Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In Defense of My SUV

I was car-free for nearly 3 years.

I was able to do this because all the stars aligned just right and it was easy for me. I worked at home. My kids went to school just a few blocks away. I live in the center of a busy, large city where I was just a few blocks from groceries, a pharmacy, a couple of Targets, and four hospitals. And I had access to the services of ZipCar and Relay Rides when I ever really needed a car or just felt like getting out of town.  Despite what many people thought, it was quite easy and a significant reduction of stress on my resources and myself.


Then I got married and started a job in the real world. And suddenly my house had four kids and two adults going off to school and jobs each day.

That’s not to say we couldn’t still be car-free. Yes, we could. However, for us, the logistics of two working adults and four school aged kids made the trade off of convenience versus money leaned more and more towards convenience every day.  

So we bought a Suburban.

Yes, the giant, gas guzzling SUV that is probably the biggest SUV out there, aside from a Hummer.

We looked at smaller SUVs but realized that 1)they get about the same gas milage and 2)the whole point of “going big” was so that we could do things like all go places together, go camping and have room for family AND stuff, and so when we were in a car for longer than 10 minutes, it wasn’t uncomfortable a cramped. Again, all things that we of course could live through if we had to…but we didn’t.

We had a finite number of dollars, and it wasn’t practical or realistic for us to finance a new car. So with our finite dollars we had to find something that fit the criteria we wanted that was also within our budget. Hence, the older model Suburban that now sits in my driveway.

Why am I explaining myself so much?

Well, I’ve found that I get treated a lot differently driving a giant SUV than I did driving a tiny economy car. Other drivers and pedestrians seem to automatically assume I’m going to drive like an asshole or be an asshole and the only difference I can see is my car. I get honked at A LOT more. Maybe it’s because I drive worse in my SUV, but honestly, it’s not that hard to drive. And I’m a pretty conservative driver.

I am actually still primarily a bike rider. So I like to think I’m pretty aware of pedestrians and bikes when I’m out and out. I don’t speed. I park way out in the boonies of the parking lot. Generally, as I always have, I try to be a safe driver.

But I get dirty looks and honks and people yelling “watch it!” at a much higher rate. Does my SUV really look that scary?

Recently, I woman I know and like very much, who also happens to be a very vocal advocate for bike riders in my city, twittered that her new neighbor owns a Hummer and she “doesn’t think she’s going to like him”.

Because of what he drives.

Now, I admit that, I too judge Hummer drivers because it seems like a huge excess of money to spend to have one. I just could never justify that, but then again I’ve never had that kind of disposable income.  

But I don’t know that I could ever tell you for sure that I would most certainly dislike someone PURELY based on what they drive.

And maybe I’m a little defensive because I now drive one of those hulking behemoths.  I’d like to think I’m a nice person, concerned with my community, and just trying to do my best with what I have.  You can’t tell any of that about me when I’m behind the wheel of my car, though. Why would you think you could anyways?

If I had a gajillion dollars, I’d buy a brand new Tahoe with the FlexFuel option, but I’d keep an electric car of some kind for most of my driving. I’d own a fancy-pants Madsen cargo bike and all my kids would have expensive bikes too.

But I don’t have that money so I don’t have those options. I needed a car that fit my whole giant family of 6 for a really tiny dollar amount.  It is what it is, man. Why does that make you a better human than me?


As I’ve been mulling this over the past week or so, I had a scary thing happen to me yesterday. I was riding home through the city center and noticed a smallish pup running down the street I was biking down. He was running straight towards a very busy through street that feeds onto a highway…..so traffic is usually going along at a nice healthy 50mph clip. I tried to coax him to me but he was skittish and ran. He turned the corner, and a pedestrian was approaching so he did the scariest thing and ran dead into speeding traffic as I watched in helpless horror.

Two small cars barely missed him, but only by the grace of God, as both drivers were not paying attention and one was texting. And then the pup barreled into the path of a giant black Tahoe. And the driver screeched to a stop. And the pup tried to divert his path but ended up running himself into the screeching rear tire. He bowled over, yelped, and then got up and hauled ass down the side street. The Tahoe driver pulled over, obviously shaken. But no one else did. No one else even slowed down.

A man on a bike came tearing around the corner behind me, screaming for his dog and the Tahoe lady and I both yelled at him and pointed out where he could follow his dog, and he took off.  And the Tahoe lady looked at me and looked pretty sad, and got back in her car and got back on her way home.


The only obviously nice person there yesterday was the SUV lady.

Maybe most people who drive SUVs are jerks. I don’t know. But I like to think I’m not a total jerk. And I just saw a stranger who very obviously wasn’t one.

So, really…..judging a human being as worthwhile or not based on what you happened to see them get behind the wheel of? I just don’t know about that.