Looking out my office window, I watch as a woman in a huge civilian Hummer
tries to parallel park. Even from up here I can see that the Hummer has Virginia
tags, which isn’t surprising, because everything bad in D.C.
these days seems to originate from that state. It’s no secret that the hordes of suburbanite bar-hoppers
that clog our streets at night come from Virginia. From Thursday to Saturday, the curb is literally jammed with SUV’s bearing Virginia vanity plates
This particular SUV is having a hard time getting into the space -- even though there is only a car, a Honda Civic, parked behind her and none in front. I watch as she keeps pulling in and out, trying to pull closer to the curb. As she has another go, the car behind her bounces, clearly struck by the behemoth military vehicle. Eventually she gives up, leaving the Hummer parked at a 45-degree angle to the curb, its rear bumper pressed up against the front of the tiny Honda.
The scene baffles me, as does car culture in general. Only two years ago, Pantaliamon and I lived in College Park, MD, shuttling everywhere in our Ford Escort station wagon. But when we moved into Washington, we gave the car to my mother, foregoing automobile transportation in favor of our own feet. At first it was disconcerting, not being able to drive anywhere, being confined to where we could reasonably walk, or where the Metro system can carry us. But now, the old life of traffic jams, honking horns, the constant feeling of oppression, of hostile drivers all around, seems impossible. How did I ever do it?
Pantaliamon’s father is a mechanic. He’s constantly telling us about a deal he’s seen on a cheap used car, constantly pressuring us to move back to the world of automobiles. He takes it personally that we don’t have a car -- as if we’re using that as an excuse not to come visit him and Pan’s family. My grandfather also doesn’t get it. He calls screaming that I haven’t come to visit him -- that I need to go right away. I explain that I don’t have a car, that I have to wait for my mother to get me. “No car?” he says, baffled. As if a car was a necessity of life, like food, water and shelter. That a human being can’t live without spending $20 a week on gasoline. And to think this is a man who grew up in the 1930’s, when the automobile had not yet become what it is today.
The owner of the Civic has come to get his car. He stands on the curb, looking dumbfounded at the Hummer parked on his hood. I wonder how he’s going to get it out of the space and on the road -- the car behind him seems awfully close, leaving him tightly sandwiched. I take comfort in the fact that I am not him -- that I will never own a car again. No matter how crazy that may seem.