It’s time to write about something I took for granted most of the time I had it: my car. I drive a 1992 Opel Vectra, meaning that it is twenty years old now. Germany requires safety and emission inspections every two years, and in summer 2010 I was told that my vehicle would not make it another time; there was just too much corrosion and rust. Fixing it would have meant exchanging entire parts of the car and the costs would by far have exceeded its current worth.
I have been driving around with an expired safety plaque for the last four months, which would earn me a fine if it got discovered. With the end of the year, however, my insurance on the car runs out too, and obviously I cannot continue using it, especially since the number of smaller technical hiccups increases. The rear blinker on the right only works occasionally, and any of them can get stuck for a while sometimes. The keyhole for the boot (trunk) is not functioning either, so I keep it locked; if you want to put anything in there, you have to flip the backseats and shove it in from inside the passenger room – which means that you cannot transport anything which is too big to fit through the car’s doors. The rubber sealing of the doors leaks water in if you are driving in the rain. The engine’s cooling water evaporates out of a puncture in a pipe when hot, so that every other day I have to fill it up completely… There are a lot of parts which start failing or are going to in the near future, and it is just not safe to continue driving it any longer: I understand that it has to go, not only for legal reasons, but because common sense dictates it.
The problem is that neither my husband and I have enough money to buy a new car, not even an used one, nor do my parents. Which means that with the beginning of the new year, I am going to be without access to a motorized vehicle. Each distance will be covered by walking or using public transportation.
I grew up in a family without a car. For reasons I do not know (but suspect they involve repeated speeding), my father handed in his driving licence when I was four years old. We walked, rode bikes, took the tram, train or bus – and any destination that could not be reached that way was out of our radius. That was just the way it was – I did not know any different.
However, it had always been clear that I would get my driving licence, and like everyone else in my year at school, I started taking lessons shortly before my 18th birthday. Despite not being very familiar with being in a car at all and thus displaying even more caution than my naturally timid character can be accounted for, I passed the test in the first attempt. My aunt and uncle would let me drive on Sundays so I did not forget how to do it, and about a month after I got my licence, my parents bought a used car for me: a 1986 Opel Kadett. Back then, in 1998, it was twelve years old, and would continue to serve me for eight years, until it was just as old as its successor is now, and bowed out for similar reasons. I think twenty years of age is some kind of milestone where the rust just has destroyed too much of the coachwork…
In over 14 years, I have gotten two minor speeding tickets (overlooked the signs signalling a lower speed limit in both cases) , and I have been fined for a parking violation once. The closest thing to an accident was a lady destroying my left side mirror in 2010 when she swayed her car into mine in a narrow street, but I never had to get the police or insurance involved. After the first year, I stopped believing that I would kill myself and my entire family just by virtue of being the one behind the wheel, and became a competent driver who eventually mastered even challenging routes. I drove in six different countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Switzerland) and even crossed the Susten Pass in the Alps by car.
Giving up my car means giving up a huge chunk of personal freedom and independence. With nobody else in my family having a licence (and my husband’s being invalid here), it meant that I was the one who had to chauffeur the others around, but it also meant that I was never limited by how much I could carry when grocery shopping. Certain destinations, like the farmer’s market where we shop about once a week, were only accessible because I had a car. I could go to friends’ birthday parties and did not have to leave early in order to catch the last tram. It took only twenty minutes to get to the hospital for therapy – now it’s over an hour via tram and bus.
When I was driving alone, I’d cut the radio on and sing along (my car was so old that the stereo would play only cassette tapes, no CDs or anything more advanced). I especially enjoyed it during balmy summer nights, the windows rolled down and a breeze blowing in, while the leaves of the trees on the roadside were rustling and crickets chirping in the grass. Sometimes, I would embark on a little detour on such nights, just because I did not want it to end yet.
Karl Lagerfeld once said that money does not make you happy, but it is better to cry sitting in a taxi cab than on the bus, and I agree with him on this. Quite early during the therapy process, I found myself driving to the hospital and during the entire time, I had tears streaming down my face because I was just overwhelmed by emotions. And very often I was just grateful for the chance to stay in the little bubble of privacy my car offered a little longer after therapy before having to make the transition from the inside world of my thoughts to the outside world where I’d have to interact with other people again. I am very sad that I will lose all of this now.