When I moved West 10 years ago, there was one thing I never dreamed of seeing: a garage in my backyard. A mountain lion, sure, John Elway and a real cowboy. But not a garage.
I once had a garage, back East, in college. It was handy for storing junk, my weights set and a trailered boat. But the move to Colorado meant leaving the V-hull behind. "Where would we use a boat in Colorado?" my wife asked years ago. (I couldn't answer through my sobs as my prized fishing vessel rode off hitched to another man's truck.)
But my wife's garage pitch was clever: "You can use the garage to hold your new boat." It would be joined by our only car. But I shivered. I saw myself losing open space and gardening room in our modest backyard.
I enjoy parking on a Western street. I can commune with nature by scraping ice off the car in winter, or sliding into a 500-degree driver's seat in our ever-longer summers. I get to contribute money to the city when I forget to move the car on street-sweeping days. Best of all, I'm one of the few people on my block who actually "exists" and is seen coming and going out the front door and to the car each day. I get to see the few others who do the same. It's quaint.
And out of fashion.
A garage, my neighbors tell me, shelters the car from hail, frees you from digging out after a snowstorm, and allows you to almost kill yourself via carbon monoxide while warming the car in January.
But a garage takes room. When I caved in to the garage idea, I envisioned a cozy one-car thing, with plenty of room left for the veggie garden out back. The contractor and everyone else in Colorado laughed. "Son, you need at least a 25-by-25-foot set-up. Property line to property line."
"You need it at least that big for the SUV," one pro-garage neighbor remarked, unaware that we drive a 14-foot-long Toyota. When one neighbor heard I wanted a small garage, she looked at me as if I'd just stepped out of the house in a skirt. "I thought you were a manly man," she said.
"Marty," my beloved asked, "has anyone ever told you, 'I wish I had a smaller garage?' "
Garage-owning strangers on my block (they've all been seeing me for years, though I've never seen them — walking, that is) congratulate me on my new "out building." I feel like I've just brought a cute baby into the neighborhood. I should place a cartoon stork on the front porch with a sign reading, "It's 440 square feet, flat-roofed, 8,000 lbs."
Stranger still is the fact that I like my new tool — my first electric garage-door opener. The building it opens and closes makes our little backyard private, and provides sound deflection from barking dogs, alley-speeders and shouting street people. The walls give me a place to grow hops.
Since discovering that a garage can be a good thing, I joke about the testy e-mails I sent my wife during construction: "Maybe," I once wrote, "we should've moved to Highlands Ranch to satisfy your dream of owning a Monster Garage?" My favorite: "I fear I'll never step into the backyard again, into the shadow of the 22-feet by 20-feet tribute to SUBURBIA you've spearheaded." Silly man.
I now spend my free time there tossing darts, dreaming of workbenches, peg-board walls and Nerf basketball games. Could we get cable out here? A crockpot? Sometimes my wife and I sit in the car, vintage Springsteen blasting, better beers in our hands this time around. Stranger still, I haven't missed walking to the curb for weeks. Or mowing the front yard. Or opening the front door. Even the dogs head for the back when we grab the leashes now. Sadly, there's no room in the Camry castle for a boat and trailer. That would cramp the dart tournaments, or require parking the car on the street. And who does that?