my green vermont

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Last Car, Etc.

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

In our fifty-some years together, my spouse and I have owned more houses than cars. But recently I’ve been thinking that, since we probably have another ten years before we hand in our licenses, we should drive a car that is less likely to leave us stranded on some dirt road in mud season. Last week, with a mixture of apprehension and regret–giving up our 2008 Subaru felt a bit like euthanizing a pet that wasn’t sick, just old–we exchanged it for a new hybrid of the same make.
In the past, when we traded one car for a newer model, there were always a couple of new things to learn, such as opening the windows with the push of a button instead of a rotating handle (which saves roughly twenty calories per day, thus contributing to the obesity epidemic). Other changes, such as heated seats and CD players, were pleasant additions that did not interfere with my driving.
This time, however, it’s different. The only things the new car has in common with its predecessor are the turn signal and the windshield wipers. Everything else is new. Everything else will require learning, and practice.
“Just play around with it,” the salesman said, handing us the keys (which, oddly, don’t actually start the car). “Then make a list of questions and come see me.” These were the exact words that the AT&T salesman said to me six months ago when I bought my smart phone. Since then, I have barely scratched the surface of the little gizmo’s potential.
The first morning, it took me twenty-five minutes to get the new car out of the garage. Nothing was where I expected it. Nothing did what I wanted. Instead, many attractive screens and displays lit up, giving me information I didn’t need. What I needed was to release the parking brake. As I tried various combinations of buttons and pedals, the car’s bells and whistles tolled and whistled, admonishing me that, although “love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru,” it’s not unconditional love, and I had better get to work on the three-inch stack of manuals that came with the car.
This is not a car, but a computer on wheels with a mind of its own, which sends me emails from the garage keeping me informed of its charging status. I miss my old car, with its plain and unassuming airs. Like an old-fashioned servant, it would no more have presumed to send me emails than it would have thought of leaving the garage and joining us in the living room.
It isn’t easy being green, as Kermit used to say, and the only consolation for the learning curve that lies before me is in knowing that by driving a hybrid I’m helping the planet more than by taking reusable shopping bags into the market or composting my banana peels. Also, the car’s umpteen safety features may lengthen my driving career (lately I’d been parking great distances from my destination just to avoid backing out of a parking slot). Just now, when I arrived home and opened the driver’s door, a little screen popped up reminding me to check the back seat, where I had put my purse. This feature is bound to become more handy, even essential, in the coming years.
My first car, an adorable tea-cup sized blue Renault Dauphine, felt like it was made of nothing more substantial than paper mache. It had a straight shift, roll-up windows (the handle used to come off in your hand if you weren’t careful), and no radio, so I could concentrate on the driving. My brand-new hybrid will in all likelihood be my last car, and it behooves me to make friends with it before I get a minute older.
The new car is one in an increasing series of lasts.These days I’m also living in what will almost certainly be my last house. And Bisou is surely my last dog. If she lives to age fifteen, I will be eighty when she dies. Even if I’m physically and mentally up for it, will it be responsible of me to get another dog, even if it is not a puppy? As for the cat Telemann, who will be three next month, if he lives into his late teens, as many indoor cats do, I will be unimaginably ancient when he expires, so he is likely my last cat as well.
I remember when life was a string of firsts: first pair of heels, first graduation, first (and so far, only) marriage, first baby, job, house…. I don’t mean to be morbid with this list of lasts, but it’s healthy at my age to get used to letting go, to practice with the smaller things so that when the big Last arrives, I will be able to greet it, if not gaily, at least serenely.

6 Responses

  1. Oh Lali, I didn't expect your story about your car to go the direction it did. But I understand why it did.Last year we bought a new Honda to replace our 21 year old Honda. I can definitely relate to learning all the new things about the car. and appreciating the safety features. I've been meaning to check some things in the manual, but so far have been managing to live without them!

  2. Moving into a CCRC means this is our last home. We sold both our cars before coming – and haven't bought another yet. I'm not ready to give up driving, and there's a shared car available – but I haven't found the time to get my license in California.The list goes on and on – of lasts.I hope we have many years here first, as it's a very nice place, but time flies.

  3. I too just traded in my 2008 Subaru, likely prematurely, but the clutch died, and I'd been trying to decide…I didn't get a hybrid, but oy, the computer stuff. There is so much I am trying to make it NOT do. Let's hope the safety features outsafe the problem of the computer screen and other strangenesses!

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