[Caveat to the Greek chorus: Some of the following may wound the sensibilities of traditionalists, neo-hippies/rednecks, new/used car hawkers and litigation-minded attorneys. While the MDTU conversion equation makes no attempt to correct for personal bias and inaccurately remembered historical details, even science-based, peer-reviewed computer models seem to provide ample fodder for change-denial-types, and are likely no more accurate. Please keep in mind that the writer still owns several mostly roadworthy MDTUs of sundry vintage, and drives them more than is prudent or defensible in this century. All models remain anonymous for their own protection.]
1972 — Ass, gas or grass
Gallon of gas (36¢)
Minimum wage ($1.60)
Chevron stock ($3.77)
Mountain Gazette (50¢)
A used VW Bug (or van if you want to risk being hassled by The Man).
Best I recall, my personal ride was the mid-’60s Ford Custom sedan-tank that would get me my first driver’s license — but stylistically, I was a bit of a late-bloomer.
1984 — Dirtbag-free “Morning in America”
Gasoline ($1.22.9) +Wage ($3.35) Chevron ($8.75) ± Mountain Gazette (on publishing hiatus) =
MDTU (well-used 8-cylinder redneck caddilac, $1,000)
I was driving the 1971 Chevy pickup named Lucy from Canada to Mexico, while, back in Idaho, another dirtbag burned all the firewood I left at the funky trailer I sublet to him. He also didn’t pay the rent, ran up my phone bill, and had left the place a shambles when I returned travel-sated and broke a few months later, but we eventually made peace.
1992 — “The economy, stupid.”
$1.17.9 (Gas) + $4.25 (Wage) $16.75 (Chevron) ± still MIA (MG) = POS K-car, 40 mpg (MDTU)
Gas prices: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Ah, Lucette K. Car, the Mountain Dirtbag Transportation Unit of my dreams. When oil embargos and corporate ineptitude almost sank Chrysler under the weight of its grandma-mobiles in the late-’70s, an upstart CEO authorized a startling innovation, the intentional design of piece-of-shit (POS) autos for the American proletariat and commuter class. I bought Lucette after her newness had been worn off by a seriously nervous (to judge by the worn clutch and cigarette-burned car seat) nuclear physicist commuting to Los Alamos lab. The ’71 Chevy became my domicile, and I towed Lucette to take-outs and trailheads so that solo river trips and through backpacks could be completed without practicing social skills.
2001 — Lucette is dead, long live Susie Baroo
(I know, I know — United We Stand; but with all above apologies, this is my POS MDTU formula)
G (1.64) + W (5.15) C (45.25) + MG (now free in many fine mountain establishments) = MDTU (1986 4WD Suby wagon, $300)
By now, the field-tested data-set had led to locating a still-running 10+-year-old vehicle, telling the owner it was a piece of shit worth less than I was offering, and then finding a mechanic with a sympathetic streak for POS mountain dirtbags’ transportation units.
2011— Great Recession, continued
G (3.70) + W (7.25) C (101.28) + MG (still free, but ya oughta have a home subscription by now, it bumps cred in mountain dirtbag society) = MDTU (1999 4WD 6-cylinder pickup, w/towing package)
Average Annual Gasoline Pump Price, 1919–2004
(“On average, the price of gasoline was higher in 2004 than it has ever been before; however, when adjusted for inflation (constant dollars), gasoline cost more in 1981 than it does today.” Bush 2.0 et al)
Through asymmetric warfare, inflation, economic collapse and hope for change, MDTUs track the market, meaning the perceptive dirtbag will find ample “redneck Cadillacs” 10 years after love-bugs and hippie vans, high-mpg POS cars 10 years after oil industry terrorism cycles, battered POS Subys and Toy trucks after neo-hippies have tired of them and gone back to “real life” and family, muscled-up pickups and SUVs 10 years after the oil/politico conspiracy convinced the trembling masses that a 4WD mini-tank would be the perfect family mom-van. I hope this illustrates how a mountain dirtbag could justify acquiring a 22-mpg 4WD pickup, even while gasoline prices creep past record levels each year just as mud season brings an itch to hit the road.
2012 — Mayan calendar; what Mayan calendar?
Let’s review the formula: G (gas price per gallon) + W (minimum wage) C (Sorry, Chevron, but you took over Texaco and Union Oil, so receive my cudgel blows by proxy) + MG (let’s keep it on the plus side, shall we) = MDTU?
Lucy and Susie Baroo live on, albeit reduced to occasional shuttles and roadside camps. My current 4WD MDTU involved hours of sweat and blood piecing second-hand parts onto a sweet-running hulk with a T-boned frame. As the odometer nears 300,000 miles, I’m eyeing a tandem bicycle that a young friend of mine was riding the other day, as a possible MDTU of the future. He and some buddies built it with salvaged frames of single-speed bikes, attached side-by-side to a common rear axle so that no matter how many dirtbags are going your way, you can add another pair of legs to the pedaling chores by welding on another frame. I figure with all the designer cruisers in mountain towns these days, there should soon be plenty of orphans lying about, and this century’s mountain dirtbags will know just what to do with them.
G+WC+MG=? Let the equation be your guide.
Senior correspondent B. Frank is the author of “Livin’ the Dream: Testing the Ragged Edge of Machismo.” He splits his time between the Border Country and the Colorado Plateau. His blog, Ragged Edge, can be found at mountaingazette.com.