November 26, 2008

On the Road Again

After just over six months of carlessness, I am now the proud co-owner (along with my husband and the bank) of a brand new, "tidewater blue" 2009 Honda Fit.

Not my actual car, but looks exactly like it.
(courtesy of cathfach724)

This also marks the first time in my life I have owned a car other than a VW. Not that I have owned many cars. I'll be 40 in February and this is only my 2nd car -- well 3rd if you count the junker we had for about a year before we bought the car that died this past May. I inherited the VW habit from my parents, who had a continuous line of VW ownership dating back to the early 60s, when my dad got his first car, a Beetle. Though they did own a Buick station wagon as a second car to haul us kids around when we were little (and the camping gear, natch), we always had at least one VW in the family. The staff at the VW dealership knew my father by name and the guys in the shop always knew to treat us right. When it came time to buy my first car, I had no trouble converting my husband, who was jaded by a series of unimpressive Chevrolets, to the faith. We bought a VW Golf, first the used one I mentioned above, and then a new one, which served us well for 11 years until its sudden decline this past spring. So you'll understand what a shock it was a few years ago when my parents gave up their Passat and bought a Subaru Forester because they needed a car my dad, who has mobility problems, could get in and out of more easily. It was as if they had announced they had announced they were joining the Hare Krishnas. I was at first shaken by their defection from the VW family, but when bolts of lightening did not come and strike them dead, I realized that I, too, could seriously consider looking for a car that didn't necessary come with fahrvergnugen, whatever that is.

Once we made the decision to leave the VW fold, we quickly identified the Honda Fit as the best option for us. As a one-car household, we prefer the versatility of a hatchback, and it was about the only one in our price range that also gets over 30 MPG, which was my minimum requirement. It also has some nice little extras, like built in RCA and USB ports to plug in an MP3 player or other external device, and extremely flexible and reconfigurable space. I mean, who wouldn't want a car that is compact enough to fit in tight city parking spaces yet roomy enough to carry an alpaca, or at least a bicycle? The only catch was that I really wanted the 2009 model, which had a few improvements over the 2008, and I really wanted a manual transmission. While we were prepared to wait three months or so for the car, we never dreamed it would be late November before we'd have our own set of wheels again. We weren't the only ones who discovered the appeal of this car, and apparently, Honda was hording all the manual transmission Fits for sale in Japan or Europe, so the date for our car to be manufactured in Japan and shipped to us in the U.S. kept moving further and further out.

Since the day our old car bit the dust, we have been relying on the public transportation system and kind friends and family members who have loaned us their vehicles for extended periods of time -- over two months in one case!

Let me be loud and clear: We are extremely grateful for their generosity!

During that time period, there were only about two weeks when we had to rely completely on the bus. One of the things I like best about our home is the location. We can easily walk to grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., and at the same time it is only a few blocks from the natural beauty of Lake of the Isles and several small parks. I regularly bus to work (in fact it is far more convenient than driving and just as fast) and sometimes even cycle. We've always shared just one car between us, and only rarely is it a problem. The nearest bus stop is just a block away and major transit stations are also quite close. Although it seems counter-intuitive in some ways, I've always found public transportation to be liberating. I liked the idea that I didn't have to use a car to get around.

That's all well and good when you know you still have access to a car when need it. It was a very different feeling when that safety net was gone, especially now that my husband's job is located in a third ring suburb. Liberated is definitely not the word to describe the feeling of those two weeks. Rather, we had to plan carefully around the bus schedules (extremely limited when it comes to reverse commuting to a distant suburb), frequently rely on others for rides (which makes me feel beholden), and sometimes simply cancel certain activities. It doesn't help that both our families live in town, and we have been in the habit of fairly frequent visits -- and expected to participate in such get-togethers much more often than if we lived in some distant city. The experience, mercifully short though it was, certainly reinforced for me how difficult it must be for those who rely on public transportation on a more permanent basis.

The experience of the past six months also reinforced my appreciation for small, fuel-efficient cars. As it happened, almost all the cars we borrowed during that time period were large vehicles. Two were station wagons. The smallest was a Subaru Forester (a compact SUV). None of them were particularly impressive in the fuel efficiency department, either. Driving home from the dealership in the Honda Fit I reveled in its smallness and nimbleness. Parking in the garage was pure pleasure: For the first time in months I didn't have worry if the car was pulled in far enough to clear the closing garage door without making it impossible to open the "people" door to get out to the sidewalk. Best of all, the gas gauge hasn't visibly budged.

And there's no sign of lightening bolts, either. Yet.

Posted by ldfs at November 26, 2008 9:34 AM