Maybe I’m romanticizing my teen years. Maybe the Beach Boys have always been doing so. But as I remember it, we really did have fun, fun, fun, until the government took the T-bird away.
About half of the Beach Boys’ set at last week’s concert in Waco was devoted to a car culture that we’ve legislated out of existence. Driving around with friends, cruising the strip on a Saturday night, fixing up old cars and fine-tuning hot rods — these things are all pretty much illegal now for teens.
Let’s take driving itself. Texas, like most of the country, now has a “graduated drivers license” program that makes it illegal for drivers under the age of 18 to have more than one passenger (under the age of 21), or drive late at night.
In other words, kids these days don’t get around — at least, not the way the song portrays it. The Financial Times wrote recently about how teens are less motivated to drive now. This makes them more dependent on parents for a lift, and on the Internet for social interaction.
Something else helped bring about the end of the car culture we grew up with — technology. Today’s vehicles are much more complicated than the relatively simple engines we could go at with a wrench. Again, that’s mostly due to legislation, intended to help the environment. The fuel system begins with fuel injectors and ends with a complex catalytic converter and exhaust system. No more carburetors. And the fuel system is helped to meet emission standards by a computer, which can only be accessed by authorized shops with expensive equipment.
That makes the line “my four-speed, dual-quad posi-traction 409” complete gibberish to today’s youth. Don’t even bother with “she’s ported and relieved and she’s stroked and bored; she’ll do a hundred and forty in the top end floored.” They won’t understand a word. It may be your little deuce coupe, but they don’t know what you’ve got.
When I was a high school student, we talked about two things. One of them was cars. Now that I’m a (part-time) high school teacher, I listen, and I don’t hear teens talking about cars at all. They don’t drive much, they don’t date in the sense that we did (unless a parent drives them), and they don’t cruise at all.
Is the world a better place for passing these laws? Certainly the graduated drivers license laws reduced the number of teen driver accidents. But they do so by reducing the number of teen drivers, mostly. Wrecks are generally the result of inexperience, and an inexperienced 20-year-old is just as bad a driver as an inexperienced 16-year-old.
Are cars more reliable and the air more breathable? Sure. And our teens are more dependent than teens have ever been.
The Beach Boys have spent their summer on a 50th anniversary tour, which included that stop in Waco, with part-timer John Stamos sitting in. The sound was tight as a drum, but I have to wonder how many of the songs were simply meaningless to the younger attendees.