I took magazine reporter, libertarian car nut, and God-loving family man P.J. O'Rourke (Parliament of Whores, Give War a Chance) for a steak sandwich yesterday. We did this as he prepped for a Free Library reading of his elegaic car-journalism collection, Driving Like Crazy, published the day General Motors Corp. went bankrupt.

Between bites, he had a lot to say. Here's some of it:

On why sprawl, traffic, and the focus on giant, complex vehicles that doomed the U.S. auto business are the government's fault:

"We spend so much of our time driving, and we are so far from the cities, and so dispersed over the landscape, as a result of political failures. . . .

"It wasn't us who decided to move to Hell-and-Gone. It was decided for us. First and foremost by the failure of city public school systems. Rampant crime. Lousy infrastructure.

"And high taxes, which not only pushed us out of the cities, but drove businesses out of the cities. So we're not commuting downtown anymore. Our offices, by and large, are in a different part of Hell-and-Gone."

On why it matters that auto factories keep closing:

"We may be creating a society with very little place for the blue-collar guy of average intelligence . . . guys like me from Toledo."

On where things are looking better:

"What gives me hope is the irresistible rise out of poverty of places like China and India. . . .

"There's Hong Kong, where your income taxes are a flat 15 percent, with one deduction, for charity, and you can fill out your annual return on an index card. . . . Raise your hand and a taxi stops for you. Though they all run on, I think it's liquefied natural gas. It's going to make a spectacular movie when one of them has an accident.

"India is such a disorganized place. . . . But somehow it's creating more members of the middle class each year than we have total members of our middle class."

On this progress being permanent:

"No human progress is. People can be free in theory without economic well-being, but it's economic freedom we depend on to live the life we want.

On the United States coming back to lead the world:

"I don't think there's anything exceptional about America. We're just rich. . . .

"But if you ask, is America less influential than it was? Yes, and that's good. We were the only people standing after World War II. You don't want to be that important. I mean, when you are, you have to blow stuff up all the time. Who wants to have to keep doing that?"

On what will happen to the car companies:

"Chrysler disappears. Except Jeep gets spun off.

"Ford pulls through, diminished, with the Ford family still willing to take a loss now and then. . . .

"GM will break up. There'll be Chevrolet. And the truck division. But even Toyota and Honda, the era of the gigantic car company, no more."

Lobby for pain

The New Jersey Assembly's Health and Senior Services Committee voted, 8-1, to send an amended version of medical-marijuana Assembly Bill 804 for a future vote by the full House.

Pro-pot lobbyist Meagan Johnson kindly filled me in on the scene in Trenton yesterday: "The overwhelming presence in the room was the seriously ill patients and their family members, all in support of the bill."

That's classic political theater: The reps had to look like they hate sick people and enjoy pain in order to vote no. It was more than the antidope lobbyists - the Drug-Free Schools coalition and uniformed police - could handle.

Rita's and Alex's

Rita's Water Ice Franchise Co. L.L.C. relabeled its original flavor Alex's Lemonade three years ago. But it's not the money you spend on water ice or custard that helps the children's cancer charity started by the family of the late Alexandra Scott (1996-2004).

Rita's raises money for the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation exclusively by selling paper lemons at $1 a pop this month at 550 stores, including its Philadelphia-area outlets.

In 2006, that raised $510,000; in 2007, $530,000; and last year, $520,000. Owner Jim Rudolph wants franchisees of the growing chain to raise more this year.