01 March 2008

Why am I blogging about buying a car?

It all started when I saw this segment on Top Gear.*



I'd never seen a Smart of any sort before. And I absolutely sympathized with the team's assessment of the Smart Roadster: they want to hate it, but it's just such a giggle to drive. As I mentioned before, I used to drive an MG Midget.

British cars. The jokes are just too easy. "Two hours in the garage for one hour on the road." "Why did the British never get into manufacturing computers? Because they couldn't figure out how to make them leak oil."

But that MG was so. Much. Fun to drive. You can't fall out of love with an MG, despite how completely annoying the engineering was when you had to fix it. (And you would have to fix it, trust me.)

Fast forward to seeing an article on CNet a small electric car being sold by Zap motors. While tooling around their website, I see that they are importing these small little Smart cars.

Weirdly, soon after reading that article, I see one driving around on UTPA campus.

The Zap website had an article a lawsuit over the Smart cars, and Google eventually leads me to a website describing plans to bring Smart to America. Which leads me, ultimately, to reserving one and buying one, for reasons I've mentioned before. If all goes well, I'll be driving back from San Antonio in a new car tomorrow.

But why am I blogging about it? After all, this is allegedly a science blog.

I'm blogging about it because so much of doing science revolves around and is impacted by things that, on the surface, have nothing to do with doing science.

One of the reasons I took this job was that I am a comparative biologist. Looking at diversity of organisms and finding new behaviours is what winds my crank, scientifically speaking. That my institution has a lab on the beach (the Coastal Studies Lab), where I could have access to a whole variety of different species of crustaceans for collecting, seemed like a great research opportunity.

Since taking this job in southern Texas, my research has progressed... differently... than I originally anticipated. And part of that has just been because of cars.

I live in a two person household in a region that is a veritable hymn to the offspring of Henry Ford.

Absolutely everything revolves around cars, and absolutely everything assumes you have a car. Everything is strung out vast distances, where any two points you'd want to go are probably about hours of walking apart (if not much, much more). One of my colleagues went for a walk, and someone literally stopped and asked, "Are you okay?" That's right, if you are walking, something must be wrong; the concept of walking for enjoyment is quite alien. It's too hot and dangerous to bicycle. You won't see a taxi anywhere. And forget you even heard about public transportation.

The Coastal Studies Lab is about 80 miles from the main campus. If I drive there, that would in all likelihood means that my partner could not, say, go to work. So rather than being able to go out with any regularity, I end up not going out to the lab for months and months at a stretch.

One car means few trips to the lab which turns into fewer animals which means less research accomplished.

So that why I'm blogging about getting a car.

Although I wanted a small car as a second vehicle, I am glad that I didn't have to go to this extreme...



* Interestingly, memory cheats. I totally had forgotten this was the Roadster, not the regular fortwo model.

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