Car number one: 1998-2001
1994 Ford Escort, white, 34,000 miles
Just to get this out of the way, it was my first car and I named it. My friend and her horrible boyfriend (trust me on this one) came with me to buy it, and she said to me, “What are you going to name it?” and at the time, it seemed like a completely reasonable question. I named it Emma, like Emma Goldman and the Jane Austen character and some other Emmas. (I did not name future cars.)
I paid in cash. It had a tape deck. It got towed a lot, because I refused to park it where it should be parked on campus, which was really far away from my dorm and in a lot with no lights. I drove it across the state a lot, to Boston, to visit a boy who did not deserve the gas mileage. To Maine, in the middle of the night, with two of my friends, because we could. One day in the summer, in traffic in Hartford, Connecticut, I sailed into the back of a truck, bit my tongue and got a fiberglass burn from the airbag. There was a dog in the bed of the truck and when I realized what had happened, I started screaming, “Is the dog okay?” It was.
I spent a lot of money on it, before and after the accident. After not too long, it started to feel like a sneakers that you’re putting duct tape on, and it’s really only a matter of time before they just collapse, but you can’t imagine buying new ones because you love these so much, and finding a new pair that will be as good seems impossible.
I stopped duct taping the car, graduated, and moved to Boston.
Car number two: 2002-2005
1998 Toyota station wagon, blue, 90,000 miles
I lived in Boston without a car for a year, and then I moved to Ohio to work on a college campus. I bought this car from a professor. At first, I drove it to the laundromat and the grocery store mainly, and then to the nearest Starbucks (18.6 miles away) when I needed to get out of the very small town I was living in, and to Cleveland for concerts and better produce and more coffee shops. Steak and Shakes for french fries and hysterical, stomach churning laughter. Ann Arbor, two hours away and a beautiful dream.
I drove it from Ohio to Massachusetts, parked it for weeks at a time in my best friend’s driveway, and started it again, when it was time to drive back to Ohio. I’d wait until the last possible second to leave to go back, and drive straight back for 10 hours (sometimes 8 or 9). There was no tape deck or CD player or fancy listening gadget in this car, and so it was just me, playing radio station roulette. Sometimes I’d get lucky and find public radio or a pop station that carried me through Buffalo and Eerie and small towns along route 80. Sometimes there was silence. Those trips were long and exhausting and I was sad for many of the hours. Once I stopped at McDonald’s and got a box of twenty Chicken Mcnuggets, and then got back on the road. Do not do this.
Car number three: 2005-2006
1999 Toyota station wagon, blue, 100,000 miles
The first blue Toyota died at 250,00 miles. Living in North East Ohio without a car is just logistically frustrating, it’s depressing and isolating. I spent a few weeks walking and getting rides, until I bought the new blue Toyota from a retiree in Akron. I resented it, because it wasn’t the first blue Toyota, to which I was very attached, and because I knew I’d paid too much for it. I need a car for work, though, and so I decided to stop treating as though it were the dog I’d gotten right after the dog I really loved just died. It wasn’t the car’s fault, after all. I drove it to Ann Arbor, and Cleveland, and then to Massachusetts, where it proceeded to die on New Year’s Eve on my way to Boston in the parking lot of a pizza parlor. I had it towed away and flew back to Ohio.
That was the last car I ever owned. After that, it was car sharing until I moved to New York in 2006. I don’t miss having a car, but sometimes I miss driving. Not the part where you get places faster, but the one where you roll along through the world, and you almost believe that nothing can stop you.
Chanel Dubofsky lives in Brooklyn.