Cognitive Dissonance and My S.U.V.

Cognitive dissonance is the mind’s battle to reconcile two seemingly contradictory thoughts or perceptions.

I recently purchased a new car (well, new to me, a 2002 Honda CR-V). Yep, one of those boxy S.U.V.’s that gobble up gas and threaten to pound the crap out of little puny economy cars. My wife and I bought it because it’s roomy (it’s a mini-truck after all), Honda’s are spectacularly reliable and we’ll be able to pack up all three of our doggies for trips.

I’m all kinds of conflicted:
The car’s not made by American unionized labor, but I’m atoning for American cultural imperialism and the atom bomb.
I’m not getting as many miles per gallon, but maybe I’ll be more circumspect about unnecessary trips.
I’m selling out to American materialism, but dude–dig the 6 CD player!
No car payment balances our household budget, but I can donate the car for a tax deduction and help some charity.

I drove my ’97 Ford Escort (bought new after being made by UAW labor in Wayne, Mi.) into the ground. The alternator was shot, necessitating a daily jump-start in the morning. The front driver’s seat was like a rocking chair after diving to catch the leash of a dog attempting to escape out an open back door. The AC died two years into our relationship, too expensive to ever consider replacing. The horn died a couple of years later. My mechanic jerry-rigged an alternative horn with a button below the steering wheel because he didn’t want to have to go through the airbag to get to the original horn. Too many fast food meals and too few trips to the gas station vacuum probably meant things were alive in the car. The pistons always rattled and made weird noises while struggling up steep grades. The car was green, except for the spots over the wheel wells that were sporting tons of rust. The passenger side window handle was constantly falling off and disappearing under the seats.

But for me, the car’s worst feature: for over a year I had been driving with a car radio/cassette volume knob that had snapped off. When the knob came off in my hand the volume was blasting. I quickly shoved the knob back into place and turned furiously. Somehow, I was able to reduce the volume to practically nothing. Of course, I was never again able to adjust the volume, no matter how hard I pressed the knob into the hole and turned. The button would function as an on/off switch, but the volume remained so low that music was inaudible if the engine or defrost was on. No tunes while rolling around the ‘hood for work. No Morning Edition or All Things Considered unless I wanted to pull into a parking lot and turn everything off.

I think this is what has allowed me to push through my cognitive dissonance and embrace my S.U.V-ness. Today, I opened the automatic sunroof, cranked up The Who (“Magic Bus” from Live At Leeds) to earbleed level and let the spring warmth wash over me as I ran some errands. Sometimes I overthink things. Life is good.


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