It was around the 90 minute mark of our first date when I knew it was coming. That awkward discussion I didn’t want to have, and had been deflecting the conversation away from all night.
No, not politics. I had already creeped her Facebook in search of weird cult-based religions or posts arguing how swastikas are okay to use because they used to stand for good fortune. Not jobs, either. For the first time in my life, I have a job outside the entertainment industry that doesn’t pay me via cheap beer and DVD copies of Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo. Not my police record, either. I’ve only had trouble with the police once, and it was because I drunkenly gave a campus safety officer the finger because I assumed he would find it amusing. He did not.
I could be a recovering alcoholic, and my date wouldn’t blink an eye. Lots of people deal with substance abuse issues. I could have a weird clown fetish where I couldn’t “finish the deal” unless the woman honked a bicycle horn exactly seven times. Many people can be quite uninhibited when invested in another person’s other positive qualities. Yet the one thing few women will put up with – no matter their race, creed or income – is dating a man who doesn’t own a car.
Unless you live in New York, a car is the one item everyone is expected to own. Not having a car is a mark of failure, a red flag that leads to the worst of assumptions.
“He doesn’t own a car? That can’t be right. You mean he owns a shitbox car, don’t you? Oh God. No car at all? Is he on food stamps? Does he live with his mother? Get out while you can, Marjorie! Change your phone number before he asks to use the hose in your backyard to bathe!”
When I tell people I don’t particularly want a car for another few years, they give me a look normally reserved for homeless people violating a fast food restaurant’s “no exposed genitalia” policy.
“He doesn’t want a car? What’s wrong with him? Something must be causing this. Does he have 17 DUIs? Did he plow into an elementary school and take out an entire grade of children? Did someone touch him inappropriately as a youth? I’ll bet he cuts off people’s faces and wears their skin as a mask! That’s probably why the state took his car away.”
The truth is much less exciting. I got into a crash, didn’t have the money for another car and just got used to taking public transit everywhere. It was rough at first. Buses and trains are slow and can get crowded. Yet after months of being able to relax and read a book on my way to work, and never having to worry about maintenance costs or finding parking, I didn’t really mind being carless.
I found better things to spend my money on, like artwork, traveling and bizarre Asian pornography that had previously been too expensive. I found myself talking to strangers more often, and not just 7-foot-tall transexual hookers and homeless men who think the government is testing out HIV vaccines in our water supply. I mean, I talked to those people most because they’re the most rational people I could find on public transit, but still. I was expanding my social life to a whole new class of people watching that would have otherwise gone untapped.
My lack of a car was making my life more interesting and teaching me the value of slowing life down, yet it was killing my dating life. Americans feel like they need cars. A lot of them are right. If you don’t have a car in Duluth, 50 percent of the city becomes inaccessible after 7pm. But if you live in a larger city like Minneapolis, you can get by just fine. Yet explain that to someone on a date and you might as well tell them the burger they’re eating is made from a dead raccoon you scraped off the highway with a shovel.
I’ve tried lying and saying I don’t have a car because I’m “green” and care about the environment, but that doesn’t last long. Only real activists will sleep with someone like that, and I don’t have a good poker face. I can’t make it longer than 10 seconds after taking a bite of tofu without making a loud gagging noise and spitting it into my napkin. There have to be ways of finding a date that don’t involve swallowing bits of wet sponge.
As the check arrives, I briefly consider asking my unimpressed date to donate to the Paul Ryan Automobile Fund. It’s a worthy cause, because getting laid is an important part of life and I clearly wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. The irony that the car would sit in a garage unused – a dusty prop that exists only to convince people that I’m “normal” – is not lost on me. I’ve done worse for a lay. You’ve done worse for a lay. I’m sure even Ruth Bader Ginsburg has done worse for a lay. We are, after all, a world whose global currency is based almost entirely on the cultivation and harvesting of boners. I just wish there was a discount version that was half the price.