Get on the Bus!

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (Tom Wolfe, 1968) is recognized as one of the great non-fiction literary works of the Beat Generation. The New York Times called it an “essential book” among the great reads of the time.

Using a literary style called ‘New Journalism’, Wolfe conveys the story of poet Ken Keysey and his Band of Merry Pranksters as they make their way on a second-hand school bus across the United States from West Coast to East Coast. Along the journey they have a number of wild adventures and meet the likes of Jerry Garcia of the Greatful Dead, Allen Ginsberg, and the Hells Angels.

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As one might expect, ‘Pranksters’ came and went throughout the long and winding trip. As the driver, Keysey used a simple phrase over and over before closing the door, starting the engine, and pulling back onto the highway: “You’re either on the bus or off the bus.” The bus was appropriately named “Further.”

Fast-forward 2015: Any talk of cultural icons and named buses leads only to Winston Peters and his “Force for the North.” Ironically, while Winny was physically on the bus, it was Prime Minister John Key who metaphorically urged Northland voters to stay on the National Party bus. At present, riding that bus means supporting the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Peters, however, has said he won’t stamp that ticket. “We’ll stop them passing this law. It’s about foreign corporates suing you as a taxpayer. That’s a challenge to this country’s democracy, which has been going for 167 years. It’s about our sovereignty and right to make our own laws.”

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Peters appears to have won a decisive victory in the National Party stronghold by sticking to his message: This government has neglected the regions, and particularly Northland, for too long.

I have never been to Northland but one thing I hear about the region is its dreadful housing stock. On this issue, the Whaganui region cannot be far behind. If you live in a home built before 2008 it almost certainly cannot be characterised as warm, dry and easy to heat. Even many homes built since 2008 would be considered low-performers when using an international yardstick.

It is well known that many Kiwis live in cold, damp homes far below World Health Organisation standards. Research shows that these conditions cost the nation dearly in medical expenses, missed days at work, illness related absenteeism in school, and high power bills for those who do turn up the heat. This creates what appears to be a lose-lose-lose situation, especially when applied to our Wanganui community.

Not having grown up in New Zealand I don’t fully understand the cultural tolerance for grotty housing and why it is so hard to rally people to ‘get on the bus’ for healthy homes. I would have thought that a wide range of organisations in the River City would get right behind the idea of healthy homes/healthy people/healthy economy. But the concept doesn’t seem to gain traction here.

Over the last two winters I have had the pleasure to work with a very small group of concerned individuals and businesses to provide free independent advice on the most affordable and best performing ways of keeping any home warm and dry. The feedback from participants has been excellent.

Ironically, during one of our free presentations at the Josephite Retreat Centre last September on “How to use your heat pump effectively,” Winston Peters was in the city campaigning. Since Peter’s voter base was the exact target audience of the presentation, you will not be surprised by our low turnout on the night. Maybe I should have asked to be his warm-up act!

But seriously, do you have any ideas on how we can rally our community to ‘get on the bus’ for low-energy/high-performance homes? Or am I just spinning my wheels?

To Quote Ken Keysey, “There are going to be times when we can’t wait for somebody. Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re on the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again. If you’re off the bus in the first place — then it won’t make a damn.”

Peace, Estwing

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