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The behemoth idling in Ric Hines' west Omaha cul-de-sac costs more than a small home, gobbles a gallon of gas every nine miles and might get you flipped off.
It was a symbol of status and strength. It is a symbol of waste and destruction. It's a vehicular dinosaur fast disappearing from the planet thanks to the twin meteors of rising fuel prices and the sobering Great Recession.
“You're going to drive, right?” asks Ric.
And now I am climbing — literally climbing — into the driver's seat of a 2003 Hummer.
A few key details: I own a compact car. I'm scared of motorcycles and roller coasters. And, yes, I'm the guy who stares at Hummers on Interstate 80 and thinks, “Why?”
I put it in drive, and the green Hummer rumbles like a tank.
I swing right, and we roll past manicured lawns and drivers who have to squeeze their cars over to the curb. I press the gas ever so slightly and ... oh, my.
“This is the ultimate,” Ric says as we power forward. He sounds a little wistful.
See, this isn't Ric's Hummer. This one is owned by Lisa Van Stratten, his friend.
This isn't Ric's Hummer because Ric — the founder of Omaha's chapter of the Hummer Club — doesn't have one anymore. He sold his the Friday before last.
To grasp Ric's story, we need to throw it into reverse.
In 2002, gas dipped to nearly $1 a gallon. One out of every four of us drove a big SUV. The United States guzzled 20 million barrels of oil a day, more than half of it foreign.
This was when Ric decided on a new Hummer H2, a 6,600-pound behemoth. He had company.
Huber Automotive, Omaha's only Hummer dealership, sold every H2 on its lot in 2003.
“You could haul the kids to soccer practice. Then, if you really wanted to, you could go climb a mountain,” Bret Huber jokes.
Today we aren't scaling the Rockies. We're cruising west O.
We rumble past Hy-Vee, and the eyes of two cart-pushing shoppers follow us. We stop at 180th, and a woman in a Ford Focus stares like we are the Princes of Pacific Street.
When Ric got his H2, he started to conquer all sorts of roads. He founded Omahog, a chapter of the national Hummer group. Members took offroading trips and poked fun at Hummer owners who never left asphalt. Ric did drive his to work sometimes.
“I'd park on top of a snow pile, and everyone would think that was really cool,” he says.
But a funny thing happened on the way through the recession.
Ric began to drive his Hummer less as the price of gas rose.
He tore his ACL and bought a recumbent bicycle to rehab.
Soon he found himself on rides every weekend as his beloved Hummer sat in the garage. Soon he found himself on Craigslist, selling to a couple from Alliance.
Again, Ric had company. Bowing to falling demand, GM shuttered Hummer in 2010.
Now we use nearly 2 million fewer barrels of oil a day than we did a decade ago. Now the four most popular SUVs get better mileage than many cars.
“It's stylish ... you can get your kids and groceries in there,” Huber says of the Chevy Equinox, the dealer's No. 1 seller. “And it gets 30 miles a gallon. How much more modern can you get?”
I wheel the Hummer back into Ric's driveway, making sure not to crush my car. I tell Lisa I get it — driving a Hummer is fun. What I think is this: For me and many others, fuel economy now trumps fun. As it should.
While Lisa and I talk, Ric hurries inside. He has a work project to finish. He's taking a big trip soon.
A big trip on his bicycle.
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