Like last week. I drove myself to the emergency room in the middle of the night thinking I had a kidney stone, leaving my three kids to fend for themselves to get up and out the door for school.
This week, it was my car’s health that made for an interesting week.
Of course, these are the weeks my husband is on Japan on business. the plane can not jet across the skies fast enough to get him home.
Every day, people on the road see me coming because I am not ready to turn in my New York license plates.
You see, to save taxpayer dollars, Michiganders do not have plates on the front of their vehicle. So, when you drive a car from New York, especially with the retro Orange and Blue old-style plates that hearken back to the gas guzzlers of the 1970’s you really stand out.
Because drivers can see me coming, the plates compel me to take on the role of an ambassador of the Empire State. And this ambassador is a very courteous driver.
I leave intersections and shopping center driveways clear so my fellow drivers can exit and enter.
(Detroiters, have you ever tried to get out of the Trader Joe’s parking lot on Telegraph and Maple? How many of you keep that intersection clear? You know who I’m talking about.)
I don’t tailgate.
I yield to pedestrians to cross the street, even the ones with canes, and don’t honk at them to hurry up.
All this to dispel the myth that all New York drivers are assholes.
I took my car in for a routine oil, lube and filter change the other day.
In the old days back in Brighton, I knew exactly who to use. I would leave my car at one of two reliable garages within walking distance from my home, use my coupon, and I knew my car was in reliable hands as I left for a walk,
So, I figured I would give the closest lube guys a chance. Lube Tech is about .7 miles from my house. It was a nice morning, the bike path is nearby and I was looking forward to a walk as my car got checked out. For safety’s sake, I lock my co-pilot, my GPS system, in my glove compartment
It turns out Lube Tech is the kind of speed oil change places, where the work is done in less than 20 minutes. Fair enough, I’ll wait for my car in the tiny waiting room filled with magazines about cars and sports.
Then, a swarthy mechanic tells me that my car requires synthetic oil. Which of course is more expensive and I can’t use the coupon.
I’ve never used synthetic oil, please use the regular oil, please.
Ten minutes go by and the mechanic approaches me with a concerned look.
“Do you ever have problems taking your key out of the ignition?”
“Em, no, never. “
What is he talking about? I just drove my kid to school this morning?
“Because now the key doesn’t come out.”
Oh this can’t be good.
He tries again. I try. One of his associates tries. The key will start the car and turn her off, but won’t come out.
Next, another question:
“Have your power windows been giving you problems? Because they don’t work now either. And neither do your tail lights, ma’am.”
And I’m supposed to be PAYING for this?
So, now, I’m sitting in my car with a stuck key in the ignition and windows locked shut. I’m a woman in a garage with four guys with my husband across the globe. And I don’t feel like paying for my oil change for some reason.
After giving them a piece of my New York mind, I drove off without paying. And I set out to locate my nearest Chevy dealer.
Now this would be easy if I could use my GPS. Too bad it is locked in my glove compartment. Locked with the key that won’t come out of my ignition.
With a little know how, and recalling how my son taught me how to use Google Maps on my smart phone, I make it to the nearest Chevy dealer. Who reassured me that all is under warranty and they will provide me with a rental car, all paid for by the good people of General Motors.
I was hoping to not get a compact car, because on any given day I have to drive at least three kids around town, plus all their stuff.
Turns out the only GM car the rental place had available was the biggest “car” there is: A Chevy suburban.
The rental agent behind the counter, a woman, asked me if I can handle a vehicle this big.
Another rental agent looks up from his computer, raises his eyebrows and smiles at me: “Awww yeah girl, you can handle it.”
So, for a few days, while my car was being fixed for a problem that had NOTHING to do with the oil change, I felt untouchable on the road. Completely confident on making that Michigan left on Telegraph. Or Woodward.
And what’s more, people still saw me coming.
Except this time, Detroiters thought I was from
Years before I even dreamed that I could live in Detroit, I’d see them on the highway and it would make me wonder. On summer road trips I would often see shiny, shark-fender cars headed west as we headed east. Cars of bygone eras in reds and powdered blue. Some being driven, some being transported on flat beds or in tow.
Little did I know back then but they were probably headed to Detroit’s Dream Cruise.
I first heard about the Dream Cruise at a lady’s evening out. Being the newbie that I am, when I hear the word cruise, I automatically think – big boat with a midnight buffet.
“No, no, this is the CAR CAPITAL! You have to go to the Dream Cruise, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, man! They rev up and down Woodward for days! Some even pour some kind of bleach in their tail pipe so when they rev their engine they get a big puff of white smoke. It’s crazy!” Said one woman, a slim attorney who sipped away at her white wine.
This is not called the Motor City for nothing. And I’m learning that in Detroit, people take their cars very seriously.
Drive around any time of day, in any part of the city, good and bad, and you will see how people take pride in their cars.
Me? Well I don’t think I waxed a car since I helped my grandpa wax his Oldsmobile Cutlass in our driveway.
Earlier in the summer, as a prelude to the Dream Cruise, I attended an open house at the General Motors Powertrain plant in Pontiac. On display were cars owned by GM employees as well as the Stingray that was used in the Transformers 4 movie.
This week, NPR featured a series about the millennial generation and their disenchantment with car ownership. The series spoke of urbanite teens and 20somethings preferring Zip Cars, sharing cars, tweeting to bum a ride, or moving back to cities with public transportation. That’s a big U-turn from the decades past when teens and those in their twenties couldn’t wait to get their first car. When a whole lifestyle was built around the car.
Can you think of any songs these days written about a car?
But a desire to live one’s life without the love of a set of wheels?
Not in this town.
Last week, millions came to Detroit from all over the country in their roadsters to cruise up and down Woodward Avenue, from downtown Detroit all the way up to Pontiac.
Then there are the crowds who come to just WATCH CARS. All week. They bring their lawn chairs and sit on the curb with family and friends.
Some take this to the heights of tailgating, complete with tents, hibachis and picnics.
Do these people care about the carbon dioxide they emit from their gas guzzling vehicles? Or the price of a gallon of petrol these days?
When a particular car they like goes by, they whooop and cheer and shout out comments and questions to the owner:
What year is that?
Did you build that yourself?
And the traffic is crawling along so slowly, proud drivers are actually able to give answers to the spectators. They are more than happy to brag about their baby.
Overall, Dream Cruise was a beautiful night and we had a great time. But I couldn’t help but think: these people are willingly – willingly – sitting in traffic. For hours. To show off their chrome exteriors and leather interiors. To breathe in all those fumes. To come together and show off the best of what Detroit has to offer, cars built in the glory years of the American automotive industry.
I spend a lot more time in my car now that I’ve moved to Detroit. No longer are the places I need to get to the most under 5 miles away. No longer is anything just a short ride away.
I don’t care if I had the most souped-up ride in my garage. in my spare time, even in the Motor City, the last place I want to be in, is in a car.