Saturday, April 08, 2006

Along for the Ride

I had the best intentions of posting earlier this week, but it’s been kind of crazy-busy - it's one of those weeks where Boo and I hardly saw each other during waking hours from Monday through Friday. And nothing large is going on, so that makes it more of a struggle as well. So, here’s the lowdown – It’s Spring!

Every year in Minnesota, there’s a day in April that you are outside, perhaps driving to work, and you realize something is different than yesterday. What could it be…. OMG, all the lawns are green! It literally happens overnight, without warning. Ka-GREEN! That day was yesterday. Which usually means we’re about two or three weeks from the day we’ll wake up and all of the trees and bushes will have gone Ker-LEAF! and the streets will be shaded, and the ugly houses that you can’t help but notice all winter long will vanish again, and the temps will just be reaching the high end of the balmy stage. And, frankly, I’m so ready.

I’ve been scootering all week, even though I really need to get an oil change done before I put too many more miles on. It’s still viciously cool in the morning – generally between 30 and 35 Fahrenheit, but I can’t resist knowing it’s going to be between 50 and 60 by afternoon. Riding my scooter always puts a smile on my face, even if the bitter wind is making my eyes stream like the ending of Greg Araki’s Totally F***ed Up. Since I work downtown, and since my motorcycle tag means I can’t legally park on sidewalks, I needed to find a place to park reasonably close to my office.

So I went and got a parking permit for the big lot on the Capitol Complex, which always seems to be more effort than it needs to be. Yes, I know that it’s absolutely shocking, unheard of, that I don’t have a car. That I haven’t been on some waiting list for 8 months to get a precious parking spot. That I go everywhere either on scooter, the bus, or the largesse of my vehicle-owning friends. That I do not now, nor will I ever need to park a car in your precious and limited-space lots – I just need to park my tiny 300 lb bike in that unusable space next to the bike lockers. Yes, I know that it’s a pain in your ass to have to find out the special contract rate that applies, apparently, to me alone in all of the state. On the other hand, that’s your job. Deal with it.

I never really set out to a member of the car-less set. But it’s worked out that way, and the longer I do it, the more I appreciate not having to deal with a car and all that it entails. When Dave and I first moved in together back in our junior year of college, we lived in Northfield and could pretty much walk or bicycle anywhere in town. When I became a senior and a move to the cities looked pretty imminent, he started car shopping. He settled on a wholly impractical but rapturously cute Opel GT with a fresh red paint job. He kept it for a couple of years, and I drove it very occasionally for the rare longer commute to a temp job or employment interview, until a bit of metallic grit started showing up in the oil, and we feared the end was near and likely to be most unattractive. Since we were living near the U where he was attending and working, and we were on a busline right into downtown, and I was already taking the bus to get to the VA and most everywhere else, we did not replace it.

When we broke up, he bought a small pickup truck; I simply moved closer to downtown and bought a bicycle. When I moved in with Michael, we stayed in the neighborhood, and he too was carless, but soon decided he needed a vehicle. So he got the first of a series of small “economy” coupes, which periodically conspired to eat huge chunks of our already thinly-stretched finances. Whether it was replacing a window broken out by luckless, but nevertheless annoying thieves, repairing a heating system that suddenly decided to start spewing steamy coolant-scented air into the passenger compartment (not a good way to defrost the windshield), reserving a winter parking spot in our crowded urban neighborhood, or simply paying the 6-month premium for an under-25 year old male, money was constantly flying out of the joint account to accommodate the endless hungers of vehicle maintenance. I grew to hate the evil things with an abiding loathing. Mind you, I love driving – it’s relaxing, it’s fun, it’s nice to get out of the cities once in a while, but everything else about it purely and simply sucks like a giant sucking thing that sucks.

Just as I finished my schooling for my education license, Michael and I bid each other a fond adieu, and unfortunately, I found that I needed to own a car of my own if I really intended to substitute teach until I found a permanent teaching job. After struggling with the math of the situation, I found myself in the position that most every late 20-something hates – on the receiving end of the largesse of my parents. They gave me their five year old Subaru, and Dad purchased his first motorcycle. Boo and I had one of our first bonding experiences as we drove the Subaru back from Oregon to Minnesota in March about 12 years ago.

The trip was a beauty, through deeply-foggy Idaho, where we could seldom see more than 20 feet of the roadside. Breathtaking Utah, where Boo’s friend Kerri dragged us up into the Wasatch above Salt Lake City for brunch and sunlit, snow-covered views to stop your heart. On into Colorado where Boo conveniently neglected to mention the avalanche that had closed portions of the road the previous week and through eastern Colorado where the flatness begins, and the one stop we made for gas made us quickly realize why so many horror movies are set in the vacant American reaches of desert and emptiness populated by racists, isolationists, Bible-beating crazies, and redneck truck drivers. We paid for the gas, ran for the car, locked the doors, rolled the windows, and drove as quickly as we could on into Nebraska. Which looks pretty much like eastern Colorado – featureless flat for miles and miles and miles. Yet unlike Colorado, Nebraska has sculpture gardens at its roadside rest stops. No, really, it does. We stopped at one without realizing this, at about dusk, and after obviating the necessaries, suddenly realized there was an odd, lurching, shape jutting up out of the field next to the building. Closer by, was another strange, uh, thing. “Huh.” We remarked. Naturally, we had to check the next rest stop to see if this was an isolated thing. This is where we found the plaque describing the phenomenon, and, of course, this greatly slowed our progress through Nebraska as we then had to stop at almost every rest stop to view the art. We spent the night in Omaha (well, technically Council Bluffs, but we’ll pretend it was Omaha, okay?), and had the largest and cheapest breakfast we’ve ever attempted to eat, at some diner in Old Town that I can’t remember the name of anymore. We were amazed at the low prices of antiques, art, and collectibles in the nearby galleries, but had no money to spend. So back on the road. Iowa passed without incident, and, of course, as soon as we got within Minnesota proper it started snowing. By Albert Lea, it was a virtual blizzard, and remained heavy and slow going for the remainder of the four hours it took to drive this normally 90 minute route.

We got back into Minneapolis, and Boo promptly had a little fender bender with a street sign. Fuck.

That poor Subaru. We tried, really we did. But we had to park it on the street by our apartment building. It got hit and run twice that first winter alone. Also, as it aged, the maintenance costs became more expensive as well as more capricious. Further, there was Boo’s “car curse” to contend with. This is a long story that he should probably tell, but he is cursed. The stories involving him behind the wheel are both terrifying and numerous. Grouchbutt can back this up. Ask him about the "flying wheelbarrow" incident. The previous paragraph should have come as no surprise had I already known Boo's history. Of course, if I had, he’d have never been allowed to drive.

We got a lot of use out of the Subaru, and even drove it to Atlanta and back for Boo’s sister’s wedding one August, but it always felt like we were on borrowed time. The final straw involved Boo running late to pick me up at work, an entrance ramp, the Subaru’s hood flying up suddenly and inexplicably and wrapping itself over the top of the windshield, and the simultaneous perforation of the exhaust system. I continued to drive it for a few more months, but it was never the same with its hood tied down with rope, the exhaust blatting out at an ear-splitting decibel range, and most of the body threatening to rust off at any moment.

Since then I have been without a car, aside from the occasional rental. Boo let his license lapse, which is probably safer for everyone. We bus to work, and to run errands, and to our various hobbies and entertainments. Friends drive us from time to time, though we prefer to not rely on this. Initially, I thought I might get another car, but the longer I didn’t the happier I became not owning one. Aside from the avoidance of fuel price increases, rush-hour snarls and road rage, we have avoided the expenses of car payment, insurance payment, maintenance. Ah, maintenance. The out-of-the-blue $600 charges. That I do not miss.

Scooter arrived out of necessity. Two years ago, the drivers at MetroTransit went on strike, and the problem with having the bus as sole means of transportation became readily apparent. After renting a series of vehicles for five weeks, I decided my credit card could stand no more. So I did some quick research and bought my Metropolitan the week before Easter 2004. It’s been love ever since. My insurance is $80 a year. I get 90 miles to the gallon. I go all over town at 35 miles an hour. The first year I put 3200 miles on it between April and December, when it finally snowed enough to make me stop.

I mailed my final payment this past week. She’s mine, all mine. Come on, warm weather. I’m ready.

PS: In other news of good things happening for Grouchbutt's birthday, this made me very happy. I hope that useless ignorant bitch and I aren't parking in the same lot.

1 comment:

julie beth said...

scooter love!

oh, and my subaru is slowly committing suicide, as well.

good thing i have starbuck.