Gerald Finch was waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on America’s latest 20-lane superhighway, Route None. The massive road stretched from upstate New York where it met Canada’s equivalent to southern Texas and a wide dirt path that continued from there southwards. There were no tolls nor speed limits on Route None-- after all, nobody wanted to be there, not when the sun came out.
He surveyed those stuck with him from the relative comfort of his vehicle. Gerald had to crane his head around the giant chromed blower sticking through his hood to see forwards. The moon’s oppressive glare reflected off the mirror finishes on the sundry cars around him. He dimmed the electrochromic windows from the standard 75% to 98%. The interior of his vehicle instantly became cooler. The hot-leather smell subsided as Gerald’s air conditioning unit took over. Cool air with a sanitary, refrigerant-laced odor came in. Comfortable now, Finch leaned his seat back and lit a cigarette.
The man felt pity for those around him. He imagined a family in the loaf-shaped camper to his right positively baking inside. “Then get off my road,” he chuckled. Gerald was proud to have sprung for the beauty he commanded now. An astounding 800 horsepower spun feverishly beneath the double-length hood; its length a necessity for squeezing in an air-conditioning unit near the size of the engine itself. Seventeen years it had been his. The top of the line when he bought it. He still had the flyer inside the glove compartment with its advertisement-- “State of the art HeatExchange-o-matic! Cool and comfortable or your money back!”
A blaring honk from behind diverted his thoughts back towards the road. He strained his eyes and saw that traffic was moving. He shifted into drive and started crawling ahead. Checking his watch, his hands gripped the wheel a tad tighter. There was only an hour left until sunrise. He surveyed the gauges strung across the dashboard. Some needles hung steady, and some pulsed with the beat of the engine, but all were in the green. Everything except the fuel, which was waning to half a tank. But it was still plenty enough to get to his home and the sweet shelter of underground living twice over.
The camper cut him off abruptly. Through sheer instinct alone he was able to stop his car. It shuddered and jumped, his insides turned and knotted. The engine stopped turning. Sweat dampened his forehead. A rising crescendo of electrical clamor sounded from angered drivers. He cranked the engine of the car which drew power away from his windows. The cabin was blasted with rays reflecting off the moon. The light began to sear his skin where it peeked out from under his suit. He cursed the office where he worked. It was their fault he was here. He deserved the promotion and with it, a safe commute underground. Cranking, cranking, cranking. Afterall, he worked harder and performed better than Jim Freely!
Though a thought lingered in the back of his mind, hidden in an alleyway between monolithic self-verified truths. He could have afforded a pass for the underground if he changed his lifestyle. His McMansion sized home could have been smaller, but as an inner-city child his dream was to live big. He moved miles away from work when he found his dream house. His commute lengthened tenfold to over an hour. And Gerald thought that only a new car would match his large lifestyle, so he doled out more money on a vehicle. But he was happy, living his dream.
Cranking, cranking, cranking.
That is, until the taxes rose. People started dying in their cars on the way to work-- quite a predicament. They were found baked to death by the sun’s glaring light. While the heat had been a problem before, no one had ever died from it. Responses were immediate. Car manufacturers increased the air conditioning capability of their vehicles. Fuel consumption and emissions doubled over the following two years. The government regulated commutes and banned travel during the day. Taxes on emissions, fuel, electricity, income, and near everything else rose abruptly. Gerald was financially illiquid, stuck with his car, home, and barely enough income left over to buy food.
Once it became clear his boss was going to be leaving the company, Gerald doubled and then redoubled his efforts. And it’s no lie that he worked hard and performed better. He beat his sales quota for the month in the first week, then again the next. He stayed after hours, putting himself in danger of being fried on the drive home. When the selection for the position he wanted was made, it came down to Jim Freely, who graciously accepted the offer. In Gerald’s exit interview, they told him that the company couldn’t afford to have him do something else, what with his recent performance. Dejected, he put his hours in then punched out and found himself here, again, on Route None, going home to do it all over again the next day.
A pocket of denser air came up and under the car’s hood through a cool-air intake, drawing enough fuel with it into a cylinder to cause combustion. The engine roared to life and normalcy returned to the vehicle. Sweat evaporated off the much relieved Mr. Finch and the interior darkened to a more inviting atmosphere. Something survivable. He quickly popped open a small bottle of aloe to rub on the skin that had burned in the few seconds his vehicle had lost power. He changed gear and started moving again, just another commuter burning fuel and emitting noxious gases in order to survive.
He wondered to himself, what if he decided to live within his means? What if any of those thousands of other commuters became self-sufficient? A person that relied on the bare minimum of others, utilizing the least possible energy and, instead of adding to the cycle of more power needed for more refrigeration, quit the feedback loop to live in communion with nature. Would it really be so hard?