Just before Levi was born, I made a very important decision. I was not going to buy a minivan—I was going to buy a Mini Cooper.
I have always loved cars, a passion I inherited from my father, the man who taught me how to drive in a Porsche.
“Throw it into third and gun it around this next corner,” he instructed me when I was 16. “Feel the way it hugs the road?”
Over the course of my childhood, he had one sports car after another. From the Barracuda convertible and the metallic green Mustang to the Mazda RX7 to the Datsun 280ZX followed by the 300Z (gold with a t-roof), and finally the fire engine red Porsche 944. Once, he took a brief sabbatical and bought a Ford Explorer. When he came to pick me up at my friend Hope’s house, her mother said, “Oh, hello Richard. I didn’t recognize you —you weren’t wearing your Porsche.” At 77, he owns a souped-up Subaru WRX that is not unlike something a drug dealer might drive.
It’s understandable, then, that I choose a car like I might choose a hairstyle, not so much a means of transportation, but a lifestyle choice — a fashion statement. I can’t deny it any more than I can deny being partial to buying a snowboard for its graphics or choosing a bike because I like the color. Let’s get real, shall we?
When I bought my white Jeep Wrangler and told my friend how much I loved it, he said, “You don’t love that car. You love what that car says about you.” I’m not friends with him anymore because he frequently made cutting remarks like that, but you get the point. Then I bought an Audi Allroad because if ever there was a car that screams “high maintenance,” that was it. I was on a first name basis with every tow truck driver in the valley.
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I know that might sound shallow, but here’s the thing: if I’m going to make payments on a car, I want to enjoy it every single day. I’m not going to go out to dinner and order a piece of toast or buttered noodles — I want something I can’t make at home. You know what I mean?
It’s also true that cars are somewhat like dogs. Case in point: the first time I set foot in the Mini dealership three years ago, everyone went nuts over my pug and started showing me photos of their Frenchies, their Boston terriers and their English bulldogs. Apparently if you drive a Mini, you probably own a flat faced dog. Go figure.
That first lease was a no-brainer. I swore I would never own a German car again and I have stayed true to that promise. A lease is the way to go because for one, it allows you to drive a car you totally can’t afford, and for two, you don’t have to pay for any maintenance.
My first Countryman was the most basic model they had — a six-speed stick shift with no extras and zero technology, other than a USB port for my iPhone. But I loved the way that car drove, especially on Frying Pan Road where precision handling is a must. When a giant pickup towing a boat takes a tight turn too fast and drifts into your lane, a small car with sport handling is essential. I was also happy about its high safety rating, and even though it looked small, thank god the stroller fit. It was hands down the best snow car I’d ever driven, easily navigating the 11 percent grade hill on our dirt road with relative ease, even after 2 feet of snow that hadn’t been plowed, like fat skis in fresh powder.
Then I get this call from the dealership telling me about the great deals they had on the new hybrid, even though the end of my lease was still three months away. I wasn’t ready to get a new car, even though there was no doubt in my mind that was the car I would want.
Suddenly I found myself in Denver, where we spent four hours at the dealer doing some kind of financial gymnastics that tricked me into believing the unattainable is within reach — the story of my life. By the time we got out of there, I was so spun around and disoriented it felt like I had just gone over the falls on an outside set wave. The monthly payments were close enough to where I wanted them, (especially if I quit my Fabletics membership and maybe canceled my Hulu account) but I’m not going to lie — they squeezed enough money out of me that I felt a little dizzy.
“Are we doing the right thing?” I asked Ryan.
“Look, when Levi and I sit Shiva for you after you die, we’re not going to sit around and talk about how stupid you were to lease that Mini.”
Yes, I married the right man.
Well, you get what you pay for. If my last Countryman was my first love, this car is like a lurid affair with someone who is way out of my league: sleek, refined, sophisticated and good looking enough to make me uncomfortable. The hybrid technology is mind-boggling. It has an 8.5-gallon tank and made it from Denver to Glenwood on a half tank of gas, averaging over 40 miles to the gallon. But it’s still powerful, with turbo and a BMW x-1 frame that makes it ride smooth, even at high speeds.
It’s automatic, so I can’t exactly throw it into second and gun it around the next corner. But when I plug it in at night, it does make me feel like I’m with the hottest guy in the room, at least for the next three years.
Happy anniversary to The Aspen Princess on June 18, celebrating 16 years in The Aspen Times. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.