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LIFE ON WHEELS

Rare One-Car Families Feel No Hardship and Relish the Funds Saved

April 06, 1989|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Tee time was 6:30 a.m., so he slipped quietly out of the house without waking her. Only hours later, sipping her morning coffee, did she realize she had forgotten to tell him she would be needing the car that afternoon.

That's right, the car. This Newport Beach couple, who asked to remain anonymous, are an Orange County aberration: a one-car family.

Most of the time, it's not a problem, she says. They live on the Balboa Peninsula, where "you can walk to any store you would need." Both in their early 30s, they work independently in home-based businesses, so neither of them commutes on a regular basis.

"We're modified hermits to begin with," she says. "Days go by when we don't move the car. We have no children, no clubs, no routinized activities of any kind. There aren't any givens on the schedule. If somebody has to use the car for something, we talk about it over coffee in the morning. It's pretty free-floating."

They also live within walking distance of a car rental agency, which comes in handy "seven or eight times a year" when they both have to drive somewhere, such as the times he has to be in West Los Angeles at the exact time she is due in Anaheim.

But on this occasion, she hadn't brought up the subject the night before because "I expected him back by around noon."

He wasn't. It was his day off and after the last hole, he and his buddies weren't quite ready to call it a day. There was no hurry, right?

Her business appointment wasn't flexible; she had to be there and the time--7 p.m.--couldn't be changed. She didn't start seriously worrying until about 4. By 5 she started getting dressed, car or no car. At 5:45, she took off jogging in her work clothes--pumps and all--to the rental car agency more than a mile away.

"They were just about to close when I got there," she said. "I asked them for the cheapest car they had. They wanted to show me the car and go over where all the nicks and scratches were and I just said, 'Look, does it go forward? ' "

She made it to her appointment, just in time. He made it home, only to find an angry note.

"That's the only time in 3 1/2 years that we've had a real problem about the car," she said.

"I can't imagine getting another car. It's just not the way that I would like to spend my money," she added.

Before they moved to Orange County in 1985, these two had no car at all. They were Chicagoans, living in the heart of the city and managing just fine with public transportation.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that the other two one-car couples who wrote to us are also Back-Easties. Vincent and Genevieve Marangi, who have lived in Rossmoor for the past 30 years, met at the legendary Trianon ballroom on Chicago's North Side. And Frederick and Florence Kohler lived on Long Island in New York until they moved to Laguna Niguel 13 years ago.

Genevieve doesn't drive at all, so the Marangis end up spending a lot of time in the car together. But they don't mind. After all, that's how they got to know each other.

After they met on the dance floor during World War II, the couple spent a lot of time driving around in his 1931 Model A Ford. "Gasoline back in those days was 8 gallons for a dollar," Vincent remembers. "So that's what you did then; you drove around. It was an important part of our courtship."

Sometimes they drove; other times they parked. "We'd park near an airport and watch the airplanes at night," he remembers. "Or we'd go out to a forest preserve."

It was in the car one sunny Sunday morning that Vincent popped the question. Shortly after that, the newlywed Marangis drove away together in that same car, with tin cans tied to the back bumper.

That was 45 years ago, and Vincent, 76, says those memories--and the memories that have been made since--are a big reason he doesn't mind driving his wife around if she needs to go somewhere. The Ford, by the way, has been succeeded by a series of newer cars, from a 1945 Nash Rambler to a 1984 Volkswagen Quantum, which Vincent now drives.

"I enjoy her company on any occasions that she wishes to accompany me," he said. "We enjoy each other."

Still, Vincent says he wishes Genevieve at least knew how to drive, just in case. "It bothers me more now than it used to," he said. "There's always the possibility that something will happen to me, and I worry about what she's going to do then."

He did try to teach her himself once, "about 40 years ago," said Genevieve, 68.

They both agree that didn't work. "I was too worried she was going to scratch the fenders," he said. "I should have worried about her instead."

Several times since then, he has signed her up for driver's school. But each time she has backed out.

"He talks it up, but I don't listen," she said.

"I'm really not interested in learning to drive. I'm kind of used to having a chauffeur," Genevieve said. "I'm very fortunate to have good friends who can take me places when my husband can't, so it's really not a problem."

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