Carless no more – September 6, 2006


September 6, 2006 Yes, I was able to pick up my new Citroen C3 and that is the reason I haven’t written for a while–I’ve been busy having way too much fun driving all around the area! The October in Italy group will see some of the results of my explorations when we visit Penna San Giovanni (great little 17th C. wooden theater) and Urbisaglia (Roman Ruins). Not all of the driving has been BET related, of course. I found a shopping mall in Macerata which made me feel right at home. It even had a supermarket that challenges HEB. I got real excited when I spotted what I thought would be a big box hardware store. Unfortunately, it was as big as a Home Depot, but still used the Italian system: Take a number, wait your turn, tell the guy what you want, and then he goes and looks for it. Americans understand marketing, the Italians don’t. How many times have you gone into a Home Depot or Lowe’s and walked out with only what you went in for? Usually, as you prowl the aisles, you spot at least two other things that you can’t live without. Don’t think for a microsecond that this is an accident.

Ironically, the day I picked up my new car, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that 43,443 Americans lost their lives in traffic accidents in 2005. This means that more people died in automobiles on a monthly basis than were tragically killed on 9/11. Given the carnage on the highways, the pollution leading to global warming, the deterioration of inner cities because of the flight to the suburbs, congestion, road rage, gridlock, and so on, one wonders: was the automobile such a good idea? After having a car for two weeks after being carless for five years, I can answer that question in a heartbeat: YES. No question. No debate.

There were no surprises at the closing. I did have to come up with an extra €300 but that was only because I had changed models after filling out the loan application. I saw what turned out to be my car at the dealership and was told that this car had just arrived and was one notch up from what I had ordered. It had all kinds of bells and whistles and a sharper interior and only cost €300 more since Citroen was offering a special deal during August. After walking back and forth between the two cars, I was asked “Would you like to change your order?” I made a lame attempt to translate into Italian: “Is that some kind of a trick question?” So I now have automatic air conditioning, windshield wipers that turn themselves on and off when it starts and stops raining, side mirrors that fold in when you lock the car, and probably a bunch of other gizmos I haven’t noticed yet.

I have had a lot of fun with the onboard computer. With a touch of a button I can see, for instance, that I have now traveled 510 kms since I filled up, that I will be able to go another 380 before filling up, that I have only been averaging 45 km/h (lots of hills and turns) and that I am averaging 5.5 lit/100 kms. Interestingly, Europeans determine fuel consumption by figuring the number of liters that it takes to go 100 kilometers. I calculate that the 5.5 lit/100 ratio translates out to a little over 42 mpg. This number should improve if/when I ever get to drive on a straight and level stretch of highway. These numbers are computer generated estimates but I’m not in a hurry to get the exact numbers when I fill the tank again as the initial fill-up set me back over $70.00. (At $6.00 a gallon for diesel here in Italy, I don’t want to hear any bitching whatsoever about gas prices in the USA.)

As for the Smart Car watch in the USA, both Scott and Jan spotted a Smart Car at different times on IH 10 in San Antonio, and Sue has reported two in the Seattle area. Bess sent me an article describing a Smart Car test drive in NYC. With truck and SUV sales plummeting, perhaps America is finally joining the rest of the world and turning to fuel efficient vehicles. Or will this just be a 1973 redux: When fuel prices drop back down, sales of the monsters will return to normal. (back)