Hell on wheels

We got a Mercedes Benz! Well, we’re leasing one. Actually, we’re leasing half of one. We’re leasing a smart car.

I never expected to own a car in New York. For the past twenty years I’ve been telling people that the reason I live here is because I don’t need to drive. Then again, I never expected to own a house. Or for that matter, to ever buy clothes anywhere other than thrift stores, and yet here we are.

In large part, the car is for my wife Sabine‘s use. As a journalist, she travels throughout the city a lot. For the past year she’s been reporting at a mental hospital and the commute on public transportation takes her about three hours. With the car it should take her a fraction of that time. And who cares if the patients laugh when they see her drive up in a novelty-sized vehicle?

But I’m excited about the possibilities it opens for me. No more 30-minute subway commutes – now I can drive to our subway stop every morning, giving me more time for my morning exercises at home. Since the train is only two blocks away, Sabine can just walk there to bring the car back when she needs it.

Of course Sabine did all the preparations: researched the best deals, negotiated with the dealer, got the insurance, and filled out all the paperwork. It was time for me to do my part. I accompanied her to pick up the car.

The Mercedes Benz dealership looked like a combination of the Smithsonian Space and Air Museum and Gagosian Gallery. We were asked to wait in the “lounge,” and somebody brought us little bottles of water while we watched CNN on a large-screen TV. There wasn’t much reading material aside from beautifully-designed brochures that promoted the dealership itself, featuring page after page of full color photographs of the place we were sitting in. I looked closely at the pictures to see if we were depicted looking at the brochures in any of them.

Bored, I made my way through the wealthy families looking at cars so big that our model probably came in the trunk in case they experienced a flat. I perused the display cases filled with “lifestyle accessories“: cufflinks, jewelry, and tote bags featuring the Mercedes Benz logo and, starting to feel a little nauseated, I went back to the lounge to watch pundits discuss the pros and cons of bombing Syria. God bless America.

Our dealer finally showed up, and she took us back to her desk. Deciding it was time for me to get involved in the process, I put on a very earnest look while Sabine signed form after form. I even nodded occasionally. The dealer wasn’t fooled. I wasn’t even asked to initial a single thing.

My wife excused herself to go to the bathroom and I clumsily tried to make conversation. “After two decades in New York I thought I’d never own a car again,” I said. The dealer responded with a rapid-fire list of reasons why it makes sense to own a car. I shut up and we both quietly waited for Sabine to return.

We were finally led to the car, and the dealer handed the key to Sabine. “I know I said we would have two keys for you, but I only have one right now,” she said, giving me a meaningful glance. She then rattled off an unending list of features we should remember–she seemed particularly concerned by the possibility of us locking ourselves out–and she snapped a picture of us in the car before we left. I assume she forwarded it to the security guys as soon as we drove off.

It was a joy to drive through the city, getting to hear drivers behind us honk as soon as the lights changed, having tourists point and laugh, being cut off by livery cars, etc. We were anxious to find a tiny parking spot near our house for our little car that would prove its superiority to conventionally-sized cars, but we were disappointed because, being Labor Day weekend, the neighborhood was so empty. We reluctantly parked in a big spot, and Sabine pointed out that there was still enough room for another smart car. Maybe we should get a second one.

Here in his car