Every schoolboy rides a bicycle. At least all my friends did. But Dad wanted to teach me some good values -- the value of money, in particular -- and so I was obliged to save up for my own ride. He had no objections to me having a bike, but I would have to use my own money for it. Until then, after a couple of disastrous attempts at riding pillion, I had to content myself running behind my so-called "best buds'" bikes, at least until air bags became standard safety equipment on two-wheelers.
I never gave up on my dream of owning a bike one day. Back then my daily allowance was a little more than half a dollar, so I put my pennies faithfully into a little savings box anticipating the day my little acorns into big oaks grew. I began my savings plan in Sec 1 and by late Sec 3 I had accumulated just enough to make my scrimping pay off. I got a pretty solid fire-engine red machine for $99 and after a couple of rounds around the block the training wheels came off and I was free, independent and feeling the breeze run through my hair. What a rush!
The euphoria was short lived though. No, the bike didn't get crushed by a passing bus, nothing as dramatic as that. It's just that Sec 4 soon rolled round the corner and I was mostly confined at home to study for the all important 'O' levels. While my mind rotted under the influence of irrelevant textbooks, my bike rusted away through neglect never to be ridden again. The corroded heap was one day sold for scrap and I don't remember receiving any part of the proceeds.
Mom's favourite threat was that if I didn't study, I would never afford a car and would always watch enviously on the sidewalk as all my friends drove past me. I wonder if she could predict 4D numbers with such accuracy? Maybe I should ask her.
I think back to my uni days and the time I passed my driving theory simply because I happened to be accompanying a friend to take his driving test and I happened to be standing in the wrong line while waiting for him. To pass the time I picked up a driving manual and was perusing it at leisure while the line kept pushing me forward and towards the cashier to whom I was too embarrased to protest that I wasn't lining up to pay test fees. So based on what I had flipped through earlier, I took the test and passed. The practical test was even easier: once around the block, one competent parallel park, and "Congratulations, please stand at the wall for your ugly DMV licence photo." I've had my driving licence for years, just no car to go with it.
This no-car thing is a serious handicap to a guy's social life. I can think of potential girlfriends I have lost because of my disability. "Jack's got a car, I think I'll go out with Jack." Or Tony, or Adrian, or Mike, or.... It isn't just the convenience or the status that girls are concerned with, it's that having a car means having grown up, reached adulthood, and being someone other people can depend on rather than being always dependant on the whims of other people or the vagaries of public transport for a ride. That and the given
Guys, if you ever want to get your own car, do it before you get married. Unmarried guy + car = dates :D. The car to the Girlfriend is an essential piece of dating equipment. It's convenient since the guy can make a doorstep pickup without the sweaty trek to the bus-stop; it gets to places fast; it's a showoff item in lieu of The Diamond Ring; it can even be a makeshift makeout spot for the more frisky of us. The Girlfriend loves the car. Besides, if the driver turns out to be a loser, there's always Tony, or Adrian, or Mike... to pick up where the last one left off.
Getting married before getting a car means that it isn't likely that a car will ever be needed, ever. The car to the Wife is a very different animal. The transition from Girlfriend to Wife is caused by a serious dose of pragmatism ingested immediately after cementing (sementing?) committment with the guy. The car becomes an unnecessary drain on financial and temporal resources; a source of potential danger to life and limb; a quick means of escape during domestic disputes; and every Wife knows the threat such a babe magnet can bring to conjugal happiness.
The only hope left for such a guy is to see if the Wife will make the transition into the Mother. Then the car becomes indespensible again. Taking wailing, hyperactive, olfactorily and verbally offensive imps to and from school, ballet and swimming lessons, math and Chinese tuition, soccer practice, Gramma's house and perhaps the occasional token outing to the beach [where one can contemplate walking into the water and just keep going until one reaches Tahiti] by public transport is simply a non-option. It's the car or the bar, baby!
It's either that or at the age of 70 he could go buy a classic red Ferrari on an installment plan. With any luck he would drive it once round the block, parallel park, and breathe his last before the repo guys come to take it away again.
This entry inspired by "Wheels of Fortune" (ST, January 15, 2005.)