I have two main theories for the origin of the term “Rice Car”, and neither of them is racist. The first theory comes from a headline in the April 26th edition of The Daily Kina: “Daddy Scolded on Madcap Drive to Corona Park / ‘Why You Going Like a Race Car, Man?!’” (I was driving 27 in a 25, for the record.)
It is plausible that Kina’s reference on that day to our “Race Car” would eventually drift, as many of her absurdist terms do, to “Rice Car”. The second theory is simply that the car—a late-model Ford Fusion hybrid—is white, and pretty much anything white in Kina’s world is “white like rice”. Now that I am writing this, though, it seems possible that both are true, which would bolster the argument for Kina’s evident cleverness.
In either case, the Rice Car was a welcome addition to the family, in that it gave us the freedom to visit places in this pandemic-stricken city that were hard to get to and sparsely populated: The Rice Car drove us to Randall’s Island, where we would eat picnics while watching boats traverse Hell Gate. We hid out from the rain and listened to George Michael in the Rice Car. It was on the hood of the Rice Car that we ate a Joe and Pat’s vodka sauce pie after hiking the Staten Island Greenbelt. Our many trips to Fort Tilden (a route I can now drive in my sleep) were made in the Rice Car. We visited Corona Park, the Cloisters, and FDR State Park in its cozy confines, and whenever we were headed home, Kina would point to it in the parking lot, saying “There’s the Rice Car!!!”
Our rental car got us out of the apartment at a critical and tense moment—in the weeks after our family’s two-week quarantined recovery from COVID-19, an extremely scary time when we desperately needed novelty and distraction—and during which long-term extendable deals on rental cars were incredibly cheap. It was on the same weekend, actually, that I started drawing The Daily Kina, though it isn’t formally named in these pages until May 19th (“Kid Demands New Car / ‘Why We Still Have This Rice Car?’”)
Most of the story of our weekends since then—and by extension all the weekend editions of this newspaper—is a product of having rented the Rice Car. I’m not sure what our life in the last four months would have been like had we not made the decision to spend our money on it, but that life would almost certainly have revolved around the part of this neighborhood we could have walked to, which includes very few trees, sparse open space for a kid to run amok, and considerably fewer vodka sauce pies.
I have not wanted to own a car in New York since a relatively brief stint in the early aughts, when I owned little red ‘94 Toyota stick-shift pickup. After it got rear-ended overnight by a trash truck, I drove the pickup back to my parents’ house and swore off NYC car ownership forever. The subway has served me well, and it’s served our family well; I am deeply committed to public transit, and I have been very happy not owning a car. But now that we’ve returned the Rice Car to its home, we’re considering buying a car of our own—a decision I never figured I’d make, but which makes just enough depressing sense to a parent in today’s New York to feel like the right move—we have discovered a part of this city that is hard to get to, and we need a way to get to it. Whatever we buy will be larger, more comfortable, less dopey, considerably less white, and absolutely no more lovable than the Rice Car. There are many white cars, but only one Rice Car—I thank Avis for making it available to us and I hope the next family who rents it loves it half as much as we did. I’m sorry about all the crumbs behind Kina’s seat.