She pats me on the arm and I get in. Gads. I’m driving an SUV! Those monstrous vehicles that swill gasoline and hog the quaint narrow streets north of Georgetown where I live. Those cars that the perfectly coiffed and made-up young matrons drive (often down the center of the street) while I mutter obscenities because I cannot see around them. (This, after all, is Georgetown, not the African savannah! Who needs a Land Rover in the city, for cryin’ out loud?) How could anyone drive an SUV? It is, after all, ecologically irresponsible. SUVs pose a hazard to anyone in a smaller car, they are expensive, and just the wrong kind of status symbol.
My husband and I felt virtuous and smug in our choice of the Subaru Outback. Yes, it was kind of a station wagon, but not quite. Consumer magazines gave its reliability and (relative) gas efficiency the thumbs up. It rode like a dream, and we could afford it. What’s not to like? We looked down our noses at those SUV drivers. (Well, as much down as one can when one is sitting a good two feet below an SUV.)
I realize, as I begin driving, that I don’t feel as absurd as I thought I would in my high perch above the Budget Rent-a-Car lot. In fact, it’s great. I like the tight and responsive handling on the Highlander, the enormous side-view mirrors that all but eliminate blind spots.
By the time I pull out onto the roadway, I am in love. My sanctimony shoved uncomfortably aside, I realize why people buy these cars. It’s because they are such fun.
My 12-year-old daughter, thinking that the woman in the SUV waving madly to catch her eye can’t be her mother, strolls over to the car, her eyebrows lifting with that studied casualness of a preteen. “Cool car,” she says slinging her backpack in, “are we buying it?” “Nice upgrade,” says her middle school principal, patting the silver flank of the Highlander. “Is it new?” No, I admit, it’s a loaner.
My five-year-old son has no constraints about acting detached. His large brown eyes become saucers. “Whoa, Mom! This is the best car we ever got! Is it ours? Oh yeah! Oh yeah!” He does his little celebratory dance in the back. His face falls a little when I tell him we will have to return the car when ours is fixed. “Why can’t we buy it?” I tell him it is too expensive. And uses too much gas. (And is apparently–see above–deadly.) But now he has noticed the sunroof and is entranced anew.
I focus on the gas gauge. That needle has been dropping faster than I’m used to. My life behind the wheel consists largely of pick-ups and drop-offs within a 10-mile radius of my house. Which is hard on your brakes and gulps gasoline. But wouldn’t a trip to the cleaners be so much nicer with this cushioned ride?
My daughter leans into me, wheedling, “Can we buy the car, please? Can you at least find out how much it is?” I promise her I will. Because now I really want to know.