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so we drive and we’ve driven ten thousand miles

maura @ 6:14 pm

Because of unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances we have a new car. I am having a hard time adjusting. Our new car is only a few years old and it is very very very different from our old car, which turns 19 this year. The new car is a sedan and automatic and you can hook your phone up to the stereo system. The old car is a wagon and a standard and has a cassette deck. We have a shoebox of tapes from the early-mid ’90s in the old car, what are we supposed to do with them now?

Perspective (for multiple definitions of the word) is very different in the new car. In the old car the seat is a bit higher plus there is a hatchback rather than a trunk, which means the driver can see and thus fairly accurately perceive the front end of the car all the way through the back. In the new car there’s a trunk and I can’t see or sense either the front or the back of the car, which makes me feel oddly disconnected while parking especially. There’s one of those new fangled back up cameras which should help but instead reminds me of a videogame, another layer of disintermediation. The new car is smaller than the old car but I feel like I’m driving it as if it’s bigger because I don’t yet have a good sense of its size.

In my and the old car’s old age I realize that cars have become very complicated. Everything is an icon or a button or a display screen. The front seats can be heated. The side mirrors fold in. It feels so fancy, much too fancy for me, though it’s really just a normal car, what normal cars are these days.

I am not missing the shifting nearly as much as I should. This is actually my first automatic car, though because of living in cities it’s only the 4th car I’ve had in the 30 yrs I’ve been a driver so the sample is small. I’d wanted us to get rid of the car for years but there’s no denying that the car lets us get up and go at a moment’s notice in addition to facilitating inter-Brooklyn travel for meatballs at Ikea and other locations that are tricky to get to on public transportation.

My grumpy old lady brain mutters that I will miss the standard transmission next winter when it snows, though who knows if that will actually be the case? At any rate it was nice not to have to continuously clutch when it took us one solid hour to get through the Holland Tunnel and over Canal St. (which right now is more pothole than road) to get home yesterday.

It is a lovely car, quiet when on, comfortable, all the mod cons. I wish we never had to take it.

les tags: ,


maura @ 10:37 pm

This week Gus is at a kind of unusual camp. Not unusual in the subject matter — yay for science! — so much as unusual in location. The camp is in Manhattan about an hour’s commute from us, and it’s sort of a complicated commute, too, involving both a subway and a bus. It was kind of a fluke: we’d planned on another camp for this week that didn’t end up working out, and by the time we found out it wasn’t going to work it was already March, which is late for getting signed up for camp here. So when I found this week’s camp I sort of signed us up without much reflection on how the commute was actually going to work.

Because of the long trip in, whichever one of us is taking him that day has stayed in Manhattan and work for the day in the public library, which is kind of fun, actually. But last weekend we realized that the missing link in this plan is the car. What to do about the car? On our block and the streets around our house there’s alternate side parking for street cleaning four, count them, 4 times per week. That’s usually a pain but not a problem — since Jonathan works for himself he’s the car caretaker during the week.

But with this week’s unusual schedule we had to hatch an alternative plan. The neighborhood to the southwest of us only has alternate side parking twice per week, so in theory if we could move the car to one of those streets just after the street cleaner came by we could stay there for 6 days. I found a street that’s scheduled to be cleaned Tuesdays 8-8:30am, so that seemed like our best bet.

The good thing about that narrow AM street cleaning window is that it’s right before I have to leave for work, rather than midday like many other streets. The bad thing is that’s a narrow window on a car-heavy block. For some reason* I was weirdly paranoid that something would go wrong, so I got up early to get ready so I could head out the door at 7:45am.

* A rather boring and un-mysterious reason, actually: this week I’m taking 2 vacation days (for book writing) and have a couple of appointments that are taking me out of the office for a chunk of the afternoon, and work time feels short to me (because it is!).

The Alternate Side Parking Theater of NYC is extremely easy to make fun of, but man, this was intense. By 7:53am I was in place near the bottom of the street, adjacent to (but not blocking!) a fire hydrant just in case I needed to make a quick exit. By 7:59am the non-street cleaning side of the street was parked up solid, including me in a hilarious 4 car run of Subarus (ours by far the oldest and most shabby). All drivers remained in their cars; the woman behind me didn’t even take off her seat belt. There was one car left, Massachusetts plates, on the street cleaning side of the street. Tension was high — would that car move in time? Would it get ticketed? I read Twitter, watched, and waited.

Suddenly it was 8:10am and the street cleaner approcheth — a quick wet whoosh and it was off. And THE VERY INSTANT it passed, Subarus (and other cars) sprung into motion to pull over and park in its wake. I was a smidge nervous about the adjusting, but settled our car in well and considerately, I thought. Unlike the lady in a more expensive car who pulled into the space in front of me a few minutes later, hitting our car (gently) several times in the process.

Once we were in position on the newly clean side of the street my stomach and I settled in to wait for 8:30, until the alternate side parking window closed and I could head into work. On my way up the block to the subway I spied the Massachusetts scofflaw: never moved, nor ticketed. Lucky duck.

les tags: ,

a very blustery day

maura @ 9:32 pm

So, there was a tornado in Brooklyn yesterday! Yeah, I know the weather service is saying they’re not sure what to call it yet, but it sure seemed like a tornado to me. It’s funny: I lived in Missouri for 2 yrs as a kid and have spent lots of time visiting my in-laws in the great Midwest, but it’s here in the big city that I first encounter a tornado.

The whole thing was really weird — as Jonathan said at dinner, the weather forecast for the day didn’t seem that awful, just a 20% or so chance of rain in the evening. I was chatting with a coworker and ended up leaving work later than I planned, and as I walked from the library to the subway it was just starting to drizzle. But the air was really unsettled and the clouds were speeding by and the lightning was just weird, so you could tell it wasn’t a typical storm.

The train was really slow so I was probably down in the subway for 20 minutes or so. When I got to my stop and walked up to the first level above the platform, there was a huge tree branch near the turnstiles. Which was unexpected! Then I got upstairs to the sidewalk and saw the first of the big downed trees on my walk home (that’s the photo on the left above). There were three big trees down on the three-block walk to our street, though strangely none of the small trees on our block were damaged at all. The buildings around us are all fine but there’s been lots of roof + window damage elsewhere in Brooklyn and Queens.

(The Times has a cool map today of the downed trees that traces the storm’s path. Go GIS!)

We’re fine, as is everyone we know. Our car is fine, too, which makes me a little sad. You see that last photo up there, on the right? See the little bit of red car across the street from the car that has a tree on it? The red one is ours, and I wish it was the other one. I’ve been trying to make us get rid of the car for about 3 yrs now. But my enthusiasm is not shared, and it’s a lot of work to get it together and actually sell it. So we are still car owners.

But we have friends whose car got totalled a bunch of years ago, I forget how, I think they were in an accident but thankfully no one was hurt. And afterward they decided not to get a new car. Which got me thinking what a great thing it would be if something like that happened to our car. Accident, disaster, whatever — as long as no one gets hurt and nothing else gets broken. It just seems so much easier than having to make the effort to sell the damn thing.

So hello tornado in Brooklyn. If you were going to take down all of our beautiful trees, the least you could have done is dropped one of them on our car. The owner of that car across the street is so lucky, sheesh.

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wizard needs food badly

maura @ 10:27 pm

Nothing like spending 5 hrs on the NJ Turnpike to make you realize that the future looks awfully much like the past. I mean, honestly, it could have been 30 yrs ago and our drive would have been almost exactly the same as today. Probably less traffic, but the roads are certainly the same. The infrastructure is identical.

In some ways we’ve achieved the dream of the 1950s: everyone cruises around in their own personal climate controlled bubble, listening to music, watching TV, eating and drinking whenever they feel like it. It’s car as living room, as Jonathan said earlier.

I don’t know. It’s not that I’m not grateful for all of the cool future stuff that we do have. This video (which Jonathan sent me from bing bong, I believe) is a hilarious reminder of that. And we certainly took advantage of the advances this afternoon + evening, when Gus watched Castle in the Sky three (3!) times while we were stuck in horrible traffic.

BUT. But, but, but. It’s hard to believe that we couldn’t have used all of our fantastic futurizing powers to do something better. Superfast trains that don’t pollute the way cars do (and are cheaper to run, too). Eco-energy, from cleaner power plants to better ways of moving electricity over long distances (though I do like the aesthetics of those giant electrical towers — they look like robots).

I don’t know, it’s just disappointing, I guess. Cars are stupid. And I’d even give up my iphone for a better train system. Though if I did, what would I use to read my web stories en route?

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