My beloved car met a slow death about five years ago and I have never quite recovered. It wasn’t fancy (a 1997 grey Buick Skylark) but it was familiar, it was comfortable and I trusted it – really the main things you want in a car. And, yes, it was a bit sentimental: I inherited it from my parents. It also only had 50,000 miles on it! When its health started to go astray, I made repeated attempts to salvage it. These attempts, however, were futile and one day I had to watch it be loaded on a truck, driven away, to be sold for parts. Sigh.
When a representative from Enterprise CarShare asked if I might want to take one of their cars out for a spin and then write about it, I looked forward to the chance to drive again. Here was an opportunity to quench my yearning for a car, even if just for a few hours. Yet, when I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a black Ford Focus I had picked up in a Brooklyn parking garage, what I found was … I was nervous! I had not driven in quite awhile and all of a sudden I was close to petrified. Me, the person who my father thought was so good at driving in Manhattan, I could be a cab driver. (This was meant as high praise.)
The appeal with Enterprise Car Share and Zip Car and the like is that you can pay by the hour vs. by the day so if you are looking to run a few errands, it is less costly (an average for Enterprise may be $7-$9 an hour). Instead of picking up a car parked in one rental car location, the cars are scattered throughout various neighborhoods (a gym parking lot, a parking garage like this one was, and other hopefully accessible locations).
On the web site, you enter the location you want to pick a car up in and search for a spot that works for you. (The closest Enterprise Car Share car wasn’t that close to me – I had to take the subway four stops – but it still was relatively convenient.) The green card (shown above on the windshield) is the main connector in the experience — it unlocks the car door once it is placed against the green square patch located on the windshield. You hold the two against each other and voilà! the car door opens! It locks this way also. The green card is sent to you before your first driving experience after you become a member (a yearly fee).
I decided to test this out to complete an errand which would be much easier with a car. This is to visit the Gowanus Electronics Waste Recycling Warehouse – which I had never seen – to drop off some old, no longer needed and/or working electronics. Nearby, I would also do some shopping at the Whole Foods.
I drive the car out of the lot and begin to venture down my old block in Park Slope – 2nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues – where I lived for five years. There I have an experience which ultimately bolsters my driving courage. At first, I am very stressed to learn that it is “street cleaning day” — this means alternate side street parking and, for a couple of hours, people must remove their cars from one side of the street as the street sweeper comes through; they are “allowed” to double park alongside cars on the side that is not being cleaned. This also means there is less space to drive down the street.
As I turn down 2nd Street, I realize there is a black Jeep Cherokee blocking the way, already minimized by the double parking. I turn before noticing this and I am freaking out imagining having to back up onto Sixth Avenue which has steady traffic coming through (is that a K-turn?).
I slow to a stop behind the Cherokee. I honk my horn lightly to see if the driver might move along – no response. The reason this is a situation is compounded due to the fact that some person did NOT move his or her car. Now, it is similar to an obstacle course to get down the block. If there happens (as is the case here) to be a person with car inexplicably stopped alongside the isolated one, well, chaos reigns: there is no more order in this universe.
I pull the Ford Focus over, turn it off, get out of the car, run over clutching my Enterprise Car Share card (while leaving the keys – I am very afraid of losing the Car Share card!). As I get to the car, I see the driver is a woman just sitting behind the wheel. I motion to her, “Is everything okay?” She rolls down the window. I say, reassuringly, “I think you can fit.” I believe she is not moving the car thinking she does not have the room to squeeze through. She looks at me, a bit dazed, and says: “There are all these cars just stopped in the middle of the street.” I look at her, slowly realizing her lack of any understanding of this weekly ritual. To her, this looks like Armageddon, abandoned cars everywhere. She is not sure how to proceed. My brain is trying to calibrate how to explain this to her, as if explaining our language to someone from Mars, so accepted is this scenario in my mind. Moving my hands to the left to indicate moving cars to one side, I say, “It’s something people do. It’s alternate street parking.” I cobble something together that is probably not helpful. Then, I say, “You can go tho’.” She smiles at me, still looking perplexed but she starts driving.
I rush back to my car as a young couple in a small vehicle come upon the scene looking worried. The man asks, “Is something wrong? Is the street backed up?” I say, “No, she just didn’t understand alternate street parking.” They smile heartily and say, “Thanks!” Thanking me for resolving a potentially negative driving situation. They drive along. I get in my car and begin down the block, checking out my old building as I proceed, remembering that I am a seasoned driver, after all.
Feeling more confident, I carry on to my next stop at the Gowanus E-Waste Warehouse on President Street. Here you can bring your electronics recycling to be recycled and possibly repaired and reused (which helps fund the business).
The warehouse is run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center which has operated for a long time in Manhattan. The purpose of the E-Waste Warehouse is to keep those toxic electronics we use daily out of the landfills where they pollute the water and air forever.
I drive up to an unloading dock as as an NYPD traffic agent pulls behind me to ticket someone a few cars away. As I linger, afraid to leave the car for a second with the loading dock 10 feet away, a nice gentleman comes out of the warehouse and offers to take everything out of the bag and return it to me. As the traffic agent leaves, I venture closer to the loading dock. I eye where my electronics now are. I had wondered if I might be able to hear old messages on the now relinquished answering machine. But before I parted with the zillion cords I have now left behind, I could not find the one that attached to it. I needed to part with it before I changed my mind.
I then continue on to Whole Foods at Third Avenue and Third Street. This Whole Foods is relatively new and seemed like it would never open – for years. It took close to ten years to get built, finally opening in late 2013.
This store looks entirely set up for suburbia yet there is something appealing about it. The layouts of the WF stores in Manhattan are cumbersome (Union Square, Columbus Circle, even Bowery). This one is expansive, all on one floor, spacious, fairly well laid out.
I am a proponent of small independent stores, but sometimes a trip to mega chain Whole Foods can be necessary. It is interesting to see the way they set up the space right along the Gowanus Canal which has merged fairly well with the landscape (there are windmills on the light poles).
Gowanus is an area that is now considered trendy but only in recent years. The neighborhood borders Park Slope and Carroll Gardens and is named for the polluted Gowanus Canal — seriously, it is a EPA-designated SuperFund site and quite contaminated. Still, loads of people want to live there now (and it is one of most expensive rental nabes in Brooklyn).
The inside of Whole Foods looks like most Whole Foods but more like the places you find outside of NYC.
Leaving Whole Foods, I drive by this restaurant Monte’s on Carroll Street off 3rd Avenue (it is very charming around there) and it looks adorable with its sign beckoning: “Park Your Gondola Here.”
I really had to think about this Hand Wash Center concept for a moment until realizing it was to wash your car by hand! (I really have not driven in a very long time.)
Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn:
It is now time for me to return the car. The car was a bit dirty on the outside but it also lives in this garage in Park Slope. Driving the Enterprise CarShare was a nice experience, not too expensive, and a good way to run a few errands. Plus I conquered my fear of driving and I am ready for my next car (should it appear on my doorstep)!
You can learn more by reading the FAQs for Enterprise Car Share here.
** This post is sponsored by Enterprise CarShare.