MINEOLA _ ``Are we almost there?'' asked Buddy from the back seat of Uncle Chet's Ford Ranger, cruising along the highway.
``Nowhere near,'' said Cousin Bruce, who faced the boy across the narrow divide.
I leaned around the bucket seat and said, ``We're about to cross the Hudson River.''
``And then we'll get the truck?'' the second-grader asked.
``After we drive another hour, or so,'' I said, on our way to Long Island to pick up an eBay vehicle.
Bruce, in his curving Obama shades, was sitting cockeyed, trying to watch out the windshield as we slowed down for a toll booth.
``You sure you don't want to take the front seat?'' I asked.
``That's all right, but I'm riding in your truck on the way back,'' he said.
``Me, too,'' Buddy said proudly. ``It's a Toyota Tundra, and it holds three people because it has a bench seat.''
``It's a T-100, not a Tundra,'' I corrected him. ``They didn't even have Tundras in 1993.''
``Remember when `made in Japan' meant junk?'' said Uncle Chet, rolling down his window to pay $1.50. It was a warm, sunny morning and we were on the western approach of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
``Sure,'' I said.
``That was a long time ago,'' said Bruce. ``By the time you were in college, Sansui was a great stereo.''
``That's true,'' I said as we climbed over the rippling steely-blue water. A sailboat and several motorboats glided below on the river Henry Hudson plied 399 years ago.
``In the 1950s, if a tag said `Made in Japan,' that meant `cheap' to most Americans,'' said Uncle Chet. ``We snickered then, but here we are, 50 years later, driving all the way Mineola to buy a 15-year-old Japanese truck.''
``How far would you go for a Ford?'' asked Bruce.
``Maybe Binghamton,'' I said.
``How about a Dodge?'' asked Buddy.
``Not as far.''
``You weren't even in the market for an American-made truck,'' Uncle Chet noted.
``It's incredible, but no, I wasn't,'' I said.
``What's incredible is how far we've fallen,'' said Uncle Chet, ``Our brands in tatters _ Ford, GM, Chrysler, the big three on their knees.''
``I know it.'' I said.
``I didn't think American power would last forever, but I thought it would last at least my lifetime,'' he said. ``Of course, I never counted on economic treason.''
``Treason, or just greed?'' I said.
``It's treason for the government to encourage people to drive gas hogs when they know the price of gasoline is going to skyrocket,'' he said. ``Because it's not the price of gas that's the problem. It's the fact we're not getting 70 miles a gallon and Amtrak's a shambles. We're totally unprepared to face the pain, as Big Oil and Big Money turn the screws.''
``But how could they know the price of oil was going up that fast?'' I said.
``Because they started a war in the Mideast to make it happen,'' said Uncle Chet. ``All the phony excuses for that war have been disproved, and we're left with only the obvious one: the war was launched to enrich the investors and company owners who are making record profits off the war. This is all by design, but they put the bumbling Bush out front to make it seem like a series of blunders.''
``Another conspiracy theory,'' Cousin Bruce said.
``If you want to understand how Big Business and little government work, all you have to do is follow the money,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Bush and Cheney and their allies have spent plenty on Halliburton, Bechtel, Carlyle, Blackwater, companies you've never heard of, channeling tax dollars away from the average joe to the odd billionaire. And the money's not the worst of it; it's the laws they've enacted, from Medicare reform to energy policy, letting the big boys pick our bones.''
``Are we almost there?'' asked Buddy.
``I say that's treason,'' said Uncle Chet.
``Forty-five minutes,'' I turned around.
``Can't come a moment too soon,'' said Cousin Bruce.
``I can hardly wait to see that truck,'' I said, and settled back as we sped southeast in search of a deal on a four-wheel drive.
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.