Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Driving in our car, car

Last night in the comments on Strangely... E. brought up a point I haven't talked about--the way all this car stuff is not just a hassle to deal with (sometimes a huge one), but is also making me feel unsafe and unmoored. I don't like A. taking left turns, and I don't like taking them myself. Heck, even my mother is being cautious about left turns. And all of this business with rentals and car shares means that I've driven four different cars in the last two weeks, not counting test drives. I don't like all this car-hopping--I don't like always being unfamiliar with the controls and where my wheels are, and these cars have all been bigger than the Civic so I'm not quite sure where I begin and end when I'm parking, and none of them have handled as well as the Civic.

I really don't like not trusting a car we just bought a week ago. It turns out that the little whine I heard when I drove the car home from the dealer was the very beginning of the demise of the transmission. The mechanic at the dealership tells me that it will escalate into knocking and various other problems, so even though it would be good to drive for (he implied) thousands of more miles, they did order a new transmission, all of it covered, not a problem. I don't think he was implying I was fussy--I think he actually was impressed I caught the whine so early and pleased to be able to offer me a complete solution. He was implying that I should come out to the effing dealership again and pick up the car while he waits for the new transmission to be delivered. When I explained how recently we bought the car and how often we've been out there since, he was very accommodating. But I don't want accommodating! I want a car I can just drive and be done with it. It will take me awhile to trust this car, even though it is in almost every way identical to my old car. (The biggest difference is the automatic transmission, which I detest but am resigned to.)

The new transmission, combined with the death of the battery last week, is making me wonder about how this car was treated by its last owners. It's a 2005! It has less than 28,000 miles! It's a Honda! It's certified! That's why we paid more for it. It shouldn't have problems like this. Granted, our 2003 was a little beat up from encounters with vandals and panel vans and city parkers on our crowded block, and it had one largeish dent caused by a parking-while-pregnant incident* that we decided not to remedy because it was purely aesthetic, not even any paint damage. But we took it in for all its checkups and we drove it gently (it was a stick shift, so we were able to control RPM's ourselves) and it gave us no mechanical grief at all.

Since Z. was born I am hyper-aware of my vulnerability in a car anyway. While Z. was exclusively breastfeeding, I could get myself all choked up behind the wheel by thinking about what would happen to her if I were killed in an accident. (I think this was a PTSD symptom, but maybe it was just adjusting to motherhood--in my case the two are not easily separated.) I still can't go through an intersection without a faint, caution-inspiring anticipation of the impact that's about to hurl itself into Z.'s side of the car.

There is another part of this, too, which is driving within a couple. I am an excellent driver--my father would have it no other way--and this made me prone to speeding and impatience in my younger days, though I've mellowed. But on the road, I'm generally aware of everything around me and I anticipate most of what could come up. When we met, A. was a cautious and slow driver, hesitant about passing trucks and uncomfortable near jersey walls. She didn't own a car, so most of the driving fell to me naturally. When we lived in Wisconsin, we became more car-reliant and we bought a car together when my old car died of old age, so just as naturally she began to drive more.

I confess I have not always been a good driving mentor. I have occasionally been a real jerk. But when I was pregnant I was often too tired to drive, and also during Z.'s infancy if we were both in the car, A. did most of the driving because Z. would be cranky in her carseat and need my attention, or I would be feeling invalid-ish. Also, when I was growing up my mother usually took the passenger seat while my father drove, and I'm sure I was reproducing this. (Most of the errand-running still fell to me, so I probably did more driving overall--which, come to think of it, is maybe why my mom let my dad drive.) During this period, A. pointed out to me that since we have been together her driving has improved, and I reflected on what she said and realized it was so. Just her need to say it explicitly was a signal to relax about this and give her more credit. I surrendered some of my driverly vigilance and became more of a passenger, less of a back-seat driver (that's "less of," rather than "no longer:" navigation is still a sore point.)

But in the past five months we had one very scary near-miss that was definitely A.'s fault, but she was only driving because I had told her I wasn't good to drive (which I wasn't, but neither was she). Then this latest accident which was not her fault, but which has had more repercussions. I am trying not to let it affect our couple-driving dynamic, but I do wonder if I've let too much of the driving responsibility pass to her. Have I left her more slack to pick up than is realistic or fair?

*I swear I wasn't too tired to drive when I got in the car--parking it 20 minutes later I was in a completely different state of consciousness.


niobe said...

Have I left her more slack to pick up than is realistic or fair?

My answer would really depend on how A feels about it. If she's happy with the situation, it doesn't sound like a real problem. Unless, of course, you really don't trust her driving.

S. said...

Thanks for commenting, Niobe. Not that this is a high-comment blog at the best of times, but when there's that much silence right after some lively comments, you realize you must have just sent out a big clunker.

Of course, you're right, only A. can answer my question.

Really, I think I went on at such length because I am feeling vulnerable and unmoored not just in cars. My driving stuff is a reflection of everything else.

Mrs. Coulter said...

Oh, I had a similar weird reaction to driving the car in the early months Lyra was born. I was actually *terrified* to drive because I was afraid that I might have an accident and she might get hurt. As the hormones faded, so did the terror, LOL.

(un)relaxeddad said...

One previous cause of stress between us has been that I can't drive at all which put all the driving onus on supermum, even when pregnant. Which isn't good. Though she now contends that if I did learn to drive at this late stage, she wouldn't trust me at the wheel anyway. Driving seems to be an area where people's normal trust relationships don't entirely apply.

S. said...

I guess I despaired of comments a little too soon--

Mrs. Coulter, welcome! I'm glad to find I'm not the only one.

(un)relaxeddad, it sounds like you've reached a complete Catch-22. Good thing your city has good public transit! (Okay, "good" is a relative term, but my point of comparison is Philadelphia, a city shaped like a splat, where every single subway and commuter train is routed through the same downtown station.)