As much as I hate to admit it, I let the car I drive define me. I, who live in this town of thoughtful, crunchy, politically-charged intellectuals. I, who was raised by educators, liberal, idealistic, intense Brooklyn Jews who knew what was important (the Brooklyn Dodgers, Adelman’s deli, and moving out to the Connecticut suburbs as soon as they possibly could). I was not raised to be a shallow person. And now, as my husband Ned and I are at an impasse over what car to get, I feel that part of myself rising up and taking hold.
Currently I drive a Volvo V70 wagon, which a very good, and very libertarian friend calls “The quintessential Brookline car.” Yes, I do see quite a few of them in Brookline. But I don’t think that’s the reason I drive it. Nor will I tell you — as every Volvo-driving person says defensively — “It’s because it’s so safe.” No, the reason I drive that car is far shallower than that. I drive it because is very pretty. It looks as good driving up to the Library Gala as it does driving up to Lincoln school for pick-up. Basically, it is like the perfect shoe: goes with most things I wear, very stylish, and comfortable enough. I have named her “The Party Slipper.” She is about that good in snow, too, by the way. She can run, sure, but because she is so impractical, she slips (skids) a little. But she is very good at communicating, and so every time she skids, she is courteous enough to light up with a little “I’m skidding” symbol, a yellow triangle with a zig-zag line that flashes at me as I glide over black ice.
My big sons have outgrown her backseat, and the lease is just about up, so we are now shopping around for a bigger (sigh) car. I don’t want to have to get a bigger car, but because I have to, I want to get the Volvo SUV (the XC90). I am not supposed to want an SUV, right? Gas-guzzling behemoths bedecked with yellow ribbon magnets, that scream, “War? Bring it on, Baby!”
Well, I don’t want the war. So, a friend from my kid’s school gently suggested a minivan. “You’re too smart to let yourself be defined by a car,” she said. Well, I was too smart to say what I was thinking: minivans, to me, look like what they are: eggs. Vessels for carrying children. I love my children, but I am a chick, not a chicken. No, I want the XC90. Ah, the XC90. The glamorous big-sister version of my V70. She goes with everything, like my BCBG suede pointy-toed cowboy boots with 1 1/2” heel. Pardon my mixed metaphors, but she has a similar butt to the V70, shapely and pushed up high, and she is not disproportionately big up front. She will go with my life — or at least the life I wish I had, where I could afford such a car.
My husband, mild-mannered computer geek intent on saving for college and — gasp — retirement, is pushing for the Honda Pilot. They are about the same size, but the price per month for a lease is about $200 different. But when I look at those Pilots, I don’t see reasonable repair bills; I see a big, clunky hiking boot. A shoe I would never wear. I see a car with a big fat caboose, dragging itself all over town. No amount of extras or pimping will make that car into a dress boot.
Look, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: I know Hondas. Hondas are my friend. But I am no Honda.
My friends are trying to help. They want to save my marriage. I ran into a Volvo-driving Devotion school friend at the Starbucks near Rubin’s Deli, who confessed that she had traded in her party shoes for the big boots, for much the same reasons as me: the reliability, the cost. She tried to get me to join her. “Think about it: if all the moms start driving Pilots, that will become the new, cool Brookline car.” A very compelling argument, but I am made of far shallower stuff.
Because we met at an Ivy League college where I championed many idealistic causes similar to my parents’, my husband assumed he was marrying a low-maintenance woman. Well, as Humphrey Bogart once said, “He was misinformed.” A kiss is just a kiss, but a car is forever — or until the lease is up.
Copyright 2006, Susan Senator