Lifestyle

My Week With A Car: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

A Google map image from my iPhone of my route to Ohio.
Earlier this summer, I was contacted by a media partner whose services include providing good cars for people who need them for a short term, like journalists or celebrities visiting a city. The idea was to give me a car for a week so I could write about the experience. Since I had yet to make my annual summer trip to Cleveland to visit family – a trip for which I usually rent a car so I can bring the dog – I figured this would be perfect. It was.

My week with the car came with a lot of good, a little bad and a touch of ugly…

The Good
Kia generously provided me with a fantastic brand new 2013 Kia Optima hybrid sedan, which was delivered fully-fueled by an extremely courteous and friendly guy who took careful time to show me all of the car’s features.

The car itself made for a smooth, comfortable and easy ride to and from Cleveland. As someone who’s been out of the car loop for a long time, I loved the Bluetoothiness of the whole affair, controlling my iPhone via the touch pad in the dashboard. I was able to seamlessly answer calls (hands-free, of course) and resume play of the music and podcasts I had arranged in a “Road Trip” playlist. And the mileage was fantastic. In the span of a week driving a total of around 1,000 miles, I spent less than $75 on gas. And the heated and cooled seats and steering wheel? Very nice touch.

The drive along Interstate-80 in the mountainous parts of Pennsylvania is absolutely gorgeous, and something to be enjoyed in broad daylight. I would imagine that the drive during the fall foliage is stunning.

My destination was the suburbs of Cleveland, where a car is absolutely necessary. I’ve made many trips home over the years, being picked up at the airport by members of the family. In those situations, one is sort of trapped and at the mercy of other people’s car schedules. Having the use of one’s own car, whether by rental or other car service, is the way to go.

The Bad
From the perspective of a guy who has navigated around his New York City home for nearly twenty years on bicycle, subway, taxi, bus or foot, a car is kind of a pain in the ass.

The biggest ass pain involves parking. I wonder if there is a statistic somewhere that lets us know how much time the average American driver spends looking for a parking space. If there were, I’m willing to bet that most people would gasp at the number. And I’m just talking about the free spaces. I’d love to know how much money the average driver spends on paid parking.

Another pain is just the general expense involved. The car is expensive. Gas is expensive. Insurance is expensive. Parking is expensive. Maintenance is expensive. Repairs are expensive. Oh, hell, I’d love to see the amount of money the average American blows in a year on everything related to his car.

The Ugly
The worst part of my week with the car was the re-entry into Manhattan. The car was scheduled to be picked up on a Friday morning, which meant I had to return to New York on Thursday evening and park it in a garage overnight (there’s that parking expense pain in my ass).

The mess of cars and the go-for-broke drivers operating them on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel was astounding. I have long harbored a belief that non-essential vehicles contributing to an already congested Manhattan should pay a premium upon entry. Though I was not armed with an EZ-Pass and had to pay tolls in cash (pain in the ass), I still think the $14 toll to get into Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel is about half of what it should be. As far as I’m concerned, anything that discourages more cars on this island is a good thing.

By the time I passed through the frustration funnel and entered Manhattan, my temperament was turning sour. I pulled up to the side street next to my building, unloaded the car, and brought the dog upstairs. The parking garage in my building charges $25 for overnight parking (pain in the ass). But that night, the garage was full (pain in the ass), which necessitated a six block trip up Tenth Avenue to the garage in the Skyline Motel, which gets $35 for overnight parking (bigger pain in the ass). By the time I unloaded the car, got the dog upstairs and parked the car six blocks away for $35, I was done.

In essence, the “ugly” in this story was me, or what I had become by the time the car was safely tucked away in a parking garage. This was a small taste of life in the city with a car.

I can only assume that any Manhattanite who keeps, parks and insures a car in the city is a masochist with a black belt in excess and money to burn. Otherwise, a car is at the top of the list of absolute non-essentials for a Manhattan resident.

When a very nice young man came by the next morning to pick up the car, I was relieved to be rid of it.

In conclusion…
The experience with the Optima was terrific. I’m extremely grateful to them for the week with the car, and their service was perfect for a guy like me who has no reason to permanently own an automobile. If I had an assignment in another town, I’d do it again in a New York minute. But as long as I’m living in Manhattan, I’ll remain a walking, bicycling, cabbing, training or busing man.

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Below is a video playlist of three videos I recorded during my road trip…

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2 Comments

  1. It takes a lengthy period of time with No Car to illustrate how completely an automobile takes over your reality. My current life/work situation makes a motor vehicle unnecessary, although it limits my range of work opportunity. But any increase in income would be significantly offset by the need for maintenance, oil, gas(!) and insurance (!!).

    But that ain’t the worst of it. What would really factor in is the downgrade in lifestyle and the need for a kind of subservience to the demands of the machine. My bicycle is the opposite: it makes getting around into a fun experience, a challenge, an adventure; on my bicycle I am the Master of My Reality and getting a little cardio in the bargain.

    As an added bonus, I have only a vague notion of the price of gasoline, and parking troubles are a treat: my trusty steed is leaning here next to my table saying “let’s go!” And in a minute, we will.

    Thanks for reminding me of how much better off I am, George!

    tj

    • George Reply

      Thank you, TJ, for your always eloquent and thoughtful feedback. Since I got back from CLE last week, then Neptune/Asbury Park, NJ for the Labor Day weekend, I took my first real A-B ride last night to a pre-Fashion Week event downtown in SoHo. It felt fantastic. And I ran into a few friends on the ride down, stopping to have a nice catch-up chat (we can do that on our bikes!).

      I felt “re-connected” to the city for the first time with that ride last night. It’s good to be back and in the saddle again.

      P.S. The Neptune/Asbury Park/Bradley Beach area of the Jersey Shore are FULL of bikes, cruisers in particular. It was great. I got to use a friend’s while I was there.

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