Published 1:01 am, Friday, November 13, 2009
My car is broken. I didn't realize how reliant upon it I had become.
The SUV was delivered weeks after my daughter (now 11) was born.
We lived in Cambridge, Mass., at the time. We had another car, my husband's old yellow Audi hatchback; it had taken us on weekend outings and long drives through New England. But, at home, I seldom used it as most everything I needed was either within walking distance or accessible by train. Besides, the SUV was new and imposing.
It sat in front of our home for several weeks before I admitted I hadn't driven it. I was still buying groceries and putting them in my bag or resting them on the base of the stroller and walking though town. I planned my errands according to geography and became adept at getting just as much as I could carry, no more than we needed. Part of my ritual of walking to school was buying a cup of tea. It warmed my hands, and the scent of Earl Grey and the walk through Harvard Square inspired the necessary intellectual shift from new mom to student.
Then we moved to Westport. I found I no longer needed to carry a diaper bag. I could keep everything I needed to care for a child in the back of my car. It became a roving locker.
Currently, in the glove box, we keep extra hair accessories and a brush some lip balm, sunscreen and hand lotion. I have a small first-aid kit with bandages, gauze pads and a curious vial of smelling salts. There are winter gloves and an emergency hat. There's a vial of ibuprofen and several sticky honey-lemon cough drops. One summer, we even added a stick of "emergency deodorant" because, you just never know. We have scissors, pruners and a pair of sneakers for each of us. In the event that we come across an appealing outdoor adventure, we're ready. There is a bag of pretzels and several water bottles, pens, pencils and a wrinkled tablet of paper. I believe there may be enough waffle crumbs and forgotten raisins between the seats to sustain us a week.
I thought I was pretty good about planning trips in order to reduce emissions and about not taking the car out too often. But, I've learned otherwise. Two weeks without the SUV and its roving supply cubbies and I am lost.
I hadn't realized how often we missed the school bus. How many times a week, I bring a forgotten snack or Karate outfit or math assignment to the school. I drive to my garden or to a friend's house for a quick cup of coffee. I go to the bookstore to wander around the aisles. I buy groceries when I want to, piling them in the back of the car. I pick the kids up from activities, take them to play dates, go to the beach on the weekends or drive to a trailhead at which to hike. We drive to the gym. We drive to the dry cleaner. We drive to the wine store on Friday afternoon for a bottle of Burgundy.
Being slightly reclusive and a little bit of a martyr, I was excited at first to ride my bike around town. I would be so fit and so "green." This was, perhaps, a very good thing. But, on the first day after my car was towed away, I was to take a craft to my son's school for his Halloween party. We were making stuffed monsters and each child was going to design his own. I had pre-stuffed 22 felt monsters and crammed them in a bag along with a plethora of felt and glue, scissors and magic markers. I hung all this from a shoulder upsetting my (already questionable) balance. I stuffed my witch's hat, pocketbook and water bottle into the basket and set off up Roseville toward Post Road.
Wow. My legs were weaker than I remembered. No, my tires were flat. The side of the road, even with its new markings, is narrow and cars whizzed by as I wobbled, monsters on my back, witch hat on the front and wishing for that emergency deodorant -- certain I was in desperate need of it. I am afraid to cross Post Road and make my way the wrong way on the sidewalk toward Long Lots. The trip continues eventlessly, and I am grateful for the smooth hill-less road ahead. On the return trip, I go up North Avenue and through side streets home, avoiding Post Road and the ruthless traffic of Roseville.
In the days that followed, I balanced groceries in the bicycle basket and made it out to the school bus just in time. (My son's driver applauded.) On Election Day, I walked with the kids and let them buy a soft drink in town and then to the dog park. Drivers looked annoyed as they whizzed by. On many streets there was no sidewalk. They wandered around the edges of the road like kids who had never walked near cars before. Which, I guess, they are.