Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's Only a Car

I need to get rid of my car.

This is not a surprise. By the time I left Maine I had already stopped driving at night if I could help it, and the availability of public transportation was a major reason for moving back to the big city. I love public transportation. Last Friday I took the Metro, cabs, and a shuttle bus to get all over the city, as my car sat unused on the lowest floor of an underground garage. I go days without even thinking about my car, though I'm still paying to insure it and it costs me $100/month to park it. Giving up the car should be a no-brainer.

So why isn't it? Why can't I even talk about getting rid of my car without starting to cry?

Foolishly, I thought I'd skipped my midlife crisis, or had it early by running off to Los Angeles in 1999, and then to Maine in 2004. I was always precocious that way, and congratulated myself that I did not need to have a midlife crisis, as I had never envisioned my life in terms of the goals that other people work toward (spouse, children, career, home-ownership, etc.), and therefore felt no corresponding anticlimax. I had gone from one career to another without any plans at all, I told myself. As long as I stay healthy I'll never have to retire, and I've never kept score the way most people do anyway. Yay me!

But here it is, and here I am, and here is this car, the last car I'll ever own, my own personal memento mori.

It's kind of stupid that the car is what's brought me here, because I never even wanted to drive. My Grandmother McLaughlin never learned how, which has become something of a family legend. I mean, she was a 20th-century woman; she died (much too young) in 1971.  I never got the chance to ask my mother, but would like to ask my aunt and uncles exactly how that worked. Even with deliveries, wouldn't she have been trapped at home? Or was she agoraphobic (one of several tendencies that run down multiple branches of my family)?

I wasn't agoraphobic, nor am I. I just didn't want to drive, and when I was 15, it seemed absurd that anyone would expect me to. It still seems absurd that we ask 15-year-olds to manage control of a multi-ton moving object. Sixteen is a ridiculously young age for a driver's license, and most American drivers (including me) get their licenses with the bare minimum of physical and mental skills required to operate an extremely dangerous piece of machinery. I was not, am not, a skillful driver. I have managed not to cause anyone personal injury. That's not a high standard.

My first car was an impulse buy, in my mid-20s. I was living in the outer suburbs, and needed a car. A friend in the Foreign Service had a colleague who was leaving the country and needed to sell her car cheap. I got what I paid for: a 10-year-old brown Mercury Lynx that had never been maintained and died on the street about three weeks after I acquired it.

My next car was a new car, and heavy with symbolism. It was a Saturn, the union-built model from Tennessee that was supposed to save the American car industry. I bought a four-door sedan, because I was dating someone I thought I might marry, and it seemed practical to buy a car that would eventually accommodate a car seat. The relationship ended within weeks of my buying the car; although breaking up wasn't my idea, in retrospect I think the car showed me that I didn't need him. That car lasted seven years — longer, or at least more stable, than any romantic relationship I've had — and took me across the country to Los Angeles, where I sold it to a friend because everyone knows you can't drive a stick shift in L.A.

The current car, the Blueberrymobile, was purchased new in Santa Monica after a legitimate, well-reasoned search (assisted by my cousins Sheila and Moira). The travails and triumphs of that car are well-known to longtime readers of this blog. Suffice to say that although I have not always been the most responsible owner, the car has gotten me from West to East, from North to South, and has earned a good long rest.

The car is just a car. But it's also my personal history, my independence, and my optimism. Giving it up means acknowledging that I will, in the foreseeable future, become less mobile, less independent, less free and eventually dead. This is not a tragedy; this is life. I've been extraordinarily lucky to have everything I've had for as long as I've had it — and most of all I want the dignity of not being the last to know I need to get off the road.

So: For Sale. 2000 VW Beetle, approximately 156,000 miles, one owner. Any reasonable offer considered.

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