Today is the day E, my husband, has been dreaming about since September.Today, he picks up our new car.
Now getting a new car is always exciting, but for us it’s an especially big deal because we haven’t bought a new car in, hmmmm, I think 13 years. Yeah, 13 years.
Our last two cars were purchased used from E’s mom. They were fine, serviceable, low-mileage, four-door sedans. The last one even had bells and whistles we probably never would have splurged on if we’d bought a new car, so in our modest household, it was practically a luxury vehicle. But, at the risk of sounding petty, they weren’t OUR cars. We didn’t bond with them in that strange metaphysical way that people bond with the cars they pick out—you know, giving them names, assigning them personalities, seeing them as an extension of the family.
After a summer of wrestling with trying to get our American-made car serviced here in Belgium, E started thinking of buying a European car. Soon he was in touch with some dealers, bringing home car brochures, and Googling endlessly in the evenings. Before long he had his heart set on a mid-size Volvo wagon, and he began poring over options and features with all the anal retentiveness you’d expect from a middle-aged engineer.
Mostly I was an observer during the car-shopping phase, though after E took me for a test drive in the Volvo model he was considering, I noted that it didn’t have cup holders. Cup holders! That feature was invented in the land of long highways, big commutes, fast food restaurants, and 24-hour stores selling takeaway coffee and Slurpees. Of course cup holders are not standard equipment in Europe where eating and drinking in the car is unthinkable. If a European is going to have a cup of coffee, they’ll be drinking it from a dainty cup with a saucer and sitting at a table with a napkin in their laps.
By God, only hyperactive, barbaric American road hogs eat and drink in their vehicles as if eating is an afterthought, a necessary evil to be wedged in between appointments and cell phone calls.
But I digress.
As I was saying, my only contribution to the whole car-buying process was telling E to make sure the car had a place for me to stash a water bottle. In the end, E ordered all sorts of options and accessories, including a special lumbar support pillow for my back and pocket organizers for the kids’ stuff. See why I married him? What a guy!
But I get another perk as well. Regular readers know we are a one-car family here in Belgie, and that for the past two years, I have used public transit to get around. Every few months you can count on a post on my main blog detailing some horrible experience involving walking in blowing rain, getting splashed by passing cars, missing connections, and spending an hour or two getting to a place that’s a 15-minute drive from my house.
Depending on the bus schedule, I’m always either very early or a bit late for my appointments. I spend obscene amounts standing around—waiting, waiting, and waiting. I have built my entire wardrobe around public transit, from my dozen jackets and coats designed to help me survive every permutation of Belgian weather to my many pairs of comfortable but boring shoes, designed to traverse miles of cobblestones and urban sidewalks, often at an accelerated clip. (Must. Make. The. Bus. Or. I. Will. Have. To. Wait. An. Hour!).
Even my handbags are required to be lightweight, waterproof, and have an easy-access pocket for my bus or Metro pass Plus I have a selection of backpacks, tote bags, and rolling duffles to help me when I go shopping and have to schlep my purchases home. Yes, all the money I saved not owning a car was poured into pedestrian equipment. What a deal!
But now I’m a free woman. Since there isn’t much of a market for our American model car here, we’ve decided to just keep it. Yes, the annual taxes on it exceed the value of the car itself, but now I won’t have to go out in driving rain or bitter cold. I won’t have to grapple with back aches because I dared to buy milk and canned goods at the store, forgetting how heavy those bags would become as I walked home. I will be able to make quick trips to the grocery store on my own and buy whatever we need. I’m dizzy with freedom.
But don’t expect long posts about places I’m exploring on my own in Belgium. I’m not fond of the land of narrow winding roads, unmarked streets, traffic circles, five-way intersections, random street parking, and the confusing and dreaded rule of priority right. It’s no accident (pun intended!) that Belgium has one of the highest traffic fatality rate in Europe. It’s rather shocking that the otherwise low-key Belgians like to create their own lanes, play chicken, and drive drunk in a vehicular free for all.
No, I won’t be venturing out onto the highways or wandering far from home in my new old car, but at least I’ll have the option of staying warm, dry, and wearing high-heeled boots while I’m out running errands in my village this winter. Merry Christmas to Me!