Because I grew up in the country and have lived in cities as an adult, suburbs simultaneously fascinate and confuse me. It is strange that suburban San Francisco bears much resemblance to suburban Chicago, all chain stores and wide intersections that lead you to cloverleaf exchanges.
Yesterday I drove to Mountain View for the first time. No mountains were viewed, but the psychic cleaners sign made me laugh. I saw it while driving around like a slow-witted crazy person trying to locate my destination. Found some irony in Google Maps giving wrong directions to its own town.
I'd rented a Smart car not because it was cool, but because it cost half of what other rentals did. (Miser.) Word to the wise: If the bulk of your trip involves highway driving, you may want to rethink this plan of action. It had been a couple of years since I'd driven a Smart, and what I remembered as quirks turned out to be terrifying safety hazards.
For instance: Most cars will shift from first to second gear rather smoothly. You press the gas pedal, it crescendos into a vroom and then gently slides into another one. Easy, seamless, fast. But in the Smart, this is the acceleration process:
1: Press gas pedal, maybe even all the way to the floor.
2: Wait one second. Slightly panic when car does not respond at all.
3: Second gear kicks in.
4: Wait one more second, hope air bags work, and then feel the car finally thrust forward.
Essentially, it's like working a manual transmission in slow motion, except the rest of the world isn't slowing down with you. That is some Quantum Leap stuff right there.
The other thing to note with Smarts is that other drivers — especially those in Hummers and other house-sized vehicles — tend to marvel at its wee size. I caught a few drivers looking at it with peculiar expressions, but they were probably laughing at the tiny car instead of its tiny driver who was howling along to its tiny stereo. On the way home, I discovered that anything past 85 miles per hour is pushing it a little too much. (Cars are not supposed to wobble and vibrate, right?)
Final verdict: the car was entertaining/terrifying enough for Saturday's suburban jaunt, but squeezing four grown women into a Smart (see above) provides more oh-god-we're-gonna-die thrills.