Without a Car

So I went to drop off my car at the dealership this morning because the odometer and speedometer stopped working suddenly. I needed the car to meet Lilli for lunch and later for an appointment at 5:30pm, so I specifically requested that they diagnose the problem only, and only if they could complete that in two hours. I planned on walking to the mall nearby and reading at Starbucks until I could come retrieve the car. Predictably, everything went terribly awry, the car won't be ready all day, I had to cancel my appointments, and then walk a few miles back home down an inhospitable street in high heels.

Usually an even-tempered person, I was almost paralyzed with fury. Not my typical "ranting" style of rage, which is really only a self-conscious spoof of high-minded fury, all bluster and show, but a real, dense, brooding rage which doesn't lend itself nearly as well to zany antics and clever phrasing. I have rarely been so angry.

After more than twenty relocations, I could have said honestly that I had never lived in or even visited a city I didn't like. In fact, I often used to boast of such as proud proof of my adaptability and good humor.

I hate San Jose. I hate San Jose like poison*.

My hatred for San Jose is as irrational as it is passionate. However, being a generally rational person, I've tried for several months to articulate what exactly bothers me so much about living here. I used to think that railing against the suburbs was just knee-jerk hipster condescension or petulant teenage angst. Now that I find myself pouting like I have a frequent buyer card at Hot Topic, I'm trying to think seriously, without falling back on the now-cliched critiques of suburbia that began with Babbitt or earlier and continue with The Stepford Wives, "American Beauty," "Edward Scissorhands," ad nauseum - the suburbs as sterile, repressed, populated by brittle housewives and tract houses simmering with dire family secrets. Then there are the familiar environmental complaints: rampant development, sprawl, pollution. And sociological critiques as thin veils for snobbery: no art, no culture, all tasteless McMansions and ignorant consumers.

While I certainly deplore sprawl and pollution, and I'm sorry to say I'm not above the occasional unkind snicker at the middle American comforts of the local Applebees, my own dislike is much more personal and immediate. I feel trapped here. There are no buses, no taxis, no trains, nowhere to walk, nowhere to go. Everything looks the same in every direction, a disorientating nightmare. In San Francisco, Chicago, or Paris, I could walk outside and embark on any number of adventures by any number of means. San Jose is the opposite of possibility.

I often go on at length about how much I love my car. It's a lovely car, sleek and comfortable and fun to drive. And it was, essentially, a present from Dev, and a rather grandiose one at that. But more than that, it is an escape hatch, an ejection seat. As long as I have my car gassed up and ready outside, I can get out of here at any time and head to San Francisco, or even to Los Angeles. Without it, I'm stuck wandering these endless undifferentiated stretches of big box stores and office parks like an animal pacing its cage.

I remember when I was very little and just learning to dress myself. Occasionally I would pull on a large sweater, usually a turtleneck, and get sort of temporarily stuck in it. Arms in the wrong hole, all twisted around, wool damp from my breath, stifled. And I'd begin to flail around in a pitch of anger and panic, and make the problem that much worse, until finally my mother would see me looking ridiculous, with a sweater on my head, and pull the garment down with a sudden pop and back to light and fresh air and sunshine. Without my car, I'm just stuck standing here with a sweater on my head, getting madder and madder.

* Lucas, on San Jose: "Well, I wouldn't call it suburban exactly. It has a miasma of despair that is very urban."