I am the first to admit that I am, at best, a mediocre environmentalist. My crimes against the planet are too long to list, but even the highlight reel makes me cringe: I take really long hot showers, for the simple and idiotic reason that I’m so busy daydreaming I forget to turn off the water. I get nervous when I’m home alone, so I leave on every light in the house, and to hell with greenhouse gases. My addiction to disposable paper goods is legendary – I am the Courtney Love of double-ply paper towels.
But, in my defense, I have done one purely selfless thing for the environment: I gave up my big, beautiful, gas-guzzling SUV. This might not sound like such a big deal except for the fact that I loved that car – truly, deeply loved it.
As a suburban mother, I have historically spent massive amounts of time in the car, transporting kids to soccer games, bar mitzvahs and after school activities. My requirements for cars have been pretty straightforward: I insist on side impact air bags, anti-lock brakes and a few strategically placed cup holders.
But when a sleekly designed Bavarian four-door came into my life, my vehicular indifference began to unravel. Whereas our previous family cars had been businesslike and unbeautiful, this one was a lithe miracle of German engineering. This car moved like a panther, sure and confident, holding the road like it was a beautiful woman. The car radiated power and grace; it moved beneath me like a well-oiled pool boy. I was in the grip of my first and only car crush.
This was the first car that I ever felt the need to claim with a possessive pronoun. Previous vehicles had been referred to as “the Honda” or the “blue car.” This one, without fail, I referred to as, “my car,” and that phrase was frequently attached to a strident command (like “no eating Cheez Doodles in my car.” Or “Don’t let the dog vomit in my car.”)
The car pressed my buttons, which is ironic since it hardly ever reacted when I pressed its buttons. Attempting to turn on the heat or defroster might bring a response, but on the other hand it might not. The car did whatever it wanted, and like many previous objects of my desire, it showed complete indifference to my comfort and well-being. But my passion for the car never diminished. Being seen around town with such a beautiful vehicle made me want to upgrade my own look – I ditched the relaxed-fit “mom” jeans and forced myself to do an abdominal crunch or two.
But the car and I were not meant to be: it was stylish, fast and arrogant, but it was also an unrepentant gas guzzler. On a good day it got 14 miles to a gallon; it was costing me a fortune and crapping all over my carbon footprint. So I traded it in for a daintier, gas-efficient model, a small and practical but unremarkable Toyota SUV. I have now reverted to my previous, businesslike attitude towards cars. Emotionally, I’m in much better shape, now that I’m free of the distracting passion of being a car slut. And I’ll be in better physical shape too, once I resume those ab crunches. Any day now.
Editor’s Note: Susan Goldberg is a slightly lapsed treehugger. Although known to overuse paper products, she has the best of intentions – and a really small SUV. Catch her column, The Goldberg Variations, each week here at EcoSalon.