Anyone who has been away from their car for a while knows the joy of being reunited with it. The familiarity hits on all of the senses: the scent of the interior, the feel of the wheel, the sound of the engine. Even the radio station you left it on, if you’re prone to that, which I am. Some people are more possessive about their cars than others, but most people agree on the sentiment: “My car is my car.” That’s true even in New York, the city that apparently hates cars.
See, your car is with you in the worst traffic jams and the best midnight fast food runs. It’s taken you on dates, brought home family members who were visiting from out of town (or even new ones from the hospital).
When I lived in Los Angeles, this was the truest. You can’t get anywhere in LA without a car. You can try for public transportation, but the infrastructure for that just isn’t as convenient as driving your own ass to where you need to be.
People always say that driving in LA is hell on earth, but I disagree. You get to sit in your wonderful car and listen to your music and you are forced to be away from social media and work emails for the time being. And if you were really motivated, you could always take the surface roads.
I live in Brooklyn now, just across the water from New York City’s densest traffic. My annual garage fee is what some Americans would call a year’s worth of rent. The garage is down the street, but I need to call at least one day in advance if I want my car. That really takes the spontaneity out of a drive.
I daily a 2002 Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG, and, charmingly, this is the car that got me into cars when I was a kid. You know, the weird C-Class AMG. The one with the supercharged 349 horsepower V6 instead of a V8.
This little sedan used to belong to my dad and we had great talks about what made it special, why he chose this over the E46 BMW M3. I grew up watching him. I watched him park in the spots as far away from the grocery carts as possible. I watched him go on Sunday morning drives when nobody else was awake. I watched him wash it in the dead of night in the garage after the state issued water regulations in the face of a drought.
And in 2012, it was passed down to me. It has since become my happy place.
And I love driving in New York. Believe it or not, there is a system in this havoc. Follow the system, and you’ll be squeezed into tight spots, but you’ll be moving. Scoot past the lost-looking family in the minivan with Delaware plates. It’s empowering.
Plus, the C32 is much smaller than the current C-Class, which makes it much easier to slide around taxis and pedestrians. It’s torquey, punchy, and has enough power to tackle even the most butt-clenching of BQE merges.
Yet, I also can’t deny that having a car in this city is hard. Parking is a costly nightmare. I’m lucky that I found a garage that charges $300 a month. I’ve seen rates in Manhattan touch $700 a month. The roads are so buckled and pockmarked that I’ll avoid a street entirely if I’m serious about it. And once I’m out for a joyride, where am I going to go? Zipping up the West Side Highway? No, to find a quality road that isn’t completely traffic-choked, you have to leave the boroughs, and that means tacking an extra hour onto any trip.
I’m willing to look past all of the inconveniences, though. Driving is one of life’s simplest pleasures, and doing it in my car has always been a treat.
Going out to blow off some steam, taking the longer way because that road has a really fun twisty section—and it makes all of the cost and the time and the worry worth it.
I think there will always be people like me who need the tactile pleasure of driving a car. There will always be people who want to feel the road under their fingertips through the steering wheel of their car. And if autonomous car sharing really takes off, all that means is less cars on the road and more space for us.
That I can certainly wait for.