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It started with a weird shimmy and a catch between second and third.
I ignored it. With almost 178K miles on the odometer, I'm used to my 2000 Mazda MPV minivan acting a little slow on the uptake.
The Absurdivan, thus named for its dashboard décor of hundreds of plastic figurines held in place with superglue, is a venerated part of our family, like a senile aunt who wears her entire costume jewelry collection to the grocery store because she thinks the cleaning lady will steal it. Or maybe it's more like a loyal old donkey with stickers all over its tush.
Anyway, if I freaked out over every weird clicking noise and draggy lurch the old girl makes on my daily tangle through these city streets, I'd have O.D.'d on Rescue Remedy by now.
I came to own this proud beast after I relinquished my beloved VW Westfalia bus before moving from California to Georgia. As fabulously convenient it is to own a vehicle with a pop-top (I take a lot of naps), I decided I had to trade that coolness for actual air-conditioning. Like an epic lunchroom trade, I made a profit on the swap. It was by far the most pragmatic decision I've ever made. Except the punk rocker within could not abide driving a beige minivan.
So I glued one of the kid's Little Pet Shop thingies to the dash to keep me company. And then another one. And before I knew it they multiplied into a demented menagerie of Happy Meal detritus (mostly secondhand, much to the disappointment of my deprived children), toy soldiers, dinosaurs, several Spidermen and Marge Simpson as the Bride of Frankenstein.
I like to think of it as a testament to the abject madness of modern consumerism. It's also super fun to come out of Brighter Day and find tourists Instagramming it.
Though both sliding doors are broken and it smells like a decomposing toad when the heat runs too long, I've committed to driving The Absurdivan until it dies. Which according to my mechanic should have been sometime in 2009.
I patted the steering wheel. Take it easy, sister. We'll fill you with the premium gas next time, OK?
However, the next day the Absurdivan had graduated into full-blown heaving and gagging, and I realized this may be more than her usual mechanical hypochondria. It was time for an emergency visit to my man Sam Spencer at SOS Tire & Auto in Garden City to have a long, hard look under the hood.
"This could be the end," he warned. He says that every time I hand over the key.
For the past week I've mostly been getting by just fine without my fancy ride. It's one less carbon-spewing metal box on the road, and between borrowing my husband's Honda and biking to work, the possibility of permanent carlessness doesn't seem so bad. Until certain challenges arise, like a sudden rainstorm and how to transport a gaggle of soccer gremlins to distant fields.
Architect Kevin Klinkenberg has come up with an affordable and sustainable solution: He recently launched Share Savannah, a carsharing service that matches vehicle owners with those in temporary need of wheels.
Borrowers — properly licensed, insured and vetted, of course — pay by the hour or the day and have access to a fleet of vehicles, like a rock star or an oil baron. Sharers can earn anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 a year to offset their car payments or say, pay parking tickets. There's no membership fee, and it bypasses the shuck-and-jive of national rental companies. Perfect for a cat food run to Sam's or day trip to Tybee.
"The basic idea is that it reduces people's transportation expense while providing convenient access to a vehicle when you need it," explains Klinkenberg, a native Missourian who wrote master zoning plans for Chico, CA and Colorado Springs, CO before falling in love with Savannah's ingenious urban layout.
"I can walk and bike just about anywhere, and my car was just sitting there," says the self-described "urban planning nerd" who continues to consult all over the country from a shared office at the hip coworking space ThincSavannah. He's also working on a book called Why I Walk.
He tailored his concept after studying carsharing programs in Seattle and Boston and enlisted fellow ThincSpace habituées Jason Combs and Adam Singer to help with operations and marketing.
"With all the students and so many people concerned about the environment, I believe the market is here," says Klinkenberg.
He throws out statistics: The average car costs $9,000 a year and is only used an hour a day. Americans spend more than three times on their cars than healthcare. If you rented out your car for 40 hours a month, you'd have almost $3,000 in your pocket at the end of the year.
While some carsharing programs like ZipCar have dedicated vehicles, Share Savannah works more like a co-operative. Pick-up trucks are in high demand, and Klinkenberg seeks to assemble a squadron of convertibles, hybrids, vans and other unusual transport.
Unusual? It occurs to me that I could put the Absurdivan to work. If she survives. Though patrons would have to suffer the open-from-the-inside-only doors and heed Dr. Sam's admonition never to take it past the county line. And then there's the dog hair situation.
"This isn't for everybody," nods Klinkenberg, acknowledging that it takes a certain kind of person to share one's personal chariot. So far sharers have been mostly women aged 35-45.
"I thought it would trend younger," he muses, though the gender disproportion comes as no surprise.
"Men tend to see cars as an extension of their pe—"
"Penises?" I interrupt knowingly.
"Personalities," he finishes. Oops.
I don't have time to wonder whether the Absurdivan is an extension of my personality or anatomy (though my husband sometimes refers to it as the Vangina) because Dr. Sam calls with wonderful news: A new spark plug and a coil will put her back in business.
Now that I've gotten used to doing without her, maybe she could perform public service as a shared commodity.
At least until she barfs out a piston.