Opinions & observations: Becoming a car owner in middle age, abruptly
It rolled off the car carrier near my home in Brooklyn and less than 20 minutes later it was mine: a 2015 Mazda CX-5 in a deep blue.
It is my first car — ever. I happen to be 50 years old.
The pandemic has altered so much in America in ways great and small. In the very small department, it has given a middle-aged man with gray in his beard a teenager’s rite of passage.
I’m clearly not alone: According to an online survey conducted in August by Engine Insights, four out of five American city residents say it’s now essential to have access to a car.
I have admired cars all my life without owning a single one. I loved the BBC’s “Top Gear,” with those crabby Brits stuffed in Bugatti sports cars, and adored NPR’s “Car Talk” with Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.
Over the years, I have rented from Enterprise and Budget and Dollar and some shady outlets, too. I was a longtime member of the car-sharing service Zipcar, until the pandemic seemed to disrupt its disruptive model.
Renting different types of cars gave me a chance to check them out. But owning one? With the worrisome dance of street parking and the nag of routine maintenance? I’d rather take the subway. Who wants to add to global warming anyway?
But urban life now is upside down. The subways, buses and ride-sharing platforms offer trips that aren’t for the nervous, and car-sharing services aren’t practical or economical for long-term rentals.
Enter my used Mazda, bought from one of several auto retailers that offer online shopping and delivery, like Carvana and Vroom, which both offer a seven-day test drive. It has a few miles on it. But so do I.
Like many businesses, Carvana has had to weather a financial storm. Sales began to rebound in late April, and the company ended the financial quarter in late June with sales up 40 percent over the same period last year. Overall, Carvana sold over 55,000 vehicles during the second quarter, a 25 percent increase versus the same time last year.
What new drivers am I sharing the road with? The auto group AAA did a survey in April that showed millennials are more likely to say the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting them to consider buying a vehicle in the next six months (14 percent) than baby boomers (7 percent). Come on in, the water’s just fine — just please stop beeping at me.
But let’s be honest: It’s clearly not the best time to own a car in New York City. The street-side parking spots that were left after bike-sharing hubs arrived a few years back have now been gobbled up by restaurants spilling their socially distanced tables into the streets.
Finding a parking spot these days less than four blocks from home is worthy of a Tiger Woods-style fist-pump after he sinks a birdie. I belong now to a tribe of people who prize their secret spots and talk strategy for hours. Even with all the tips, though, I recently spent four hours searching for a suitable spot and had turned scarlet red in a toddler’s temper tantrum when I gave up (my wife found a spot in 15 minutes).
But I am betting on the future — or at least hoping to outdrive it. I have freedom, but it is limited (see parking, above). No wonder many have chosen to flee to the suburbs, where cars are king and parking in front of your house is a God-given right.
Until then, may I ask: You pulling out of that spot?
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