Thursday, June 9, 2011

Driving a car (or lack thereof)

It's somewhat fitting that my car decided that an impromptu trip to the shop was just the ticket yesterday, because it's Bike/Walk to Work Week in the Twin Cities. Many friends and family know I am pretty disinterested in driving my car, a sweet little 2000 Mazda Protege that really doesn't deserve any ill will or neglect. I know many people who have cars either simply enjoy driving or correctly choose to drive to work via a cost-benefit analysis. It's just that it feels kind of strange to depend on a car when most days of the week, it's not a necessity to me, given where I am both in life stage (no children) and neighborhood (more on this below). Given a choice, I'm usually walking or biking.

In December, the alternator went out the day before a work trip to California. Most sensible people would have dropped it in the shop and retrieved it upon return, but I waited until April, when my dad started asking me gently if I was still paying insurance on it (yes) and also when Josh and I completed the painstaking (but now funny) task of charging my battery multiple times for the mile-long trip to the repair shop and pushing my car with his car when that didn't work.

My car has been back in action ever since, but during its hiatus, I got used to walking or busing home from work this winter, and Josh and I grew to actually enjoy the drive together in the morning.  I am lucky to live in a neighborhood with well-maintained and constant sidewalk presence, bike lanes on the major route to work, and a dependable bus line that drops me three blocks from my front door. Of course, once I got my car back, I slid back into the comfortable routine of driving when post-work social engagements or errands presented themselves, instead of being creative about how to walk/bike/bus myself there.

On Tuesday, the hottest day in Minnesota since 1988, I was cruising along the St. Paul streets en route to an ice cream cone.  My car had been making a finicky squealing noise for the past couple of weeks, and it had worsened to the point that I was planning to be proactive reasonable and actually take it into the shop to get it checked.  As I was driving, I noticed that the battery light had flashed on. "Oh, it's just hot out," I thought, glancing at the temperature gauge to confirm that I was okay. Two minutes later, the temperature gauge meter was waving way at the top, at the hottest part.  Oh, bugger.  I pulled into my parking spot at home without stalling or incurring any other noticeable mishaps and was in for the night, with plans to drive it to the repair shop in the morning if the battery light was still on.

The next morning, I jumped into my car, which still had the battery light flashing but started up cheerfully. I even noticed on the way to the shop that the squealing had stopped, and I identified that as a serendipitous little silver lining and a sure sign that things would be okay. The mechanic told me that I definitely shouldn't drive on it, they'd run a diagnostic check, and would let me know the course of action later in the day.

Later, my phone rang, and the man informed that my belt had stopped squealing, well, because it had plain ol' fallen off.

Some car intuition I've got, huh?  Anyway, the car's fixed now, and that small misjudgment is in the rearview mirror. (Yes, I went there.) The thing is, part of knowing me (and by extension, Miles and Laurel, which sort of makes Miles and Laurel sound like alteregos) is to know that I derive a lot of joy out of walking the streets of my neighborhood. A walk home energizes me and lets me people-watch and neighborhood-watch in a different way than when I run, and definitely in a different way than when I drive. I am grateful to be in a place where I love both my work and my home, and very lucky that they (along with  friends, the library, the gym, and the local Target) are within an easy walk, bike, or bus.  But I hope from now on that I'll know the signs for when the belt's about to break, too.

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