We got a car. Having a car is probably normal for a lot of you but it hasn’t always been for me.
As of last year I had managed to live without ever driving a car since 1997, the last time I had a driver’s license. This was in the Philippines, and though I’d taken lessons (on a diesel stick shift Toyota Tamaraw FX from A1 Driving School) I got into a couple of fender benders on the wild, crowded, narrow streets of Manila. My parents then thought it better that I not drive for a bit longer, and later while living independently I made do with local public transit — jeepneys and buses in Manila, and Metro when I moved to DC.
With our recent move to the suburbs, however, independent automotive locomotion has become more necessary, so last October we bought a 2010 Hyundai Elantra, new from the dealer. Amy used the car exclusively, mostly to get to school, but after a few test drives on the Elantra on a learner’s permit (and the trip to Charlottesville) I finally got my license. This involved a driving skills test at the local DMV — around the Tysons Corner area at rush hour in the rain, no less. I passed easily. (Though the tester said I took one turn too fast and almost crossed a double line.)
And so now I can drive. The Elantra has proven itself an excellent little vehicle, at a stunningly cheap price for a four-door automatic compact with a bunch of features. The ride is mostly smooth and the acceleration and power steering are delightfully responsive. Since I learned to drive on manual transmissions, shifting to automatic has made driving almost like an IRL Arcade Mode. (It also helps that my previous driving experience in Manila has made the wild roads of North Virginia seem almost tame by comparison, though these highways still have their OMG and WTF moments.)
I’ve been a car-less public transit user for so long that driving almost feels like a betrayal of principle. At the same time, however, DC’s deteriorating rail service and the realities of unwalkable suburban infrastructure really leave us few options. I still try to take Metro to work daily, driving only for long, train-inaccessible trips, or when I need to take the cat to the vet, or for heavy loads of shopping. So far with our combined use it’s taken about nine months to get up to 2000 miles, which reflects light use — which, it turns out, is bad for the car. I’m told it needs to be taken out for longer highway drives every so often to keep the engine running in good shape; so even while we try to save on gas and mileage, the car has its own active demands — a facet of that trite reflection about the things we own growing to own us.
We’re getting used to it. I worry about that sometimes.