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Bigness

I was out and about this morning and stopped in at a grocery store on my way home. When I came out of the grocery store, I didn’t see my car, a little Honda Fit, in the lot. It was obscured by the vehicle which had pulled in beside me. It was a huge white SUV, way longer than my vehicle and so tall that when I sat at the wheel in my car, the door handle of this vehicle was at my eye level. I was really astonished as to the size of this thing. Maybe it’s an exaggeration but the first thing I thought of was those smaller-sized school buses. When I took a good look around the parking lot, it seemed there were far more SUVs and pick-up trucks than there were cars. It seems we Canadians like our big vehicles, undeterred by factors such as climate change or gas mileage.

My dad used to drive big old station wagons, which I totally loved. Later he switched to a pick-up truck which suited his business much better, and when the business did reasonably well, he also bought a Pontiac Parisienne. I remember that car so well because I ended up driving it. After Dad’s vision deteriorated, it sat in his drive for a couple years without moving. Later, when I needed a car, he offered it to me as a gift. I sunk every cent I had at the time into getting that car road-worthy again, but that vehicle was a money pit for me. Dad used to laugh and say, “I don’t know why you’re having so many problems with that car, son – when I drove it I never spent a nickel on it.” Exactly. Then one night I was stopped by a cop for no apparent reason. She wanted very much to find something wrong. No, I wasn’t drinking. No, I wasn’t speeding. She spotted some rust on the bumper and decided to investigate further. She looked under the mat on the driver’s side and saw the rust hole and took my plates off and ticketed me. Finally she smiled and offered to call me a tow truck.

I can’t tell you how many people are surprised that we can fit two adult humans and two giant dogs in our little compact car. The Fit, which has been discontinued by the folks at Honda, was designed remarkably well to optimize space. We actually have no problem fitting the family in there. As a bonus it is low to the ground – Newfoundland dogs are not great at jumping. Previously I drove a small SUV, a Subaru Forester. I liked that vehicle, but curiously enough, I’m just as comfortable in my compact car and can still carry around anything I need to carry around.

It occurred to me that we live in a time and place obsessed by bigness. Where we live there is a lot of redevelopment, and with very few exceptions the goal seems to be to fill lots with as much square foot of home possible. I recall as a kid going on fishing trips with my dad. We used to occasionally see enormous country homes, some complete with majestic columns and block fences with statues of lions. I used to wonder who would want to live in a home that big. Now we see homes that large routinely shoehorned onto their lots in City neighbourhoods. What’s changed? Why is it that the small bungalows which once were all over our neighbourhood are no longer in fashion? Am I wrong in thinking having more green space around a modest home used to be more sought after than a big home with little space around it? When I say “used to” I mean, which I was growing up in the 60s.

While this is happening, I know there is also a micro-trend toward tiny houses. I don’t think I would do well in a place that small, mostly because I have too much junk in my life and I’m not great at keeping it organized and out of sight. We lived happily in a very small home for 8 years though. It was around 750 square feet. It had a big shed in the back yard, 12X12, which I converted into a painting studio I called The Secret Lab. And it had enough backyard room for a a patio and a modest garden. There was always enough room for a few tomato and hot pepper plants. Even though the house was quite small, being able to enjoy the outdoor space, which while not huge was ample, really enhanced that place. Maybe had we not had the backyard space, we would have felt claustrophobic. Eventually, I think we accumulated so much stuff in our lives we needed more space to put it all. We moved to Long Branch and a home that was over twice the size of our old place on Blackthorn, with a big backyard (perfect for big dogs) but which is less than a third the size of the rebuild next door to our place.

Looking back, I loved that crazy little house, and perhaps living in a small home for years taught me that we don’t need nearly as much as we think we need. It was in an area known as a Portuguese-Canadian neighbourhood but which was in fact like the United Nations. There were people from everywhere, and that was so cool, getting to know people who had come to Canada from different places. Soccer was a big thing there. Our neighbours would set up huge wide screen tv sets with grey-market satellite dishes in their garage to get the big games. They would line one side of the garage with table and a had a bbq going on the patio, and there was so much food and drink and happiness at these soccer parties. It was a bonus they mostly liked my squeezebox playing.

Are you more comfortable in a small, cozy place or do you prefer to to have lots of space, with the huge kitchen and the island and all that jazz? Would you rather drive a big honkin’ truck or a little car? Or perhaps you prefer to get around by bike and public transit?

2 Comments

  1. Peter chao

    I am also a small car owner. I always worry about my safety when there are so many big vehicles around me

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