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The great American love affair with cars dates back nearly a century – about the time Henry Ford promised a car in every garage.
However, for me — a licensed driver of 34 years — my affair with cars has reflected more of the love-hate kind.
On the one hand, who doesn't love to sit behind the wheel of a sleek and powerful sports car, propelling down the highway at ungodly (and illegal) speeds? And what about the freedom found from driving an indefatigable, fat-tired Jeep over hill and dell? Or the requisite California experience of cruising back-country roads (or the Pacific Coast Highway) in an oversized classic convertible with the stereo blasting?
I have loved all of these things.
Here's where the hate part comes in: the expense.
The fact is we pay dearly for the pleasure of driving. Some households fork over nearly a third of their net incomes to drive and maintain “two cars in every garage” — to steal a line from the Simpsons. Sure, I understand driving in most parts of the United States is as much out of necessity as love, but the expense of owning and maintaining cars is outrageous and offensive.
The most obvious expense is the gut-wrenching experience of fillin' 'er up at the local gas station. It's a sad day when a crisp $100 bill doesn't cover the cost of a full tank of fuel. (Side note: From my visits to Europe and other international destinations, I am well aware that fuel is cheaper here in America than it is around the world, but that doesn't make $4 a gallon any easier to accept.)
And then the darn things break down.
It's a scientific fact that all moving parts will crap out, tires will wear thin or go flat, windshields crack, radio antennas get busted or stolen, not to mention all the other generally unexpected vehicular mishaps.
To make matters worse, I am not handy with mechanical things. In fact, that's an understatement. No, what I am is downright dyslexic, if not dimwitted, when it comes to disassembling bolts, cables, wires, wing nuts (I have been known to go wing nut over the simplistic car projects — like changing windshield wipers). So when things go sour with my automobiles, it's off to the mechanic for me to talk about something I know nothing about and pray I'm not forced to pawn a family heirloom to cover the expense of fixing the weird noise coming from the whatchamacallit on my car.
I'm sure my car-repair anxiety syndrome is a condition experienced by most car owners. Even my mechanically inclined friends say cars today are difficult to work on.
"Damn these computerized engines!"
I read recently that car mechanics are going back to school to keep up with the sophistication of today’s automobile. Where does that leave the layperson, or in my case, the mechanically incompetent?
Add to the cost of machine breakdowns: overpriced car washes, paint touch-up kits, routine oil changes, ever-rising vehicle insurance, the annual registration fees, which usually includes smog tests; and the inevitable parking and toll fees (because why not drive your car into the city where parking cost more than the two-martini lunch you're sharing with a friend at a four-star restaurant?).
I am done with the high-priced affair that is car ownership. As a returning resident of a highly dense Sacramento just-on-the-edge-of-an-urban neighborhood, I think I can go it alone. Therefore, as of today, I've dumped the gas-guzzling Ford F-150 and the shiny red Lexus G300 for my new status: carless in Sacramento.
To all the cars, Jeeps and trucks of my past: Thanks for the memories. You may have been expensive and unpredictable, but you never were a bore.
My regrets are few and I've enjoyed the pleasure of quick rides to here, there and everywhere. But I am done. And trust me, car: It's not me, it's definitely you.