Elaine Soloway's Rookie Widow Series: Cheapskate, Environmentalist, or Chicken; Que Sera, Sera; Ink Fades, Memories Linger
I had my choice of a Ford Focus Hatchback or a Honda Insight Hybrid. Either would cost $47.04 for the four-hour rental I would use to drive to Old Orchard where I'd meet my friend, Ruth, for lunch.
This online search was prompted by the absence of my own Honda Fit, which I had returned to the leaseholder prior to moving downtown.
"Don't worry," I had told friends who worried the absence of a vehicle would curb my weekly visits. "I'll join a car-sharing service — they're parked in my high-rise's garage — so there won't be any interruption."
Immediately after unpacking, I signed up with Zipcar, paid a $60 annual membership fee, plus $9 per month for a complete damage waiver. But, in the 365 days I've had the plastic card in my wallet, I've never used it.
At first, I blamed my reluctance to the lack of available vehicles in my garage. Oh, there was a sampling several blocks away, but the trek eroded some of the ease I had envisioned.
Part of the problem is my four-feet-nine-inches and need for visibility. In order to lift me above the steering wheel, I must use two pillows. The thought of schlepping those booster seats to a far away car lot is unappealing.
My hesitation with Zipcar hasn't interrupted my promise to friends. Instead, I opt for the Chicago Transit Authority, or Uber and Lyft ride-sharing apps with their private drivers.
But, with a one-and-a-half hour Purple Line Linden train to Central St. in Evanston, then a #201 bus to the shopping center on my calendar, I decided to finally reserve a car for the 16-mile trip. I'd still have to walk elsewhere to get a car, but I was willing.
As I perused my vehicle options, a trio of voices barged into my brain. First was the stingy sidekick. "If you take the train and bus, it'll only cost $2.50 roundtrip," she said, her demeanor mirroring a sensible accountant's. "Compare that to the $47.04 rental."
Then, another voice interrupted; this one with a righteous tone, "Well, I agree that ditching a car is smart, but more important than cost is the effect on the environment." She was the same noodge who berated me for leaving at home canvas bags when I shop at Whole Foods. "Air pollution, global warming," she droned.
The third voice chimed in — timid, shaky. "Please don't drive," she said. "I'm scared. Remember what happened the last time, with the Prius and iGo?"
How could I forget? At the time, I was still living on the northwest side, and wanted to try car sharing before my move. With vehicles across the street in Independence Park; I thought it'd be a breeze.
But on the day of my experiment, no cars were available, so I walked nearly a mile to the nearest location. I followed instructions to unlock the door and start the ignition. I placed my two cushions on the driver's seat. Then, after lifting, stretching, and twisting to view the rear window, I slowly backed out.
I braked as I spotted a four-door parked at an angle just behind me. Was that a dent in its rear fender? My heart hammered; I started perspiring, I felt weak, faint. Had I already maimed a vehicle? Instead of exiting to find out, I continued on, still shaking but believing that if I interrupted my trial, I'd never gain the shared-ride experience. As soon as I arrived at my destination, I checked for damage on the Prius — none. Then, I called iGo.
"I think I hit a parked car," I said, trembling as if I were confessing a murder. I provided all required information, then returned to the original lot. I took out my iPhone to capture the damage on the still-parked vehicle. But, I couldn't find any. The dent I had imagined was instead the fender's sloping design. I circled the car several times to make sure the two fenders matched. They did!
I called iGo again and reported my happy findings. "Great," the staffer said, "but we'll send you an accident report just in case." I filled it out and waited days, weeks, months, a year, but nothing more came of the incident. Still, it traumatized me. Ever since, I've been reluctant to drive an unfamiliar car.
So, I'll travel to Old Orchard via CTA. When Ruth praises my pluck, I'll tell her "saving money and the environment." But I'll confess to you: I'm a chicken — a pint-sized hen that needs two booster seats to see over a steering wheel. Cluck. Cluck.
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