A month ago I sold out my beliefs and paid $4,000 (£2,200) to have Shannon’s Dodge Durango repaired. I’m now the not-very-proud part-owner of an SUV, whereas in London I refuse to own a vehicle on environmental (and economic) grounds. Faced with accusations of hypocrisy before leaving the UK, I pointed out that we do get floods, mudslides and rock-falls in Forestville – the rain is seasonally heavy and we’re in a very active earthquake zone.
Last Friday we went to the insurance broker and managed – after much fiddling with the computer system – to get me onto the policy. That afternoon, Shannon insisted that I drive the Durango for the first time. Being a Californian, she’s confident in her own ability…but not anyone else’s. Although I have only driven in the UK twice this century, my previous job entailed a lot of driving in the States on business – though it was all in compacts (cars, not cosmetics, British readers please note).
“Oh, I can’t wait to see this,” she crowed, strapping herself into the passenger seat.
I turned the ignition on and reached down with my right hand for the gear stick. My hand waved at air. “Where the fuck’s the gear lever?” I said.
Shannon doubled up with laughter. “Great start! Oh, that’s fucking classic – that’s going straight in an article!”
I saw the PNRD21 indictor on the dashboard, the orange indicator on the P. Still laughing, she tapped the stick to the right of the steering wheel. I pulled it towards me, moved the indicator to R and reversed the car so that it was pointing down the drive. Mimicking her driving, I flicked it into D and slammed the accelerator down. The wheels spun on the gravel and we barrelled down the driveway, bouncing over potholes. “Howdya like that?” I asked.
I looked over to see her holding her mug of coffee at arm’s length out of the window. “Stop!” she yelled. “You don’t know how to drive one of these things – you’ll crash!”
“Don’t like it much the other way, huh?” I said. I stopped on the tarmac on the communal driveway, at the top of the half-mile of hairpin single-track mountain bends that would take us down to River Road.
“Serious advice,” she said. “Save the brakes. Take it out of drive and put it in a low gear.”
I switched it from D to 2 and set off down the roller coaster driveway faster than even she would take it. She held her mug out of the window again muttering expletives. I took a racing line around the tightest and steepest of the hairpins. There was silence and I knew what we were both waiting for: the dashboard ‘tilt’ danger warning, which activates every time she takes the corner. We emerged onto the final straight without the alarm sounding. “See?” I said. “And I took that faster than you.”
“Okay, okay,” she said. “You do a better line than me, I’ll give you that one.”
I pulled up at the junction with River Road. It was a hill start to cross over one lane of 55mph rush-hour traffic to join the highway. “Big test, baby,” she said, gloating.
A gap appeared on each side and I squeezed the accelerator. We powered across and headed down the highway.
“Good job,” she said. “Most people would have kangarooed that one. Okay, I admit it: you’re a good driver.”
Two days on, and unfortunately she’s begun to enjoy being driven. “I like this,” she said on her way to the café this morning. “I get to read and drink my coffee. Yeah, I’m getting to like this a lot. It’s doing wonders for my serenity and productivity.” It was then that I realised that going for groceries had ceased to be an ‘us’ event that she enjoyed. It’s now a ‘me’ event. So much for the four-wheeled freedom that I had craved….