It can be hard to find markers of adulthood in my world. Basically, because I don’t have kids, I often feel like I’m living the life of a child, or at least a youngish millennial. That not only is because my husband and I live without childcare concerns curtailing our ability to do things like go out with friends, take vacations, have sex, and get drunk whenever we want — though, of course, Covid, acid reflux and general exhaustion have done that to us instead. It’s also because so many of the milestones my friends are experiencing these days have to do with things their kids are doing, like graduating from high school or college, or getting their first jobs — providing me with that mind-blowing experience of having full-on conversations about the state of our country with a person whose hand it seems like I was just holding to keep him from running into the street. Not that having kids necessarily makes you any more of an adult. One colleague who’s now showing me pictures of his one-year-old daughter tunelessly banging away on a tiny xylophone was just a couple of years ago giving me detailed advice about how to take hallucinogenic mushrooms (granted, it was excellent advice), and I often see men on set who have multiple offspring or even grandchildren getting into idiotic pissing matches that wouldn’t seem out of place in a sandbox (“I’m not moving my cart unless he comes and asks me personally!” comes to mind from one recent, extremely mature exchange).
There are also career milestones, and many of my college friends are getting promoted to vastly superior jobs — one even mentioned the “C Suite” recently, which is term that I am so distanced from that I had to Google what the “C” means. But the only way I could get promoted in my current career would involve me investing tens of thousands of dollars in equipment that scares me so that I could move up to mixer, a position that, like most jobs for which you only get noticed at when you fuck up, empirically kinda sucks. Instead, I just keep writing more blog posts and scripts and fiction and directing more tiny projects in the hopes that I will be paid to write or direct full time, which realistically for most humans is more of a Hail Mary than a career choice, because, sure, I’m choosing it, but nobody is choosing me, which is kind the important part. I also have friends talking about retirement, but while I do have a 401K and an IRA, they are growing at a pace that reminds me of the slow, frustrating and icky experience of trying to walk through the blue ball room at the Color Factory (hahahaha remember ball rooms?), which makes me feel like for me to even fantasize about retiring is going to require a lot more mushrooms.
So what I’m settling for as a sign of how I’m progressing as a grown up right now is trying to buy a car for the first time. Now, you might think it weird that at 52 I’ve never bought a car before, but bear in mind that I live in New York City, where plenty of people never even learn to drive. I only finally got a car when I got sick of having to get up at 4 am to take a train to Manhattan to get in a courtesy van in order to be in New Jersey at 6 for a shoot, something I had to do so often in my 20s that the phrase one of my friends told me he most associated with me was, “I can’t, I have to get up really early tomorrow to take a van.”
But the real reason I didn’t have to buy a car for this long is that, in a feat of true adulting avoidance, I managed to secure my first three cars as gifts/hand-me-downs. My parents bought me my first car before my senior year of college in 1985, a standard shift, 1982 Honda Accord that I knew was perfect for me when its clutch failed the very first time I put my foot on it. It served me well anyway for the short period of time that I actually used it; a few months later, I got my first serious boyfriend, and then mostly drove around in his much nicer car, and then three months after that, I graduated and headed to NYC for grad school, fully displaying my 21-year-old lack-of-responsiblity-taking by leaving the car in Northern California for my older brother to sell (I also gave him back the bicycle he loaned me for college as a creaky, rusted mess after leaving it out in the rain for four years).
I didn’t have another car until I got my mother’s 1996 Toyota Camry in the aughties, which I kept through my late 30s and early 40s. It was a great car that you could say I either kindly shepherded through its later years or ran into the ground. We did go through a couple of accidents and a series of spectacular breakdowns together, including the one that happened on the way home from Maine on the first shooting trip for my feature documentary, where, when the temperature gage hit the red in Massachusetts, a nice man at a gas station told my co-director to pour some sealant into the radiator. This held us until Connecticut when the engine started to spew steam and we popped open the hood to find it had turned into a fountain. But it made for a great story complete with triumphant ending, since we then had to ride in the cab of a tow truck for about three hours, listening to the driver talk about his relationship problems (really me, because my co-director had the enviable ability to sleep anywhere), until we arrived at my apartment in Brooklyn and learned the tow was free because I also was still on my parents’ super platinum AAA account that meant any tow within 100 miles was free, and ours had been 98. Huzzah!
I gave that car away to WNYC when my brother and sister-in-law were ready to part with their 2002 Camry in 2013, which I received with the surprise bonus of half-dissolved TicTacs in the rear door well and stale Cheerios throughout, thanks to my nephews, two of the afore-mentioned children who can now, amazingly, cross the street by themselves (although they still can’t relied upon to respond to emails or text messages in a timely manner. Many Gen Xers also can’t seem to do this either, but I think that’s because they have abandoned ship on flooded email boxes and texting is just one form of communication too many). My brother’s car was not free, I had to pay about $1500 for it and commit to two babysitting stints, but I considered that a great deal since I liked babysitting for my nephews anyway, and it meant I could put off grappling with dealerships and loans, which is the fun new experience I’ve been enjoying for the past few months. But it, too, has been through a few breakdowns, as well as one accident in 2019. It was with a nice kid from Omaha who wasn’t yet accustomed to driving in New York and knocked off my front bumper, a problem my local mechanic solved with a couple of screws, but that left the car looking like it had a black eye (which actually made it easier to spot, not such a bad thing considering that half of Brooklyn seems to own the same silver Camry). But after pouring $1500 into it last year to replace an exhaust system that had completely rusted out and was barely hanging from the bottom of the car, and could not just be fixed with a couple of screws (believe me, I asked), I knew I was going to have to replace the poor thing before something else fell off.
Probably the most annoying thing about buying a car in this particular era (aside from, you know, pandemic) is that there, indeed, is one form of communication too many, and dealerships have to use all of them. Once you make any contact with them, the emails, calls and texts start coming in — with the first deluge being about opting in to further communication, so you get a million texts about texting before you even start getting texts about cars. Then there are multiple people reaching out to you, often via text and email and phone. First it’s a sales coordinator, but before you even have a chance to respond to her (they are all hers), they hand over your information to a dealer, or even more than one dealer, so that he (they are all hes) can annoy you as well. And then, as if badgering you in these three ways isn’t annoying enough, this one dealership in South Jersey seems to think that videos are what’s going to convince me to work with them, even when the video is essentially watching the dealer record a voicemail message, but with public speaking seminar hand gestures and “visual aids.”
I’ve had some very stereotypical car shopping experiences. At one, a nice kid in his 20s named Mario started off by dropping that this could be his first sale, then proceeded to use every hokey line from the 1958 Car Dealer’s Handbook. Like “What’s it going to take to get you to drive out of here in this car today?” And “I personally can’t get comfortable these hybrids because they don’t make much noise, but I know you care about mileage, and this gets an insane, what, like 50 mpg?” (Okay, that one wasn’t in the handbook in 1958). And “Okay, I couldn’t tell you this until we’re out here in the parking lot because my boss would chew me out, but the best deal is always when you buy the car the first day you come in…” And saying “Take it easy, Speed Racer” with a chuckle when he sent me, the nice middle-aged white lady in glasses, off for my test drive, which really made me want to see just what it would take to push that Kia from zero to 60. It was all kind of cute, but not necessarily the best approach for someone like me, who’s already seen too many actors deliver audition lines from Glengarry Glen Ross. He also kept coming back with prices that were $200 lower, telling me he was getting different “fees” waved exclusively for me. This is another thing they are sleazy about: the fees. I was pretty psyched about the Hyundai I test drove in Jersey until they handed me a printout with what it was actually going to cost. When I complained about the additional $1000 in fees from what I’d seen online, the dealer I was working with brought over his sales manager, so they could tag-team me with, “Well, every dealership has that fee,” and when I pointed out that two dealers I’d dealt with in New York hadn’t had that fee, they said, “Oh, well, New York, they’re so expensive, they’re going to have tons of other fees.” And when we finally got to, “Okay what, if we take off that amount, will you buy it today?”, they brought back a piece of paper with a new total removing only part of the amount, I guess assuming that the nice middle-aged white lady in glasses couldn’t add. I personally preferred the 60-something guy at the Subaru dealership who didn’t even seem to know much about the car, presumably because it was a Honda, giving me details off the same Carfax page that I had been looking at, saying, “Huh, yeah, this looks like a good deal.” He just sent me out to do the test drive and then sat down and told me the price, the end. He seemed like he’s about three days away from retirement and couldn’t really care less — something, as you might gather, that I can totally respect.
Yesterday, I finally bought a car: a 2018 Kia Niro, which I admit I partly picked out because it did not at all resemble a Toyota Camry — but it also has great reliability and safety ratings and things which feel to me like space-age technology, like a back-up camera and mirrors that automatically turn in when you turn the car off. Whaaaaaat?! We’ve saved enough money during the pandemic, since our big splurge has been the weekly order from Fresh Direct, that I decided to forgo financing and pay for it outright, which brought me to probably the scariest part of the whole process: getting a bank check for almost $17K. The bank manager that the teller called over to approve the transaction gave me a couple of scrutinizing looks through the glass when she heard the amount, but when the teller told her it was for a car, she said, “Congratulations! We like to celebrate with our customers!” to which I responded with a faint-hearted “Woohoo…” It’s a lot of money to see just disappear from your checking account. But now that I’ve got it home, I am kind of excited about having a car that is both shiny and much less likely to self-destruct at any moment. I’ll just need to find something else to do online instead of scanning the Carfax listings every day for new deals — because every middle-aged white lady still needs a way to procrastinate like an adolescent.