End of the Road

My boyfriend took me grocery shopping. I bought much more than usual for the week, thinking that since we had the car, I’d pick up some heavier items that I don’t need now but won’t want to carry home on the bus when I do. Dropping me off at my house, it was the first time in a few weeks since my car has been to my place.

Inside the car were things I’d just never gotten around to taking into my apartment – a pair of rain boots, a flowerpot to carry items I didn’t want to tip or roll. In the trunk was a blanket, bags of potting soil from last fall, and some loose ends which just needed going through. I took my groceries and these things inside. When I came out, my boyfriend was still tidying: a center console with storage space, CD storage in front of the gear shift, and the glove box. He pulled papers out of the console. He’s already deposited papers there and wanted me to go through mine. His CDs were stacked above mine. Our paperwork mixed in the glove box.

What was once my place to get away, literally by driving, and figuratively by listening to old CDs or the radio, is gone. He doesn’t listen to my CDs. When we’re driving together, I can’t even listen to the radio.

He handed me papers. “Put them in there,” he said, pointing to the center console – where I didn’t keep papers. But now he does. My registration papers were tossed into a plastic bag along with handwritten notes, directions to a hiking trail. These are things I might have needed or wanted, but now are mostly trash. My boyfriend will look up directions or plug them into his GPS should I ever ask to go there again. All of my things are useless, unnecessary, unwanted.

My throat tightened. I’ve lost time I could spend alone, to listen to the radio shows that once filled my weekend commutes, to be with my thoughts, to do my own thing. I’m giving up my time to do things I would like to do the way I want to do them – now someone else will drive the way they want, how they want. I won’t be able to control how fast to drive down a mountain road, how slow to go at night when there are deer about, how to merge without anxiety, how to remember directions without having to rely on the GPS Every Single Time. These are things that annoy me already, but I have to give in, give up, and give over.

When I began crying, my boyfriend didn’t understand. He didn’t get a license at sixteen in a rural culture that denies too much to go without one, wasn’t already steeped in car culture at a young age. I admitted to him that I realized it was silly to cry over a hunk of emotionless metal and poisonous chemicals. I imagine it was probably how people used to cry over the death of a horse, a living creature that provided friendship and mobility.

My world of transit is down to the confines of my boyfriend’s schedule or how far something is from a public transportation line. A few people have offered to drive if I need it. But I’m used to people being kind and saying things they don’t really mean, so I’m hesitant to ask unless it’s an emergency. Maybe soon I’ll be able to consider taxis as part of my world, but right now, they still seem too expensive to consider, even for short jaunts.

I’m lucky to be in a walkable city with public transportation options. I’m thankful that there are many people around me who also don’t have cars and live well mostly without them, but for me this will still take getting used to.


Car Gone

I was wrong. In my last post, I had thought I would have my car a little longer. But things don’t work the way you want them to. The car is no longer mine. Everything is happening much faster than I would like it to.

empty garage

empty garage (Photo credit: So gesehen.)

Last weekend when I got to my boyfriend’s house, his car was missing and mine had the prized spot in the driveway. He’d been able to sell his car during the week. So then we had to talk about what to do with my car.

We initially thought, as his insurance had told him, that we’d be able to put me on his insurance, and then he would drive my car. I had already paid for registration, inspection, and so it didn’t seem to make sense to pay for them all over again. When my registration runs out at the beginning of 2014, we thought we’d revisit selling the car to him.

But since he has no car and isn’t the owner of mine, his insurance wouldn’t allow our initial plan. He called me during the week and came by my place. It was too late to get in touch with my insurance, and he had only two days left to get his paperwork in order.  I was a little annoyed – I mean how would someone leave their car with someone else were they to go out of the country for a few months or a year? Do they just take a chance and hope that nothing happens to it? It seems ridiculous.

So I signed the car over to him, making him owner. I felt a little upset, knowing that the car won’t really be mine anymore. There was a tiny touch of relief, if only because I’ll be able to cancel my insurance and won’t have to deal with some of the bills for upkeep, but I felt like I was also losing something. She’s not going far, but I wasn’t so ready to lose her to someone else.

It doesn’t feel strange knowing I don’t have a car anymore — especially since I haven’t driven for a few months now, but when we go to NH, when we ride around the roads I know so well and pass the places I used to drive past, where my driving memories are strongest, I know I’ll be more upset, or agitated, or short-tempered — all the things that are usual when I get sad about losing something I love.

Cleaning Car

It’s that time of the year again – time for the spring car wash.

The weather is warming, the sun is mostly shining, and the April rain has mostly eased off. It’s time to visit the carwash, if it hasn’t already been done – to get rid of the winter grime, the salt, the sticky film of early season pollen. Since I still have my car, I’m going to have my boyfriend drive me to a carwash next weekend.

One thing I’ve realized, since he’s been in possession of my car these past few months, is how much of a difference we have in understanding the nuances and necessities of car ownership. Washing a car, for example, is, for him, something that can be left undone. It’s not a necessity. And if it is done – go through the automat.

When I fell in love the first time, I remember being excited about caring for my automobile. I was talking about taking it to the automatic carwash. Someone in my family advised me against it. “Don’t do it,” he said. “Wash your car by hand. Dirt gets caught in the automatic brushes and foaming spinners. You’ll get your car scratched. It’s not worth it.”

So the first time I took a car through the automat was with my present car a few years ago. Definitely not worth it. Several light scratches along the doors. And the places that needed a bit of a scrub were untouched. I needed to go around and pick and rub off road dirt and bird droppings afterwards.

The first car I really loved I washed twice a year. Once in the spring and once, lightly, in the fall before it got too cold. The spring wash was a day-long event. I loved that ’78 Ford.

The driveway was gravel, so it was easy to wash at home. It was blue with a red vinyl interior, and, as a two-door, large windows. It was built back when cars were still mostly metal. My ’78’s bumpers were metal and chromed. Only a few clips and non-essentials were plastic.

Each spring for the years I drove her, I would put aside a Saturday to make her shine. First came cleaning inside. A vacuum to the floors. ArmorAll to the vinyl seats and dash. Glass cleaner.  At some point, I’d get the washing soap in a bucket – proper car soap, no dishwashing crap like we’d do at school fundraisers. There were soft sponges and cloths that had been stored away from dirt or debris.  The car air-dried after a rinse. Then a slow study around the exterior with a polish.

The first time I did this, after the car had been sitting two years in a garage, it took me six hours. The car didn’t have any real value except to me, but I thought that it looked like a million bucks after that work. As a kid just out of high school, I didn’t  have a lot of money, so the polish wasn’t great and by autumn’s end, a few months after wash number 2, the paint would have returned to that matte look.

My boyfriend, who didn’t learn how to drive  or have a car until coming to the US, thinks I’m crazy for wanting to wash my car. It hasn’t been washed yet this year, and after all the snow and being left on the street to be regularly salted by plowtrucks and traffic, I’m getting edgy. I’ve tried to explain wear and rust and upkeep, but he looks at me blankly.

I told him that this weekend, when we’re up visiting my parents, that he should be prepared to drive to the nearby carwash with vacuums. I’m going to use the pull-through wash with the various scrubbers and water pressures I can control. I’ll have to hope that the last person in there didn’t run the sponges over the dirt after they finished.

The car could probably use a polish like my ’78, but I won’t have the time to spare. But I want to do one last really good wash and clean while it’s still mine.

Breaking up is hard

When I was a little girl, I had a toy racetrack. I would set it up in the living room and race the cars over their plastic and electrified oval. I loved it. Occasionally the electric track would give me a jolting shock that turned me away from it for a little while. But I always went back.

I drove my Matchbox cars and trucks and tractors over the windowsills and tables and the floor. I was pretty pissed off when my mother up and gave them to my younger brother several years later – maybe because he was a boy. I only had dolls left. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my dolls as well, but those awesome cars were mine and my brother had no right to them.

Growing up in rural NH it’s hard not to fall in love with the automobile. It is the only mode of transportation

Muddy dirt road during Mud Season

Muddy dirt road during Mud Season (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– even if you do get snowed in during storms, or require chains to get to town, or drive over dirt roads that might wash out in the spring or turn into sticky pits and mires during mud season.

When I was sixteen I finally got my own car. I’d saved up for it and although it wasn’t flashy, I was glad to be driving. The feeling has faded somewhat in the past few years. But I still love my car. I’ve traveled across two countries by automobile. I’ve owned six myself, one after another, until now.

So now I feel like I’m ending a relationship. I’ve decided to sell my car. And although I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, it’s not easy. Health issues mean I have to stop driving, although unlike my mother with her deteriorating eyes and bad knees, I’m only 35 and otherwise mobile. But an ultimatum has never sounded so harsh. Not knowing when I can drive again, possibly ever, has taken my relationship with automobiles from a friendly growing apart to a feeling of an ugly breakup.

I feel like a bitter Bogart in Casablanca. But instead of an Ingrid Bergman, I’m enamored with an oily, mechanical, cold set of metal, nuts, bolts, hoses, and a lot of fluids.  So I’m going to try writing to go through the motions and record the memories. But I’m also going to try to see where I’m going from here. What does it mean to live in America without a car? What are the other options? How easy is it to get around?