Dear Car Salesperson,
The thought of getting a new car horrifies me. It chills me to the bone, and cuts me to said bone's chewy marrow center for reasons I'll go into shortly. However, my family could use a second car. Our sole car is currently being spread thin. It's shared by myself, my wife, and soon by my daughter, who's been counting down the seconds to her "driving-age" birthday like she's going to sing "Auld Lang Syne" when midnight strikes.
The struggle for power gets ugly. It's easy to fend off my daughter. My wife and I tell her that she can't practice without a permit, even though we know she sneaks out of the house in the wee hours to do donuts in the local strip mall's parking lot. We'd fear for her safety if we weren't so relieved that her indiscretion frees up the car for us during precious daylight hours. It's a different story between Ann and I. We used to simply ask each other to use the car to go to work in the morning. Whoever would ask first would get it.
Sometimes I slash one, possibly two tires at night. After my wife reluctantly hops on the bus, I dip into my secret stash of tires I keep up in the attic. It's an expensive trick, but it guarantees me one more day of vehicular freedom. She's bound to catch on soon, but until then I'll have two thousand dollars a week allotted in my budget for the good people at GoodYear.
So given this information, you'd believe that from a practical point of view it makes good sense to have a second car, but recent observations and experiences dictate otherwise. What is troubling me so? The fact that I live... and drive... in New Jersey. Many would-be parents ask themselves: "How could I bring a child into this horrible world?" Well, I've dealt with that question, and I have a lovely, yet rambunctious daughter. Now I'm faced with a far worse dilemma: "How can I bring another car into this treacherous driving state?"
The rumors are true. Everyone here drives like a lunatic, each in their own maniacal way. There are the passives who go ten miles per hour under the speed limit in the fast lane and the aggressives who go thirty above in the slow lane. The latter will cut you off faster than the modern aristocracy will cut off their pregnant, out-of-wedlock teens.
Oh the things I've seen... Flecks of foam running out of the snarling mouths of the drivers behind me, fogging up their own windshields with the bursts of steam emanating from their ears. I've seen the tense quivering of their hands about to slam down on their horn in a state of mind where hitting the brake pedal is secondary to venting their frustration about the others around them . What happened to these people to make them this way? Maybe it's in the water. Have you ever had New Jersey tap water? If you have, you know it's not out of the question. Were they bitten by a rabid beast? Are they fearless immortals, aliens, or merely legions of the undead? Perhaps there were never enough opposable thumbs to go around to use turn signals with. Maybe there was one original bad driver in New Jersey, and their lack of skill propogated like a virus or like a motorized Dracula, tainting all that they touch. As you can plainly see, I have many theories, most of which dip into the realm of fantasy since what I know to be the true reality is grim and an insurmountable force to contend with.
The analogies to monsters are not entirely appropriate. There's a transformation that occurs behind the wheel of a car, but it's a reflection of the highways and byways, and not necessarily that New Jersey breeds bad drivers, even though the purely bad drivers are out there. Driving around the streets of any city in New Jersey will make you realize this. Whether the system that created these roads is corrupt, or merely incompetant, I'll never know, but from my fresh-on-the-scene perspective, Jersey has the feel that it went through some kind of terrible nuclear holocaust what must have been decades ago. All of the planners and architects were killed, and some well-meaning but inexperienced survivors were forced into stepping forward and taking on the responsibilities of those who passed. They re-built the decimated roads using their best judgment, but it wasn't quite right, and the effects linger to this day.
For instance: You frequently can't make left turns or u-turns. If you want to go someplace on the opposite side of the street, you need to overshoot your destination, and then make a "reverse jughandle" by turning right onto a loop. Also, many roads are unmarked and exits are often indicated after their respective off ramps. You can take your map and throw it out the window. It;s no good here. As for the on-ramps, they're barely existent. You have about one car length to decide if you're going to stay put and await your chance to join the flow of traffic or gun it and pray you don't wind up in a situation like those depicted in the highway safety films of yore.
Being exposed to these conditions would undoubtedly rattle even the coolest of customers, and once you've entered the driving world with people who've already lost it: it's chaos. You'd think that since the Department of Transportation is asleep at the wheel so to speak, that the Department of Motor Vehicle Services would step up to the plate, but they're just as inept.
Now, DMVs are designed to drive one crazy, but New Jersey's takes the cake, and then mashes it in your face. First off, where most states have several full-service office per county, New Jersey has approximately four, only one of which you can take the mandatory vision test in. For me it was 20 miles away, in Newark, and I live in the highly populated New York City metro area! Now I know what it's like to live in Nebraska. The vision-testing device is incorporated into the tellers' booths in most other states. I guess the vintage 60's eye exam machines in Jersey are too pricey to buy in bulk. One day I hope someone's DMV payment will go towards the purchase of an eye chart that can simply be posted on a far wall behind the counter.
That's just a minor detail, and the tip of the disorganizational iceberg. First off: When I got there, there was no indication that the building which belonged to the street address I looked up was, in fact, the DMV. A sign saying something to the effect of "DMV" would have been nice.
Usually at DMVs you take a number and you wait forever. Not in New Jersey! You don't have to take a number, but you get in line after line. It's the Platonic ideal of a bureaucracy. These are the lines I was in on my visit: The line to give in my forms. The line to pay for the vision test. The line to take my vision test. The line to hand in my results. The line to pay for my license photo. The line to take my license photo. The line to pay for my change of title, registration, and new plates. And finally the line to pick up my change of title, registration, and new plates. It was like a long day of going on an amusement park rides without the rides, the park, and certainly not the amusement.
By the way, if you ever find yourself in a New Jersey DMV, bring your checkbook. They don't accept credit cards.
So after explaining this in great detail, you could see why I'm hesitant to accept your offer. Now if you can give me a quote on a house somewhere safer and saner, including moving costs, I'd be more than happy to do business with you. For now, I will simply destroy my wife's keys to my current car, and lock her and my daughter in the basement. If I didn't have to go out and win bread everyday, I'd be in there as well.
God help us all (in New Jersey),
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