Thursday, May 23, 2013

Car2Go A-Go-Go

Roberta’s Car2Go card arrived in the mail on Monday. I needed to go to the bank, so we thought it’d be a great convenience if we spotted one of the little white and blue Smart cars that make up the Car2Go fleet and drove it to the bank. There had been several Car2Go cars parked on our street or very nearby for the last several weeks. We found none, however, and so we ended up walking. Some cirrus caught my attention in an otherwise flawlessly blue sky. It seemed uncannily vivid and well-defined, accentuating the China blue sky with dazzling lucidity. It was so veiled and feathery it was difficult not to think of it as some form of sublime consciousness. Was this a moral universe after all? Was there truly a higher power underlying life’s random brutality and unfairness with a mysterious order and angelic harmonies? Or were these just cirrus clouds, feathered by the deposition of water vapor in the thin air of high altitudes, measurable, gaugeable, knowable as anything else? That same day, 2,000 miles distant, a murderous two-mile wide tornado would devastate a suburb of Oklahoma City, leaving twenty-four people dead.
There but for fortune go you or I.
After I finished depositing a check, we went to the see the new Startrek movie at the Boeing Imax theater, which was just a short walk from the bank. We enjoyed the movie. The dialogue is crisp and witty, the villains are truly menacing, the special effects are eye-poppingly exciting in 3-D and the story is full of suspense and spectacle. I’ve always liked the underlying themes of Startrek: Kirk, who is all impulse and gallantry and threatened with having his rank removed for insubordination, is contrasted brilliantly with Spock, who is all reason and logic and at war with the emotions of his human side. There is always intensity and great friendship between these two characters despite frequent outbreaks of resentment and irresolvable ethical dilemmas when one of them saves the other from sure death but must break Federation rules in order to do so. Chris Pine assumes Shatner’s old role with an almost seamless realization of Shatner’s mischievous, devil-may-care sparkle and this astute casting coup is even more evident with the role of Spock; Zachary Quinto is totally convincing as the young Leonard Nimoy.
Boeing Imax is the perfect location to see a Startrek movie because it is located on the old Seattle World’s Fair grounds. The theme of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, which was called the “Century 21 Exposition,” was a futuristic celebration of science whose evident intent was to demonstrate that the United States was in no way “behind” the Soviet Union in the domains of science and space but was, in fact, at the very forefront of stellar discoveries and technology. I was fourteen at the time, and remember it well. I saw the Space Needle rise out of the ground from the vantage point of my drafting class on the third floor of Queen Anne High School. As I attempted to draw precise configurations of screwdrivers and C-clamps (never to the satisfaction of the humorless prick that taught the class), I watched as concrete trucks filled a thirty foot deep hole for the base and the massive steel beams that form the legs and upper body of the needle were welded together, one by one, so that it looked like a giant weed growing out of the ground.
There is great cruel irony for me in this now because the 21st Century is thirteen years old, but I’m not here. I’m still in the twentieth century. I neither own or carry a cell phone, despise digital technology and its consequent undermining of intellect and literature and destruction of books and print media, and although I keep a blog, it is a headache-inducing inner conflict in which I simultaneously feel the empowerment of instant self-publication and the degradation of instant self-publication.
As we walked up the long spiraling ramp that leads to the Imax theater, a series of photographs caught my interest. This was part of an ongoing Nikon Small World competition and exhibit of scientific micro-photography. I gazed at several and was stunned at the power of the images: what appeared to be a cracked yellow sun with blood veins emanating into space was, in fact, a “3D lymphangiogenesis assay” of cells sprouting from “dextran beads embedded in fibrin gel on Bing.” A membranous tornado of green and black peppered with luminous blue dots was a “Single optical section through the tip of the gut of a Drosophila melanogaster (fruitfly).”
We hoped to find a Car2Go outside the Seattle Center fairgrounds. There were none. Roberta uses a Samsung "dumb" phone. It is your basic, serviceable cell phone with no Internet access, so there was no way we could obtain the Car2Go availability map and reserve a car. The bus proved the more convenient option. We rode the number 2 to the top of Queen Anne and went to the Five Spot café for dinner. The Five Spot is a “themed” restaurant of “Regional American Food.” Every six months or so they change themes from one U.S. location or event to another. The décor and food on the menu is a reflection of the theme and is often quite clever, and good. The current theme was “Blue Highway,” a.k.a. “Highway 61,” the highway legendary for its musical history because it drops down from Minnesota to run through Saint Louis to Memphis to New Orleans. A papier-mâché rat, spider, and snail hung in the center of the restaurant and were occasionally animated by electrical device. I think they were supposed to be musicians in a band. Paintings of blues and rock ‘n roll greats adorned the wall: Otis Redding, Etta James, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King. Elvis Presley, dressed in his over-the-top regal high-collar rhinestone studded getup from his 70s Las Vegas period, lunged flamboyantly in front of a pizza delivery man.
I was torn between the slow smoked Tennessee brisket (“dry rubbed & hickory smoked for ten hours; served with baked beans, spiced & blistered green beans & sweet ‘n hot Memphis BBQ sauce”) and the St. James Parish Bowl of Gumbo with Andouille sausage (I love Andouille sausage), chicken and shrimp slow cooked in dark roux and served over herb rice. I decided on the Tennessee brisket. Roberta ordered the Crossroads Pan Roasted Chicken, topped with “habanero Voodoo sauce and served with Brussels sprouts and griddled cornmeal cake." I also got a Crater Lake root beer to wash it all down. The meal was good, the pork was tender and juicy, the baked beans were stunning and the green beans were eminently toothsome, but I don’t think it was anywhere near the $17.00 dollars they charged for it. The portions were rather small and the humbleness of the food did not merit such a heady price.
The next day, a Tuesday, we scored our first Car2Go. While Roberta was at her doctor’s appointment downtown, I googled the Car2Go map for available cars and found several just a few blocks distant. I texted her the information, hoping the cars would still be there. Roberta called after her appointment and I checked to see if those two cars were still available. They were not. I found another one on Columbia. It was still available when Roberta got there, so she was able to drive that one home. We felt triumphant. We went for a run, and when we returned approximately an hour later, we showered and dressed and walked down our easement to see if the car was still there. It was. Hallelujah. Unfortunately, someone had reserved it. I wondered if you could do that, I told Roberta, but it didn’t seem fair, so I went no further and didn’t bother to check. Roberta explained that yes, you could reserve these cars from your computer or smartphone, but there’s only a half-hour window to make it to the car before the time expires. That still didn’t seem right. I mean, there you are in a hurry, your card awkwardly wrestled out of your wallet or purse while struggling to hold a recently purchased guitar or cherub lamp in your other hand, and the car smackdab in front of you has been fucking reserved. That sucks.
Back home, we checked the computer for more cars. There weren’t any close enough to make it worth our while. We just wanted to go to the QFC at the bottom of the hill and get some grape juice and root beer and anything else cumbersome to lug up a steep hill. We checked again a few minutes later and the car Roberta drove home was still in its same spot and had become available again. Maybe the person that had reserved it changed their mind, or got caught by a phone call just as they were leaving and their time ran out. Roberta reserved it from our computer and once again strolled down our easement to the car. Roberta held her card over the reader in the windshield, unlocked the doors and got in and opened the door for me on the passenger side. I watched as she went through a series of moves on a little computer screen, questions about the condition of the car, etc. Then she put the key in and started it. There was a high-pitched electrical whine which died down in a few seconds as the car resurrected into mechanical life.  
Roberta described her driving experience: she said felt a weird surge of power when she stepped on the accelerator, which was due to the fact it was electrically powered. Other than that, it was easy to maneuver. It had a radio, which seemed always to be tuned to KEXP, which was fine with me. I like their music, except for the occasional rap. We brought our juice and root beer down to the underground parking lot and resumed our ride in the Car2Go bucket. I couldn’t get the trunk open so I had to hold two big paper grocery bags on my lap. Roberta parked it on the street again and we walked the rest of the way up our easement. The total for that day’s Car2Go driving came to $17.00 dollars.
We drove another Car2Go car the next day, on Wednesday afternoon after Roberta returned home from work. Earlier in the day I’d heard a report on NPR that money in savings accounts was vulnerable to getting chipped away by inflation because interest rates were so low. That did it. That was the tipping point for me. The incentive to keep my money in an IRA just vanished. It wasn’t that I believed this reporter on the instant, I’m far too cynical and skeptical a person to do that. Everything the report said jived with my own observations. My bank statements were proof. The money in the accounts did not compound with interest. Inflation nibbled on its value like rabbits raiding a cabbage field in the dead of night. The NPR reporter advised making your money work for you, invest it in something that appears to be appreciating, real estate being the most obvious. A car is not an investment, it depreciates the instant the wheels leave the lot and hit the street, but it’s enjoyable, it’s fun, and it is a vital piece of equipment in a city like Seattle where the public transit system is barely adequate and is dying from lack of funds.
We went online on our computer (you really do need a smartphone when you’re on the go for a Car2Go) and found a Car2Go at the bottom of the hill, on Valley. Roberta reserved it, showered, dressed, and we walked down to take command of the little tin can and drive it to the credit union where I could shift some money into my checking account. I was sure now that I wanted to buy a car. I knew I was giving into an addiction, a driving addiction, car addiction, listening-to-music-loud-in-a-car-addiction, but three months of bus riding, taking taxis, renting cars, and now using the costly and not particularly convenient Car2Go system had persuaded me that my recent headache-inducing conflict over whether to buy a car or not was leaning inevitably in the “buy a frigging car you dope” direction. I had made my choice. 
I must also admit to some grieving for our old Subaru Justy, which I suppressed for obvious reasons. It was a machine, not a pet, not remotely a living creature. Yet the old Subaru had felt like a friend, a member of the family. I did feel bereaved. I just wouldn’t admit it. Buying a new car would help with that hole it left.
Roberta started the Car2Go and we headed toward Mercer, which used to be the easiest way to get to Fairview and Eastlake until Paul Allen began evolving his empire south of Lake Union. Half of Mercer was closed. It looked dicey, so we headed to Dexter. Traffic on Dexter was heavy and slow. I worried that we would be trapped there long enough to miss the bank being open, but eventually we made it to Fairview, made a left, and minutes later found ourselves at the bank. The transaction was quick so we kept the Car2Go and resumed driving it back to Queen Anne. We parked it on Queen Anne Avenue North and walked to Uptown China, a restaurant we used to frequent much more often when we still had our Subaru. We waited in the entry for someone to seat us. There is normally someone there. It was unusual to wait. The service is normally quite good at Uptown. While we stood waiting I spotted a couple we did not like and certainly did not want to enter into conversation with. Even a brief chat would have been painful. So we crept out before they caught sight of us and had dinner at Athina, a little further up the street.
Our trip to the bank had cost $13 dollars, roughly. That means that in two days our Car2Go use totaled $31 dollars. A taxi would have been cheaper. I looked forward to getting a new car. There was dread, and guilt, but mostly the relief of an addiction finding its way to wheels, acceleration, and appeasement.


Roberta found a Car2Go at QFC shortly after getting off work. It was available, so she drove it home. It's a short distance, a quarter of a mile at best, but it's a steep uphill climb, and she had a bag of groceries. The cost for this ride was $2.23. We used one several hours later for a total of nineteen minutes to drop a book off at the library and pick up a prescription at Safeway. This ride cost $8.46. I must say it was eminently convenient to run these errands in a little Smart car, but still relatively costly. It should also be added that none of these destinations were accessible by bus.

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