I live in New York, but I rarely drive here. In fact, I know very, very few people with a car here. It's a town reliant on other transportation — subways, taxi cabs, your own two feet. So driving was a treat and a challenge. Could I adopt a new transportation culture in my home city?
When I got the chance to drive the Jaguar F-TYPE in New York (it was the same model I had in Los Angeles — orange and sleek as hell and in my possession for reasons that are becoming increasingly obvious), I quickly left the East Village and sped off across the Williamsburg Bridge, where the city exploded in vertical behind me. I was picking up a friend in Bushwick so we could go to the Mike Kelley show, at PS1 in Long Island City. I outraced the J train over the bridge, then maneuvered through pothole-strewn streets as pedestrians hollered and pointed. Later, with my friend sitting shotgun, we shot over the Pulaski Bridge with its insane view of the skyline.
I'll mention the weather here: it was glorious. The drive was all sun and high temperatures. The top of the convertible was down, February be damned.
The first thing that grabbed me when driving in New York was the incessant honking. Of course, this cacophony is not new to me — I've walked down New York's streets day and heard the loud, syncopated symphony of car horns blasting over everything else. At all corners you hear the bleating sounds of automobiles; they've become part of Manhattan's DNA. There's a reason why Tom Wolfe called the city's native accent The New York Honk.
But from behind the wheel, I heard the hard beeps in a different way. These were streets I'd walked down countless times — Orchard, Houston, Bowery, Chrystie, Delancey — where I regularly run into old friends and new. Yet these streets became new when I got to glide over them on four wheels. Especially now that the honking was pointedly directed at me. Why were the other drivers making this awful noise? Was I doing something wrong? Something right? Those sounds I had heard forever — meepmeep! mee-eee-eep, meep! — were now part of a mode of communication. The drivers were saying something.
At the end of the day, I valeted the car at The Standard, near my apartment. "This is the coolest thing I've seen all day," the valet attendant said. There the car stayed for the night.
On game day, I decided it was best to get out of the city entirely. Manhattan was destined to be a madhouse of events and tourists, all rushing around via any transportation they could find. I drove the car out of the city, due north toward Connecticut, for a brunch at a friend's parents' house in Darien. Compared to the warped and dilapidated streets of Manhattan, especially during the frenzy leading up to the game (and let's not get started on Houston Street construction). The highway driving was a dream. It's easy to forget that I live in a swamp, that Manhattan is a tiny island amid a bigger archipelago. Once I left, big steel bridges took me wherever I needed to go. I rode over bridge after bridge, zoomed up I-95, then crept along the snaking paths of the suburbs.
This is the way to drive in New York, a city with so many modes of transportation that having your own automobile seems superfluous. It's perfect for outings to places that seem out of the way (like — for me, at least — Long Island City and the far reaches of deep Bushwick), and if the traffic's not bad, might as well drive around instead of walking. You certainly save money on cabs. But conserve most of your gas for a trip outside the city, when you can feel the total freedom of the road and not worry about hordes of pedestrians.
That is, unless you want to worry about the pedestrians. When I got back into town after the trip to Darien, I rumbled off the Williamsburg Bridge onto Delancey Street, and the inevitable happened: I saw a friend cross the street.
"Will!" I yelled.
He turned around and did a double take. I've known Will since we were in middle school, but he had never seen me drive in New York. And he had never seen someone drive a convertible with the top down in February. So he hustled over to me as the light changed to green.
"Get in the car," I said as cars behind me began honking and Will hopped into shotgun. "Let's go for a ride."