Every so often, I think about buying a car.
More precisely, I think about encouraging my husband to buy a car, since I don't drive. I used to drive but was very, very bad at it. I accepted the fact, quite early in the game, that behind a wheel I was definitely a menace to society. And though it has been inconvenient at times, both for myself and for the kind souls that have had to ferry me about on occasion, better some inconvenience - I daresay - than a body count.
In truth, we do have a car - one car, second-hand, held in common with our children on their occasional visits, and unworthy of any insurance beyond the requisite collision - that has managed to function quite nicely as our mode of conveyance in this ill-conceived, God-forsaken confluence of habitation known in the United States as a "suburb". But our car is old and ratchet and may be ready to retire and sit in our backyard for four years (like our last one). Until some gypsies come by and offer to buy it (also like our last one). My husband, though possessed of many fine qualities, has difficulty parting with material possessions, a trait that is nicely balanced by my own tendency to throw everything away, often to my later chagrin ("I'm sorry, were those your baby teeth?") and regret.
Thus, I have recently given some consideration to the acquisition of a (real) car and a driver's license. I am thinking that, just maybe, I now have the emotional maturity to maneuver a vehicle as far as the train station, the library, and a grocery store. I would trust myself to drive no further and, even then, would confine myself to days when I was in a good mood. True, I would be giving up the smug feeling of moral superiority that I so enjoy over those who lose thousands of hours of their lives half-listening to books-on-tape and despairing at the realization that the moron who just cut them off might possibly go on to spawn offspring and/or be the deciding vote in the next presidential election.
And, also true, I would be missing out on a considerable amount of fun.
A train trip into the city last weekend is just one example of how much fun it is, sometimes, to transport with the public.
My husband and I had found the last two adjacent open seats. "Lucky us!" I thought, before realizing that there was, indeed, a very good reason for those two seats to be open. Kitty-corner from us was a person - male, plethora of tattoos, legs splayed in the air, shoeless feet hooked over the seat in front of him - speaking in angry, ear-rending tones on his cell phone. I often marvel that people who speak loudly on cell phones while on public transportation can have people in their lives who actually want to talk to them, but then I recall myself and acknowledge that I, too, have been guilty of this same crime on a few occasions and am overwhelmed with guilt and feel contritely grateful to those in my life who actually want to talk to me. However, the effects of this soul-searching do not extend to charitable thoughts toward other offenders, and I can happily say that I have not splayed any part of my body in public since 1976.
My husband is perilously close to being stone-deaf and refuses to get a hearing aid, citing that the condition holds distinct advantages, and had to wait for the re-telling of the following conversation:
"Fuckin'-A. And you know what she said to me, man?"
(No. Do tell.)
"She said, 'No job, no date.' Can you fuckin' believe that? Fuck!"
(I can believe it. But I think what she probably meant was, "No meds, no date.")
This went on for several minutes, and at an objectionable volume, until:
"Okay. Okay. I gotta go."
At about the same time, I had taken notice of a young man sitting across from us, behind the gentleman with the tattoos who was now singing and swinging his feet. I took notice because the young man was in the circumstance of being approached by an attractive and stylishly attired (designer sports bra, designer bike shorts, designer bike bag, and super-cute helmet) stranger, a "bicycle" person of the female persuasion.
"Hey, I locked my bike to yours back there."
The young man immediately straightened up (from his own splayed position), pulled the earphones out of his head (cue: powerful sucking noise), and said:
"Go for it."
Now, "back there" meant the three seats in the back of the train car usually occupied by mothers with babies and buggies, pre-empted today by the young man's bicycle. If my calculations are correct, he now occupied four seats on an overcrowded train but only paid for one, which never ceases to amaze me and is somehow deemed reasonable by lesser intellects.
"Can I sit here?"
The next fifteen minutes were occupied by an intense discussion of where they respectively resided, which - after much sparring and convoluted explanation - turned out to be, predictably, in the suburbs and with their parents, though "just until I decide what I want to do" and "only during the week, because I spend most of my time in the city." (Anthropologically speaking, it would seem that in present-day American culture one's degree of attractiveness corresponds directly to one's tenure within the official limits of a metropolitan area. And rightfully so.) Hence, it became vital that each conversant carefully establish a level of metro-sophistication consistent with the other's need for such in an acceptable mate.
"Yeah, I was in the 'burbs this weekend because my friend had her wedding at The Arboretum."
(Of course she did.)
(This could be love.)
"Where do you work?"
(No job, ...)
"Oh, here and there. I'm in construction."
(Translation: I work with my dad. Sometimes. Loser.)
There was an ominous moment of hesitation.
"Well, I'm, like, in finance."
(Like in finance?)
"Like, I'm in investment banking."
(Like, I am so, so glad you're not investing my money. Can I get an "OMG"?)
"Do you bike a lot?"
(Well, given her elaborate and costly accoutrement, I sure hope so.)
"Not really. Did you forget your helmet?"
(This could be a deal breaker.)
"Nah, I don't use one. I hate 'em."
(You should have said you forgot it at home.)
"Yeah, my boyfriend won't wear one either."
(See? I told you.)
"Yeah, like, this old dude came up to me the other day and really went off on me about the whole helmet thing."
This last statement got the enthusiastic attention of the gentleman with the tattoos, who had stopped singing and was listening intently - as was I - to their conversation. He turned around suddenly, and shouted:
"Be a rebel, dude!"
An unexpected turn of events. The suburban bicyclists gave him their polite and undivided attention, probably for the following reasons:
- After the mention of the "boyfriend", there was nothing left to talk about;
- They suspected that the gentleman with the tattoos lived in "the city", and it was therefore important to demonstrate how well they could deal with "city" people in order to maintain their credibility;
- They were scared shitless of this guy.
"Dude, I didn't used to wear a helmet either, dude, but then I, like, - you know - fell off and knocked myself in the head."
(You don't say.)
"Whataya guys up to in the city?"
(Watch out, he smells fresh meat.)
At which point the conversation was promptly and deftly turned to protracted whining about the abuse and mistreatment of bicyclists in an ignorant and uncaring world:
"Chicago cabdrivers are such assholes!"
"Dude, I barely clipped her and she kept crying! Yeah, okay, she was eight-years-old, but, dude."
We pulled into the station. The gentleman with the tattoos put on his shoes and went to get his girlfriend out of jail. The construction worker and the investment banker studiously and meticulously spent a minimum of ten minutes unlocking their bicycles. Until they were sure Elvis had left the building.
This was some quality entertainment, and my husband agreed after I filled him in on what he had missed (using semaphore flags). Screw cars. The closest one comes to any significant human interaction while driving a car is road rage, which is unpleasant and usually not at all entertaining. For my money, I'll take a comfortable seat on a train - after 5, with a cocktail - and let the games begin. Where else could one witness life's unfolding drama between a part-time construction worker, an investment banker, and a lunatic with potential brain damage? I particularly enjoyed the bit about the eight-year-old girl.
And I would love to hear her side of the story.