in my experience, along with convincing Penelope Cruz that you are in fact a viable marriage prospect, is for a young person to get an adult to hand over the car keys. The best a child can hope for, after a protracted battle of wills, is dad caving in desperation at all the piteous bleating. They may even buy the youth an old banger of his or her own, but this will probably require financing.
Many Americans, according to John Oliver, are desperate for a car because of the great traveling distances involved in going about a daily routine. Work or school may be many miles away. New vehicles are expensive so the poor are exploited by unscrupulous lenders. Sometimes, allegedly, a lousy vehicle can be sold, repossessed, and sold again many times. It seems to me that the individual and varied attitudes of the United States to this sort of exploitation does not help.
Unified rules are required.
We in the UK remain envious of the American laid-back attitude to driving. We have so many constraints and strictures that the freedom of the road is but an illusive concept. It is one thing to pass the driving test but quite another to own a car. This is why subprime lending could be so invidious in the UK. Once a young person is deemed old enough to handle a bank account then he or she is old enough to borrow money. The notion that low paid youngsters (which is most of them) can be sold second-rate cars at extortionate rates of interest is horrific.
With the way credit ratings work in Great Britain, this means an individual’s life could be blighted with debt for years, just for the pleasure of cruising for burgers. This is something we here need to avoid at all costs. If only Frank Zappa were in charge. I’m sure he would have something to say about it.
*Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite