Tom thinks I am the worst driver in the world. While “worst” is a strong word, it’s true that I am not the best. But for those who know me (and for those who don’t), this is part of my charm.*
I failed my driver’s license test the first time because I ran a red light. At a freeway intersection.
“Just make a U-turn up ahead and head back to the DMV,” the lady said, beads of sweat on her forehead.
I gave her a surprised look. It’s not like I hit anything.
“So, you don’t want me to finish the test.”
“No, I do not,” she said, wiping her brow. Apparently running a red light is an automatic fail.
Since then, I’ve run more red lights, driven on a flat tire until it burst into flames and disintegrated (with children in the car), gently bumped into a runner while turning out of my parents’ neighborhood (she was irritated but ran off) and frightened Tom during that incident in Maine, which I still can’t write about.
I’ve also crashed into an old lady’s house. How this, uh, fender bender happened is a fuzzy mystery, though I distinctly remember waiting nervously by her front door, examining the damage I did to her stucco wall (very light, could have been the garden hose) when the screen door swung upon.
A woman around seventy or so, in a flowered dress and curly white hair – someone’s sweet and gentle grandmother – peered at me in wary shock.
“Was that you?” she warbled.
“Yes,” I said, not sure how to explain.
“Oh my goodness,” her hands to heart, “I thought it was Armageddon!”
So I am not the best driver. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have strong opinions about cars.
Back in California I drove a Toyota Prius, a thinking girl’s car. A discreet status symbol (Is she a college dropout tech billionaire? Nope. Just a college dropout.) Everyone in LA who drove a Prius (including Brad Pitt) would smile and nod at each other on the freeway. The Prius Nod.
Oh, you’re saving the environment? Me too! Here, I’ll let you cut in front of me.
Then I met Tom. He hates the Prius (which he pronounces like “PRY-us”) because he insists it looks like an egg (so what if it does), cost more than it should, and, because he takes the time to research dubious claims, knows that it causes more environmental damage to produce than it prevents.
Whatever. That Tom, always arguing with facts. His dream-within-reach-car is a Miata.
“A Mazda? Why?”
“Why not,” said Tom, “It handles really well.”
That may be so, but a car is not merely about mechanics or technicalities. Cars – like clothes, furniture choices and social media profile photos- send certain messages about who we think we are.
Twenty years ago driving a Hyundai would have said, “I have money problems and probably no future.” Now it says, “I’m a reasonable millennial with a decent paying job and Hyundai has really turned itself around with great design and an unbeatable warranty.”
A pearly white BMW 3 Series or Lexus IS 300 with white interiors and overly perfume-y air freshener says, “I’m a rich Asian kid who goes to USC. My daddy bought this car in cash.”
A Range Rover says, “I have too much money and like to try fixing things that can’t be fixed.”
A mini-van says, “There are stains in here.”
But there are always exceptions and variations, like my cousin who pays for her own Bimmer 3 series, my aunt who bought her own Lexus LS and my other cousins, well-heeled jet-setters with toddler who somehow made driving a Honda Odyssey seem cool.
And like the car you drive (or don’t drive), the car you want to drive also says a lot about you. Back to Tom’s Miata.
“That’s like the mid-life crisis car,” a friend said, “but not even a nice one. It’s got plastic parts.”
“Why not a BMW or an Audi?” I said, “Don’t those cars handle pretty well without the stigma of driving a mid-life crisis Mazda?”
Tom scoffed. With me at least, the argument was pointless. In hindsight though, the argument was about different things.
“You wouldn’t recognize good handling if you crashed into a house.”
“Doesn’t that mean the car didn’t handle too well?”
“No, it means you’re a terrible driver. You could drive a school bus or a Ferrari. Either way that house is going down.”
To finish, here’s a video from my and Tom’s first road trip together, from London to Oxford and Bath. It was also his first appearance in my Instagram. Happy Thursday! Drive safe 🙂
*”If you have to tell someone it’s part of your charm, it’s not part of your charm,” says Tom.