mercredi 15 octobre 2008

Ain't she sweet?

My sweet ride, parked at Fourth Beach, on the road to Forks, Washington

I have never been interested in cars or understood why some people are. For me, their appeal has always been utilitarian. This may not be surprising in and of itself; after all, I am not a man. I used to laugh when I would see couples on the sidewalks of Paris: she, peering intently into a shop window; he,staring at the fancy car parked on the street in front of the shop window. And never the twain shall meet.

What makes my indifference odd is that I should have the car business in my blood. My grandfather owned a Ford dealership, Westside Ford in West Seattle, back in the days when the Big 3 had little competition from Japanese or Western European automakers. His son-in-law, my dad, worked for him and dreamt of escape. My uncle, Grandpa's only son, worked for him and did escape, tragically by blowing his brains out with a shotgun. That's another story, but one of the more poignant details is that he decided to end his life in the little office on the used car lot my grandfather also owned. I was nineteen; I still don't really know why Uncle Jerry killed himself and it is not an easy subject to broach at family gatherings. Maybe that's why I have an aversion to cars.

I rode a bicycle throughout my undergraduate and graduate school days, or took the bus, or hitched a ride with someone, or walked. I finally bought a car when I got a real job working for a biotech start-up -- a brand new Toyota something or other that I paid 5,200 dollars for. Then I left the country and lived for the next 25 years in places where car ownership is both optional and extravagent. I took the bus, I took the métro, I took cabs, I walked.

And then I returned to America and realized within seconds that I would have to drive again. It was only later that I figured out this would mean acquiring my own vehicle. How does it feel to get behind the wheel of a vehicle with a manual transmission after not driving for two and a half decades? Well, what they say about bicycles also applies to cars. One never forgets. But it is a scary feeling: your brain is saying what the hell are you are doing and your body is doing it, whatever it is. Driving. Parallel parking as if you did it every day. But then I had to retake the test, which is another story altogether, with its own little humiliations and triumphs.

In all these years of driving and not driving, only one car has ever caught my fancy and made me want it. The Austin Mini Cooper (the "S" s'il vous plaît). So when our neighbor Matt put a for sale sign on his, it was nearly a done deal. The price was right; the car is in impeccable condition (a 2002 with only 24,000 miles on it -- thank you, Matt); and I have always wanted the Mini to be the car that gets me from here to there. I got my first taste of the notion that motorized motion could be exhilarating when we bought a scooter a couple of years ago. I was still in denial about the absolute necessity of car ownership in America. But driving that scooter was a blast. Well, let me tell you. Driving a Mini is even more of a blast.