Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Despite being a native Angeleno, I’m not enthralled with cars or driving. I wasn’t eager to get my driver’s license; I didn’t beg to get a car; I rarely volunteer to drive the carpool, and I don’t know where the drive-thru fast food places are. Because I like to observe, I much prefer public transport, or, better yet, safety and comfy shoes permitting, walking.  While driving, one is required to be vigilant rather than observant, but I tend to slide from the former into the latter, which isn’t safe and I realize that.

It doesn’t matter so much if I’m caught in traffic on the 405.  Being vigilant, I notice the driver to my right is shaving with an electric razor.  But then I observe how he shakes out the razor and start wondering if his car is coated with a fine prickly silver dust of razor stubble and if so, how thick is it?  It’s kind of gross, but how much grosser than, say, dog hair, which isn’t as prickly but probably stinks a little and - -


I dutifully pull up the half car length that appeared during my observation/wonderings.

And then I become aware that the driver to my left is reading a book, and of course I start wondering what kind of book he could be reading.  It must be pretty intriguing since he can’t put it down long enough to drive where he’s going.   At least I’m not reading, and I feel a little better about myself, but he’s so interested in the book that I’m a little jealous.  Maybe he’s reading an assignment, but he’s too old to be a student.  No, that’s stereotyping.  He could be a  - -


I’m careful as I nudge my way forward because the driver in front of me is applying make-up.  She’s curling her eyelashes and I have to wonder if she’s ever been startled and accidentally pinched off her lashes.  Then she applies mascara and I obsess about rear ending her because just a little bump could cause her to jab her eye and I think if I bumped her just a tiny bit, that would teach her a lesson about how dangerous that is.  But then I imagine her eye on a mascara wand looking something like a Halloween Charm Pop and that freaks me out.  What would she do and how would the other drivers around her act, because for sure they’d notice a woman with an “eyeball pop,” wouldn’t they?


My family is aware of my tendencies.  Safety and practicality were always top priority.

The first car I drove was the family’s silver station wagon, a 1968 Chevy Impala.  

“It’s heavy and safe,” my mother declared.

It was a behemoth of steel.  Once, while my sister and I slept soundly in the far back, we awoke to a thump and the sound of breaking glass.  We’d been rear-ended. My father cursed, stomped on the parking brake, and went out to inspect the damage.  It was raining and my sister and I, hands and noses flattened against the back window, strained to see into the watery night. The other car had broken headlights and a drooping front bumper.  My dad grumbled something, got back in the car and we drove off.  The next morning, I hurried out to see the damage to our car, hoping it would enhance the tale of Our Car Crash.  But the effect was lost when I saw that the only damage sustained was the tiny bent step, a palm-sized, rubber topped protrusion.  My sister made the first and only dent in the car 11 years later, when she took out the cement block wall in the high school senior parking lot.

My next car was also “safe and reliable,” a Honda Accord that my parents purchased from a family friend the year before I graduated college. The only thrill about it was that it was a stick shift.  My sister eagerly taught me how to drive it.  Oddly, it was my future husband who had taught her how to drive stick.  I brought the car with me to Baton Rouge, where it was totaled on a rainy day when, ironically, I was rear ended.  However, I had run into the car in front of me first while sharing my observations with my passengers (who weren’t harmed).

My mother made me promise to buy something “safe and reliable.” I did.  I drove that car to Washington, D.C. and then over the Chesapeake Bridge.  My vigilance slipped into the observation and I realized that at some point, between the “bridge” becoming a tunnel, there was water level.  I panicked.  What would happen if a big ship came by, creating a giant wake?  Wouldn’t the tunnels flood?  I pulled over in one of the observation areas, and my then boyfriend took over driving duties while I scanned the bay for giant ships and rolled down the windows, planning to get out of the car before the water in the tunnels peaked.

It wasn’t until I got tenure as a high school teacher, that I decided I would finally get a car that I wanted, one that I might actually enjoy driving.  I saw a convertible 1997 Toyota Celica. My husband slid in next to me and his head scrubbed the ceiling.  I pictured his bald spot getting larger with the chafing.

“If you like it, honey, get it.  It’s your car,” my husband said.

But I was already picturing him driving it.

There was a Mitsubishi Eclipse parked next to the Celica.  We tried that.  My husband’s head cleared. 

“Why would you go do something stupid like buy a convertible?  The roofs tear and leak in the rain,” my dad snorted.

“Because it’s fun,” I said, at least as “fun” as a mode of transportation could be. 

I like the car because it gives me some variety (top up or down?), and it’s pretty.  I thought that having a smaller car would make me more vigilant, but it doesn’t.  My husband was afraid to drive it since we wouldn’t be able to afford the insurance if he got a speeding ticket.  The car doesn’t have many miles on it, considering its age.

When the Eclipse started rattling, my husband said it was time for something new.  I’ve kept the car for 12 years partially because it meant no car payments, but also because I didn’t see what difference a newer car would make.  But he was right.  We needed something that would allow us to transport the dogs.  I’ve never liked SUVs, so that left “cross-overs” or station wagons.  I checked out the Prius V.  It wasn’t stylish but it was reliable and safe.  But the gadgetry concerned me.  Would my exterior observations be drawn into the interior?  Then I saw the gas mileage:  42 miles to the gallon compared to 24.  Sold.

It’s just dawned on me.  I’m back to a silver station wagon.

“Let’s take your car, honey,” my husband said as we prepared for a weekend trip.

“Sure, but you drive,” I said.


  1. Perhaps it's best to be both vigilant and observant at the same time. Hehe. I wonder what's up with the guy who shaves during traffic. I mean that's kind of unsafe and, yeah, unsanitary! ;D

  2. See? You're wondering, too! And what about those people brushing their teeth? Where do they spit? I try to be both vigilant and observant, but observant is much more interesting that I get stuck. So many questions, so little brain bandwidth. Say, you're not my insurance agent, are you?

  3. I actually prefer driving a stick shift to keep me awake while driving at night. Compared to an automatic transmission, you get to move a lot while keeping your focus on the gear shifts and the pedals. This actually keeps you very alert, and living on an uphill road, it's actually pretty helpful.

    Marvis Carswell

  4. Oh, I totally agree, Marvis. I actually enjoyed driving stick shift for that very reason. However, when I moved to Los Angeles and got caught in bumper to bumper traffic, the "fun" wore off ... and the distractions appeared.


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