Friday, July 16, 2010

Essay on a New Car

My husband, and his car-buying ways, has entirely corrupted me.
Two months ago, if you had asked me what I thought about priorities while car buying, and the importance of engine type and size, speed, acceleration, and general mechanical power, I would have said that these things were entirely unimportant. I would have told you that my #1 priority in choosing a car was practicality – things like price, gas mileage, safety, and reliability, with a secondary priority of appearance and image.

This has changed drastically. Depending on your perspective, the purchase of the Chrysler 300C has either corrupted me or enlightened me. That “C” of 300C is the important part. Our new car, besides looking awesome and having loads of little luxuries (like a six-disk CD changer, borderline illegal tinting on the side windows, and a computer system that tells us how many miles until empty and what average gas mileage is), has a V8 engine and excellent acceleration. I did not think I cared about this. I did not think I would even be able to feel the difference between it and my little Mercury Tracer w/its 4-cylinder engine. How wrong I was. Pushing down that gas pedal and feeling the V8 jump to life and smoothly accelerate up to any speed I so desire is one of the more thrilling daily pleasures I have experienced. The car has turned little errands that used to be annoying, like returning, into an excuse to drive the 300C (especially since I don’t get to drive it on a daily basis, to work and back etc).

The interesting part about this is not that I like driving it. That is a minor change. The really change has come in my perspective on, well, pretty much everything mechanical. All of the sudden, as I think ahead to what car I want to purchase when it is my turn for a new vehicle in 2-3 yrs, the engine seems much more important. The idea of purchasing a new car that is not as fun to drive as the 300C is almost painful. I have been investigating whether many of the cars I am interested in come with a bigger engine. On top of that, my interest in other motorized activities has done a 180. All of the sudden, I see a sport motorcycle zooming down the highway, leaning back and forth to change lanes, and think of how fun it looks instead of how dangerous it looks. I see ski-doo ads and wonder how well the brakes work and if they are as fun to ride as they look, or as painful to ride as my friend has mentioned. I think about moving to Minnesota and wonder why I have never been on a snowmobile. In short, I have become a minor acceleration junkie.

My brother would be proud.

In many ways, this new way of thinking about the mechanical, as thrill and joy providing rather than mere transportation, feels like a betrayal of past ways of thinking – a betrayal of the lifestyle that I have claimed to want for the last several years. I have always alleged that I am highly concerned about the environment, interested in spending my money only wisely and practically, and put safety before almost every other concern in life. I say “alleged” because in honest reflection I am not entirely sure how well I stuck to any of these priorities. That is not entirely true – I am a stickler for safety. It is the other two that are more questionable. I have been struggling for months, unsuccessful, to even remotely kick my growing Starbucks addiction. That is not exactly a practical or productive use of money. We often favor convenience over practicality or environment. While I do insist upon recycling every can or bottle that enters my house, I also use more paper towels now then my family of six ever did when I was growing up. The point is, maybe my priorities have not been what I thought, and while that is not exactly a good thing, I do not think it is the end of the world either. In other words – while this newfound love of speed is a “shock” to my system, it is probably more a shock because the way I have been perceiving myself than a shock to the way I actually have acted.

Then there is safety, which is an entirely different beast. I have, not just allegedly, but actually, placed a high premium on safety throughout my life. It is a trait that was installed and reinforced by my parents. When I was little, I would feel horribly guilty if I rode a bike without a helmet or ended up riding in a car without a seatbelt (activities that usually occurred at friend’s houses whose parents were less concerned). I have told DH multiple times that he is banned from sky diving, from riding a motorcycle, and from various other activities he has mentioned that have presented some significant risk. This attitude has been under transformation for about ten months now. You should note that that is exactly how long I have been working at the Bureau of Disability, and it is not mere correlation.

Working for disability changes the way you view the world, but not in the way I would have expected. If I had been asked to guess how it would change me, I would have guessed that it would make me more concerned about my own health, as I would be more informed about what could go wrong. While this is true to some extent (rather than just thinking “my back hurts”, I think “my back hurts, I wonder if I will have degenerative disc disease? Am I getting arthritis in my spine? I hope its muscular”), the larger change has moved the opposite direction. Dealing with disabled people on a day-to-day basis, or people who feel like they are disabled, as is more often the case, makes you realize just how fleeting life can be. There are so many things that can go wrong, and you have no control over that. Some people would respond to this realization with more fear and attempts to avoid the dangerous, but to me the key part of this new knowledge is the lack of control. Ride a motorcycle, don’t ride a motorcycle, you still might turn out to have multiple sclerosis or be in a car accident or get cancer at the age of 30. Go sky-diving, don’t go sky diving, you still may have early onset arthritis and the retirement you have been looking forward to your entire life may be spent at home on pain killers. While activities like riding a motorcycle certainly carry their own risks, if they bring you joy, they are worth doing, because you do not know if you will be able to do things that make you feel happy or good ten years from now, or even a year from now. My point is, it’s good to live life in the moment a bit more than I have been doing, a bit more that I have ever expected to do, and this is a new attitude I am embracing fully. Perhaps the Chrysler 300C is just helping me move deeper into that.

As a final note, I am not going to run off putting convenience or thrill or luxuery before everything else in the world. There are a number of things I would trade my Chrylser 300C for without a second thought. However, these are all things that I have no control over. So, instead I will drive my 300C, and I will like it. I may even get a motorcycle someday, if that is the direction life takes me.

And that, my friends, is why and how my husband’s car-buying ways have corrupted me. I think this may be a good thing.


Sarah Dee said...

I think you would have a great time on a snowmobile when you move back to Minnesota. Although, there might be a little gas usage regret later. :)

Max said...

I am so proud of you! I've been an accereration junky for a long time, and there isn't much I've found that is better than a snowmobile. If you come home this winter I'll have to track down an extra helmut and take you for a ride.

There is also a good reason I've accepted the price of lower mpg's and higher priced 91octane gas, you'll have to go for a ride in a turbocharged car when your up here too!