Heck on wheels, hell of a ride

My first driver’s license picture was awesome.  I’m still sad I had to turn it in for the renewal, because really?  I was having not just fantastic hair but fantastic everything the day I passed my first driver’s test.

My current picture isn’t so bad.  I look a bit gaunt in the way that ladies’ faces thin out as one crests 35 and heads toward 40;  I’m also a little squint-eyed, since for whatever reason they make you take off your glasses– crazy, if you ask me, since my license is, in fact, vision-restricted.  Compared with my passport, though, where I look like a hungover Yertle the Turtle?  I’m not going to complain.

Driving has always been a mixed thing to me; when I didn’t have a car, I used the T and while I cursed the inconvenience at times, I was never unaware of the luxury of living in Boston and/or a state where it was, in fact, possible to get from one place to another without a car, even if it was a little harder in some parts than others.  I know that isn’t the case everywhere, and that cars really are freedom (and the lack of cars are a trap).  I enjoyed cruising with friends in high school, music loud and rolling slow with the windows down at the beach, wasting gas all summer long and checking out cuties no one had the metaphorical balls to get out of the car to talk to.  I’m not a huge gearhead– I appreciate a good-looking car, but I’d never waste the money on one.  (I saw the new Subaru sportscar recently and admired its looks, but mostly I thought– I bet that gets awesome traction.)  At the end of the day, I always come back to the station wagon, because if you’re going to pack up and go, you’ve got to have room for a bookcase.

I think that’s as good a criteria for choosing a car as some other.

Cars can be a trap, though– if you’re stuck with someone who’s a terrible driver, or critiques every damned thing you do, it’s a nightmare, and bad traffic, year after year on a commute, can wear down even the most patient of souls.  Certainly, I was glad to no longer be doing three state circuits when I gave up practicing law; conducting business by phone and dictating reports while driving in order to keep up with the billable hours took away the pleasure of– watching the scenery, listening to a book, even doing a continuing ed course because if you were going to drive five hours, you might as well learn, amiright?  And then, again, recently, I was glad to no longer be hauling across the worst of downtown Boston’s traffic, though of course probably part of the dread of that drive came from hating my job toward the end.

Still, though– it’s great to be able to get up and go, to drive by yourself, to find a windy, curved road at night and play Foo Fighters (as a for instance) too loudly (I make no secret about the fact that my inner driver is an 18 year old boy who’s kind of a jerk) while the cool late summer air comes in through the lowered windows and you feel the pedals and the wheel like they’re part of your limbs, each dip and curve and surge of the road like you and the engine are running, together.  It’s an escape, a solitude, a private space when you lack others– lord knows I spent almost a year sobbing to and from work while my marriage dissolved and I tried to decided what the fuck I should do.  I probably had more realizations during late-night drive home and pre-dawn pulls out of the driveway, just because it was an hour, alone to myself, where I could think whatever I wanted.  Pre-dawn, as the sky changes color, is a thought-provoking time in the car, I have found.  I listened to a lot of albums that I needed to hear to tell me how to feel, because I was numb and not ready to accept all the decisions I was going to have to make, and that (outdated) in-dash CD system and great set of speakers surrounded me with lyrics that told me what I’d need to get ready to do.

When I started driving, I was more shy; I definitely have evolved into the person who does pull over this car, but who honks her horn less and doesn’t scream with road rage.  I don’t deal in threats anymore, I just do– pull right over.  You don’t like how I drive?  You can either drive, get out and find your own goddamned way, or shut the hell up.  I’m not going to take critiques of my competence (yes, projection much?) when you’re (universal) refusing to take up responsibility for doing it “better.”

The fact is, I think I’m a pretty good driver.  I know how to park, so much so that I have gotten applause from truck drivers and cops.  I know the back streets of Boston.  I have only once lost my car at the mall, and I blame blood sugar and walking pneumonia.  My car is equipped with a shawl, a fleece, an emergency kit (SO many people don’t have jumper cables), extra shoes & socks, mittens & a hat (also flashlights, toolkits, matches, swiss army knives, and more fast food napkins than you can shake a mood swing at).  I have a bag full of maps and print out directions well in advance of any one trip because yes, I’ve had GPS, but at the end of the day– I’ve evolved into the person who knows it’s probably best if I figure out my own way there, rather than wait for some omniscient shiny voice to tell me.  Reception is patchy, you know.

I don’t drive as much since this most recent job transfer as before– I use it on weekends, for errands, for pleasure jaunts to meet up with friends or when I’m driving with my Dad, since I do know how to drive a stick but his inherent paranoia and distrust make it impossible to suggest that we maybe drive his.  (Really, my car’s more comfortable, anyway, and I’m a better, faster driver.)

I’ve had one serious accident, where I fell asleep at the wheel and snapped the suspension; I was ok, the car, not so much.  I was 18.  Since then, I’ve had one rear-ender maybe ten years ago where the guy in front of me stopped short on an entry ramp to the highway, and one side-swipe three/four years ago where the other driver pulled an illegal turn and ripped my front bumper off.

A month ago, a distracted, lost driver changed his mind about where to go in a big intersection in town and decided that turning left into the side of my car was really what he should do.  It wasn’t a big deal, in that everybody was fine, his car was bigger than mine (SUVs, man) and my car could be driven, but one of my doors was dinged all to heck and was going to have to get fixed or it’d rust and get worse.  Considering that my faithful gold steed had 144,000 miles, rust is a potential concern.  They assessed fault, made an offer, and I dithered about it.  This past Friday, I got into an accident where the car two cars ahead of us stopped short.  It was the usual chain reaction; I didn’t hit my brakes soon enough and hit the back of the car in front of me– too fast to brake hard enough, and my foot slipped off the brake.  My radiator, hood, and front bumper all crunched– good, safe car design, my airbag didn’t even deploy, and the car actually drove the half mile home, radiator alarm blaring the whole way, so, 10/10, would buy the car again– but that– that was it.  Everyone was fine (well, who knows about the first car, that shithead took off) but not my poor car.

I got super-lucky.  The insurance company still honored the offer I hadn’t accepted, and the salvage company came and picked it up today.  I’m going to have to save a little more cash to buy a decent used car, but– they didn’t screw around with the value, and for the age of the car and the relative cosmetic damage before this most recent accident, it was a more than fair deal.

I take the T to work.  I can take the T to run most of my errands.  I can move pharmacies to the one next to work.  I can get a serious discount on a Zipcar membership through work if I need to just get away.  I should ride my bike more, get panniers, too, use that and just shop more frequently for food & the like.  If it fits on the bike, then I’m good.

I’ll be buying another car, nevertheless.

This morning, I was putting the keys in the empty car, stripped of plates and personal effects, and I didn’t want to close the door on– all of it.  My first new car, that I paid for with adult job wages, that I bought and used to adult, marriage & family trips, that I used to get myself out of bad situations and which was a haven on wheels even more than it was a stifling tin can.  But all things must come to an end– and sometimes they end with a bang, not a sideswipe.  I have learned to be zen about the fact that things change, that we can’t control everything, and that crap just happens sometimes, even when it’s not wholly your fault.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss my stupid 2003 Mojave Beige VW Jetta Wagon with traction control, heated seats, alloy wheels and sunroof.

At least it happened head-on.  Somehow it makes the transition not quite so bad.  I knew I wouldn’t have that car forever, and it’s not like I named it, or expected it to last 300,000 miles.  Still, though– it wasn’t a heck of a lot of warning, but in those last three seconds, at least I saw it coming.

We’ll see where the road leads next, I suppose.


2 thoughts on “Heck on wheels, hell of a ride

    1. She Curmudgeon Post author

      I am glad, for everyone’s sake, that it was minor as well. But I miss the instant mobility of having a car, even if walking more and being tied to the schedules of the bus will both make my day longer and make me more meta-aware of the passing of time– as well as make me walk more! : )


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