Saturday, January 31, 2009

Car Be Gone

For the first time in 16 years I will be car-free on Monday. It's been about a year since I've stopped using it to commute, and the "smart lease" is up this week, so it seemed like the right decision to return it to Honda for the amount left on the loan. But it leaves me feeling unsettled and strangely vulnerable. I don't think Zipcar will fill that gap, but hopefully it will provide me with a car when I need one.

Driving is my preferred mode of transport. I like the comfort of having my stuff safely ensconsed within a metal frame, the radio on, the heated seats warming my back (regardless of season) and Dexter, my man inside the little computer, telling me when I have reached my destination.

I took driver's ed in high school rather than being in the school play, a choice I regret, because I failed my driving test 3 times. I honestly think that 2 of the failures were because I looked so young and probably retarded. The first time I did not do well in changing lanes, and I know why I failed. But honestly, the other 2 times I did fine, but I think they were also looking for some level of maturity, which I certainly did not project with my purple hair and bad attitude toward adults.
My high school boyfriend then tried to teach me to drive but we always wound up fighting. I did finally pass, and I am now a very good driver, but I am a SUPREME parallel parker. I have twice been literally applauded for getting into an impossibly tight spot.

I bought my first car when I lived in LA. It was a 1980 Plymouth Horizon that was a lemon. I paid $3000, had endless problems with leaking fluids, and then crashed it within 6 weeks into an 18-wheeler truck on the 405 when it was raining and the brakes locked. In some convoluted scheme my father agreed to pay off the loan, which had been given to me by my mother. There was real irony that he was sending her checks, when just a few years previously he had been erratic about sending actual child support checks.

Then I got a really good car, a 1982 Datsun 210. It was an excellent car. Before I left LA I sold it to an Afghani family (there were several of them who showed up every time they came for the test drives and then to sign the papers). They returned to my house a few days after they took possession of the car to ask for the blanket (an Afghan!) that had been in the back seat covering the tears in the upholstery. I had shown them the damage, so it wasn't a surprise, but somehow they thought that I would include the hand-crocheted blanket with the car. My boyfriend told them it was a family heirloom and they left in a huff.
When I moved back to NY there was no reason to have a car, but I was always able to borrow my mother's if I needed to go somewhere, so I didn't own a car for about 5 years. When I was planning my wedding, I was borrowing her car so much that I was rarely returning it. I realized that I was shaving an hour a day off my commute to Inwood, plus I found parking in the East Village not particularly challenging, so I bought myself my own car.

For $550 I got a 1982 Datsun 210, the same exact car I had in LA. It even had the same tears in the backseat upholstery. It was so rusty that when changing a tire one rainy night, the jack went straight through the floor, creating a large hump on the passenger side that filled with water during hard rains. It was a really hard car to drive while pregnant, as it did not have power steering, and parking it was rough on my weak arms. I ran that car into the ground after 3 years and over 110,000 miles.

Next I got a 1983 Honda Civic wagon for $600. It immediately needed a new engine, which I paid $800 for. On the drive back from Long Island the day I picked it up from the engine guy, it smoked and died in Long Island City. I had it towed back to the engine guy who balked at warranteeing his work. The problem was that you couldn't drive it AND have the front grill on at the same time. He did finally fix it and it never had a front grill. It was never a good car, but it was small and easy to park, yet roomy in the trunk. My friends thought I was nuts putting a baby in the back of that car. In the summer the only way to stop it from overheating was to drive with the heat on. It was a very warm car, all the time. Driving it often made me feel like Fred Flinstone, as it would have been faster to get it up a hill by pushing than by driving. I ran that one into the ground after another 3 years and around 125,000 miles.

The 1992 Buick Century was a steal at $4500. It was only a few years old and had around 35,000 miles. I bought it from Doug, my trusty mechanic who shepherded the previous 2 cars through their demise. He had it because the 80 year old man whose it was, couldn't pay the bill after the computer had to be replaced after a break-in. The man had been a parking attendant and bought the car after he noticed the previous owner's lease was up. He had admired the car every time he parked it, went to Potamkin and bought it on the spot after confirming it was the same car he had been parking.

That Buick was the most luxurious car I'd ever been in. It was giant in every way. You could turn the wheel with a whisper. The seats were plushy and soft. The trunk was HUGE, we could fit all our camping gear in it without having to use the backseat. But at about 100,000 miles it was dying. Plus, by that time I had a new job in Long Island and needed something reliable. ]

That led to a 2003 Toyota Camry, in which had an accident resulting in a lawsuit against me personally that is still pending. (Another story; I am confident they have no case and the accident was not my fault.)

I didn't trust that car after the accident, so I turned it in for my first brand new car, the 2006 Honda Accord that I am now returning to Honda after 3 years.

So that is the story of my driving. I don't expect anybody to care about this but me, but I wanted to write it all down while I was reliving the memories of not just the cars themselves, but the interesting places they took me, and the adventures they led me on.


hntrnyc said...

Actually as a Detroit boy and a former owner of a variety of cars and trucks......I feel ya. There is something to be said about the autonomy that a ton or two of steel can provide. Although at almost seven years back in the city, I can't even imagine owning a car here. Just too much work.......

Jill said...

It's a lot of work if you don't drive to work every day and basically move it from side to side, which is what we'd been doing for the past year. But now that I'm car-free, I can begin to scorn the people who keep a car in the city. Ahhh... I feel better already :)

Jill said...
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