CarShare Evolution – Confessions of a Fleet Assistant

In 2009, I went from NOT taking care of one car (our old diesel Jetta) to taking care of six of them. A move from Westford into Burlington allowed us to sell our car and enter the world of car-sharing. Little did I know that our CarShare Vermont membership would bring me into an entirely different reality, an evolutionary shift. Our personal car was certainly a useful tool (except when it broke down) that got adequate, if sporadic (and always expensive), upkeep. But, knowing what I know now, I doubt that “Crow” (she was black) got either the care, or the attention she deserved, given the level of service that was demanded of her.

Maybe you know your family car pretty well, but what about the cars you share? Have you been noticing any changes in your …er, relationships with the CarShare Vermont cars? Have you begun to notice Ramona’s cheeky attitude or marveled at Pearl’s glowing pearlescent silhouette in the evening light? Maybe you have found yourself offering a friendly greeting when you unlock Clementine’s door? Has a seemingly casual remark while driving- like “Otto, you’re so fine…” – caused your passenger to say, “excuse me?” And have you always offered a quiet apology to your car over a rough patch in the road like you did with Nora the other day?

I may have stumbled upon a little-known trend in a certain line of the modern automobile. What I am suggesting – with apologies to Mr. Darwin – is that the CarShare Vermont cars are evolving beyond the personal car and might even qualify for their own species in the Auto genus. They are becoming more complex, moving beyond mere transportation into the vast world of, well, social networking. They are forming relationships with humans. I MEAN THE CARS ARE GETTING TO KNOW US. Perhaps they still conform to standard motorcar behavior, but they take the relationships with their drivers pretty seriously. And, I’m beginning to see that they also identify with the neighborhood where their “pods” are located. Like humans (and horses for that matter) they enjoy a good adventure, but they love to come home. Interestingly, but perhaps not so surprising, our pretty Priuses are paying attention. Our impish Imprezas are listening closely to their people and perhaps their influence is beginning to show. Have you noticed?

Ramona and Nora have a sort of longing toward each other; close, but never together. Nora sits by Callahan Park, a little lonely at times. While Ramona, busybody that she is, advises her to get out more. Though I’m beginning to see that Nora keeps pretty close track of the goings-on in the park. Clovis and Clementine share responsibility and watch over the entire Champlain College student body. They seem to anchor the flow of students and neighbors around them, always there, somewhat long-suffering. Horatio, like his namesake Horatio Nelson Jackson, is ambitious beyond his modest appearance and his downscale neighborhood. He offers his drivers a small taste of freedom even in a short journey around town. Otto is a stalwart supporter of the vitality of downtown Burlington, a car who knows his business. At night, he watches over the street people, the hangers out and the heavy drinkers, with a knowing eye. But in the daylight, he’s taking downtown workers everywhere they need to go.

I have been developing relationships with CarShare Vermontʼs feisty fleet of vehicles. I keep them clean. While washing and vacuuming each one twice a month, I listen to the stories of places they have been and the people they’ve met. There are very few secrets in the layers of stories told by the flotsam and jetsam of lives. Those dents, nicks and scratches; the salt, sand, leaves, papers, receipts, gooey stains, loose change, leftover snacks, personal belongings and pens (oh the pens!) are lively accounts of humble errands and chance misadventures alike.

The work itself, washing and vacuuming is deceptively simple. Every time, each car is returned to its original state, but that may only be an illusion. They are clean, but, somewhat mysteriously, they retain something of every trip and driver. They are becoming more and more alive with each outing. It is, perhaps, an unanticipated beauty of car-sharing, like the patina on a well-loved wooden table.There is an exchange of purpose and tasks, but also of caring. What Iʼve begun to wonder is, how are we drivers beginning to reflect our CarShare Vermont cars? After all relationships always flow both ways.

I am thinking about how my awareness is changing about driving – when I choose to, when I don’t. Particularly when the debate itself subsides and I just walk or bike or take the bus. It’s a relief each time we do not want what we do not need, don’t you think? I’m talking about a kind of emerging alignment between values and actions, the stuff of evolutionary change, in humans as well as automobiles. — By Ruby Perry