I bought a new car recently. Those of you who are long-time readers but have somehow managed to retain cognitive function may remember that I used to drive a Jeep Wrangler, which has all the aerodynamics of a small mountain range with only slightly worse fuel economy. You know how new cars list the city and highway mileage? My Jeep Wrangler needed a third number to represent the gallons of gas it consumed just sitting there in my garage. Once I realized that they were naming deep-water drilling rigs after my Jeep, I realized that it was time to trade it in.
Not that I didn’t enjoy owning the Jeep. I absolutely did. It had 4 wheel drive, so I could drive it way, way up into the mountains and break an axle, requiring a fucking helicopter to tow me out of there. That was always fun. Taking the rag-top off and driving around town with the wind blowing in your hair was fun as well, and during monsoon season, when we frequently get freak, torrential downpours, I could multi-task and get in some swimming while I was driving home from work.
The open-air nature of the Jeep, actually, could be leveraged if you were quick on your toes. Let’s say that you were about to plow into an assisted-care living facility but didn’t care to be prosecuted for it: You simply jumped out of the vehicle and maintained that you weren’t driving. Is that a legal defense? I don’t know. Check back with me when the trial starts. I do know that little boys tumble instantly to the possibilities an open-air vehicle presents.
7 Year Old: Daddy! He threw a candy wrapper out of the Jeep!
Me: Don’t throw things out the window.
5 Year Old: Well, he threw his backpack out of the Jeep!
7 Year Old: Daddy! He threw his car seat out of the Jeep!
Me: Dammit! Knock that shit off!
5 Year Old: Daddy! He threw the spare tire out of the Jeep!
The other good thing about the Jeep was that it made Al Gore cry. Seriously, the only way it could’ve been worse in that department is if it burned a specialized fuel made from plutonium, old-growth redwoods, and baby Harp seals. I’d start the thing up, and chunks of the ozone layer would fall out of the sky.
So I’ve got a new car, and with it I’ve got typical new-car behaviors. For instance, whereas before I would actively hope that someone would crash into me so that I could use the resulting insurance money to buy more gas, now I am actually afraid of car accidents. I live in Phoenix, so this fear is not unfounded. 90% of everyone on the road is either a teenager, a senior citizen, or currently snorting meth off of the dashboard. So I’ll be driving down the highway and someone will switch into the lane next to me, leaving me perfectly hidden in their blind spot, which will send me into a rage. I’ll pull up next to them and shoot them a death-glare as if I’d just caught them fingering my dog, when the only crime they’re really guilty of is proper lane changing technique (around here, signaling for a lane change is considered a pussy move).
I’m also insane about keeping the car clean. Look, I’m not being naive. I have three kids, and so I know that it’s only a matter of time before every surface of the car is covered in a viscous ooze of snot and semi-digested gummi bears, but until that day comes I am drawing the fucking line when it comes to bringing messy things inside the car.
Me: Hey! Go throw that bottled water away, you can’t bring it in the car.
Daughter: Oh, c’mon, I promise to be careful!
Me: Uh-huh, likely story. Also, put on your hair net. Hey! Have you put your shoes in the waterproof bags I have provided?
Daughter: But my shoes are clean!
Me: No they’re not, they’re covered in filth and contagion.
Daughter: So are the boys!
Me: Good point. Boys? You’re going to have to hitchhike home.
The behavior that’s really new to me, however, is that I am now incredibly conscious of my gas mileage. When I drove the Jeep, the only way to gauge your gas mileage was to look at the Low Fuel light. If the Low Fuel light was on (which it always was), your gas mileage sucked. But my new car calculates this number on the fly, and I am captivated by it. “Hey, kids! I’m averaging 40 miles to the gallon! Isn’t that great?”
“Daddy! The cliff! Look out for the cliff!”
Who the fuck cares what’s going on all the way over there on the other side of the hood? I’m too busy looking at the dashboard to see how hitting insects at highway speed affects my gas mileage. And making matters worse, I get really upset when my gas mileage goes down. “Dammit! Whatever we just hit, it dropped my gas mileage down to 38.2 miles per gallon. What the fuck?”
“That was a guy in a wheelchair. We’re in a hospital zone!”
“Fucking hospitals. I’m going to have to keep at a constant cruising speed the rest of the way if I’m going to make up for that.”
“Cruising speed? It’s bumper to bumper traffic in every direction!”
“Not on the sidewalks it isn’t!”
I found myself pissed off at a senior citizen today who was slow to react to a green light. I felt like following him home and explaining how difficult it is to recapture time lost at a stop light and then suggesting that he strongly consider euthanasia before heading out on the road again, but I didn’t because he probably lives in a retirement community and those 10 mile per hour speed limits are fucking murder on your gas mileage.
This sudden interest in my gas mileage, while helpful in the dollars and cents department, has the effect of making me feel incredibly old. I went through an entire tank of gas having averaged 37 miles per gallon, and my reaction was, “High score!” Dammit. This is not the kind of scoring that I used to do in automobiles. I fully expect to look over at the center console one of these days to find a bowl full of ribbon candy next to a pile of Tommy Dorsey CD’s that my grandkids got me for Christmas. I’ll look up and find that I’m at a local church on bingo night and that my car is approximately 90 feet long, yellow, and has tail fins on it which smartly accentuate the Cadillac logo over the handicapped license plate. People will call me Ed and compliment me on my tan cardigan. It will be 4:00 in the afternoon, and I will be hungry for dinner.
I’m tempted to fight back by doing something really irresponsible with my car, the way I would have when I was 18. I did shit back then that would have given my driver’s-ed teacher a goddamn stroke. The phrase “Hang on, I’m going to try something” was used often. One time we were exploring a heretofore unknown overdrive gear in a friend’s car when we whipped by a 90 degree turn sign with a suggested speed of 10 mph. We were going 105.
But now everything is filtered through the newfound need to keep the gas mileage up, and so driving through lawns, large puddles, and day care centers is out, as are a whole bunch of other fun things that I used to do. I knew a guy that used to buy beaters, fix them up a bit, install a roll cage, then invite people over to get really drunk and intentionally roll the car. It was great fun, but I’m pretty sure I’d dip below 35 mpg if I did that now. You learn a lot of things like that after so many years of driving. For instance, guys: when receiving road head, make sure you’re the one doing the driving. See? The More You Know!
So I guess I’m consigned to the kind of boring driving that middle-aged people engage in: Sober, fuel-efficient, eco-friendly, and appropriate for current conditions. But once the Alzheimer’s kicks in, I’m going to really fucking make up for it.