MY mother used to boast, tongue-in-cheek, that we were related to the great race car driver Stirling Moss.
Moss had apparently been married to a distant relative of my dad’s, though we never met him or his wife.
Our family’s close link to fabulous cars and their drivers continued when my parents rented out space in our garage to the owner of a gleaming MG. I also once dated somebody who drove an Alfa Romeo (it was his mother’s).
Er, that’s it for my glamorous car stories. My husband Stanley’s devotion to cars has never amounted to much, either, though he cheerfully recalls his high school sweetheart, a ’66 Corvair convertible.
Beyond that, Stanley and I are not automotive people. It’s the upkeep that poses the problem. In the 1980s, we bought a vintage car from the mother of our friend John. A fastidious engineer, he’d preserved it in mint condition for her for years. We drove it into the ground within months. What can I say? We’re slobs.
For some people, cars are a fetish. As you know, there are drivers who upgrade their transport regularly. They can blather on about mileage, headroom, torque and whatnot, but I suspect that prestige is the key player in this scenario.
The topic of car ownership zoomed into view lately at my house because it was time to return our solitary leased vehicle to the dealer. A couple of days before that, Stanley went down to the North Shore Auto Mall with visions of 2011 models doing victory laps around his cerebral cortex. He test-drove a few of the dowdier examples, then we concluded that even the lower end of new was beyond our price range.
“I think we should just do without a car for a while, see how that works,” he said, the eternal optimist.
In the spirit of green-ness, I had to agree. Why couldn’t we be an ultra-virtuous family, whose members walk, bicycle or take public transit everywhere by choice? I pictured an entirely new routine, in which the four of us would hop on a bus together and head to Lynn Valley Centre to pick up our daily servings of bean sprouts and bee pollen. Teenagers like nothing better than being seen in public doing wholesome things with their parents, I told myself.
Stanley and Bart would sport beards to suit our new world view, and Petunia and I would let our armpit hair grow out to full braiding length. We’d only take off our bike helmets for Christmas dinner and Easter brunch. I imagined the pleasure I would suddenly take in the zany antics of squirrels. And all that exercise would surely make it easier for me to do up my pants.
Honestly, I was all for it -- or part of me was part for it, at least. It took me back to when I was a non-driver, in my early 20s. I had no kids then, and was able to organize my days around walking to and from work, stopping en route to do errands. I was slim, healthy, and didn’t have to spend money on gas.
Millions of people live happily (and sadly) without cars. We could do it – why not?
Day One: An appointment downtown necessitates my rising at 6:30 a.m. to board the bus for an 8 a.m. rendezvous. Getting there and back on public transit devours four hours. Later in the afternoon, another appointment eats up more than three hours because I go on foot. Meanwhile, Stanley rides his bike to his office. Upon arrival, he discovers he’s forgotten his keys, so he rides his bike back home, decides he might as well have an early lunch since he’s there, and blows an entire morning.
Day Two: Stanley wakes up to discover that his bike has a flat tire. He takes it on the bus to get it repaired. That evening we call a cab to get to a concert downtown. Later, we use the GPS in his phone to find the right stop on our midnight bus-ride home, then walk six blocks in a thundering sleet storm.
Day Three: Bart is going on a camping expedition after school so Stanley has to take the bus to the grocery store and cab it back with all the camping vittles. A friend’s mum drives Bart and his tent, etc. to school, and Bart has to walk home at noon to retrieve the bags of food.
Day Four: Hey, we say to ourselves, this is like the olden days, where every single chore took eons, there was no time whatsoever for relaxation, and your maximum life expectancy was 32.
Day Five: We stroll around the auto mall again. We fantasize about the pre-owned BMWs we see, imagining ourselves living a Bimmer lifestyle that includes yachts, massages and professional exfoliation. I think about piloting a BMW crammed with our usual detritus – still-smouldering barbecues, rotting books from my childhood, wet socks – its astonishing radio thudding with the CBC’s Brian Minter discussing potted tubers.
Then we buy a used Honda.