[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I said, "Shit," not quietly, and let my body slowly deflate like a month-old helium balloon. I rested my head on my steering wheel for a second before hitting my hazard lights, pulling over to the shoulder, and allowing myself a handful of self-pitying tears. My car hit another car, not very hard, but still. I turned my head to check my blind spot for half a second and the next thing I knew, my hood made contact with the bumper of the Honda Accord in front of me. You might be thinking, "why did you turn your head around to check your blind spot?" And the answer to that is quite simple; my car is a dumb car. Full analog. So the only way to check my blind spot is to turn my head. The guy I hit stopped abruptly, and because we were both driving about three miles per hour, both of us were more surprised than anything.
The damage to my vehicle was minor, although the damage to my ego was not. The man in the Honda Accord took my number but decided not to take his car to the shop or call insurance. He could fix his taillight himself, he promised. I can not straighten my dented hood, but I suppose that is the price I must pay for my incompetence. This is my first fender bender in nearly a decade, and I haven't fixed it yet. If cars were not made entirely of plastic, nothing might have happened. Gone are the days of steel automotives, those industrial ships with un-dentable bumpers and zero safety features. As it stands, there is some minor plastic cracking and a small, creased dent in my otherwise flawless hood.
Because I live in a very uppity city, many people who live here drive very, very nice cars. Cars that cost more than my annual salary. Cars that have all the bells and whistles and basically drive themselves. Cars that can talk to you, counsel you about your bad day, make you a grilled cheese sandwich, starch your khakis, and have you to the office ten minutes early with an ethically sourced, farm to table, organic-whole-grain-cruelty-free-goatmilk-latte in hand. My car is the basic, entry-level, naked build-a-bear of cars. No overalls yet, no sneakers, and certainly no accessories. I have to manually open my trunk and still, in the year of our lord 2023, insert an actual key into the ignition. Because my car is basic and now has a dented hood, I'm on the receiving end of side-eyes from shiny grown men in their Mustangs and Porches and Rolls Royce's. I clearly have less to lose.
In a moment of rare self-reflection as I bravely sat, unscathed, on the side of a semi-busy residential street, I realized that I have become the exact sort of driver I regularly curse at. The driver who is not paying close enough attention, the driver who is putting other drivers at risk, the driver who is distracted by something and who should therefore, not be driving. When I was first learning how to drive, I gave both of my parents near deadly stomach ulcers, what with my not understanding basic laws of physics, mechanics, or directions. After failing two driving tests, my father told me I'd have to wait awhile and practice some more before embarrassing myself like that again. He let me drive our old pickup truck around an empty cornfield to practice, which was the only real safe place for me to operate a motor vehicle.
Learning to drive did not come naturally to me for two reasons. One, machines were, and still are, an unnecessary mystery. When the blender breaks, we get a new blender. We do not take it apart, and we certainly do not blame whomever put concrete mix into the blender for its eventual downfall. The failure of machines is always, always, the machine's fault. Secondly, learning to drive was unnatural because I never paid attention to directions and was therefore always lost. MapQuest was not a good teacher, and also not safe to read while driving (why did we think that was a good idea?). Besides, I could look directly at a map and still go the exact wrong direction.
When driving anywhere with my boyfriend, I insist that he drive so I can sit alert on my haunches like an oversized hound dog, yelping each time he comes too close to the car in front of us. Nevermind that he's never hit anybody. Nevermind that the cars behind us are honking in violent protest. Nevermind the football field of empty space in front of us. I jump and shriek like the startled opossum who lives in our alleyway, and who only shows his pinched little face in the dead of night. I foam at the mouth with worry and work myself into a tizzy. I clutch the seat and bite my tongue each time he merges without signaling. By the time we arrive at our destination, be it a hot yoga class or a fancy dinner date, blood will inevitably be dribbling from my mouth and my eyes will be dilated and my forehead will shine with sweat.
The other day, I asked my car if it was okay with a little ding on her forehead, and she said she's fine for now, but she'd like a facelift eventually. And fair enough, the old gal has been through a lot and she deserves a bit of pampering for once.