1997 Infiniti I-30
On stage and off, Canadian prima ballerina Karen Kain is the very image of grace and sophistication — and that includes her car.
Kain drives an elegant, black 1997 Infiniti I-30. Her previous car was also an Infiniti, the J-30.
"This car handles beautifully in all kinds of weather," Kain says of the I-30. "I can't sit for long periods of time and have to adjust my seat a lot. The Infiniti is as comfortable as a car can be."
She adds: "It has heated seats — that's my favourite part."
Clad in black from head to toe and wearing a wide belt that sports a silver Mickey Mouse face, Kain laughs easily. She has been driving for only five years and confesses that it wasn't easy to learn.
"You don't have all those almost instinctive reactions that are practically second nature when you start driving as a kid."
Until a few years ago, the dancer was a denizen of downtown, where cabs are plentiful. Then she moved to North York and had to commute every day to the National Ballet offices on Queen's Quay W. or the Hummingbird Centre at Front and Yonge Sts. She learned to drive.
She praises Young Drivers of Canada, where she took driving lessons.
"I was in a class with a whole bunch of teenage boys!" Kain exclaims. "I had to sit at a desk. It was like school for two days. Although it was a little bizarre, it was worth it."
Now she enjoys driving. "I love the independence. I like being able to go whenever I want, and not having to wait for a cab or a ride."
"The parking part . . . I'm not so nuts about," she admits with a wry smile.
Kain describes herself as a careful driver. She even lays her dry cleaning on the back seat instead of hanging it up on a hook, so as to have full visibility.
She likes the soothing strains of classical music in her Infiniti, but also enjoys the news. "It's one of the few times I can catch up on what's going on. I'm quite happy to just listen to Sheila Rogers (on CBC Radio Two)."
A busy person with a full schedule, Kain takes advantage of her car cell phone, a hands-free model.
"I have a headset that plugs right into the phone, and it's so handy. I don't know how other drivers can fiddle with the steering wheel and talk and drive at the same time. And with my little earplug, I can hear so much more clearly."
Station wagons figure prominently in her memories of family cars from her childhood. She recalls long, summer road trips.
"We went across Canada, because my parents wanted us to see the country," she remembers. "One summer we went one way, and the next summer we went the other way."
While her parents drove at night, Kain would curl up in the back seat to sleep, as her three siblings shared the back of the wagon. In the morning, her mother would cook breakfast on a Coleman stove atop the tailgate.
"It was fun, but there were a lot of fights. Just like a normal family."
As fond as she is of her car, Kain doesn't think it's an extension of her personality. "I didn't want to drive something that was flashy and ostentatious. I wanted good quality.
"In that way, I suppose a car can reflect your taste and your values. All the same, I wouldn't be quick to judge someone by the car they drive."
But if she spots a middle-aged man driving a red sports car, she quips, "I can't help but conclude it's a case of male menopause."
Kain sees herself as a pragmatic person and says she could be happy in any safe, reliable car.
However, she admires the lines of the Infiniti.
"My J-30 was a beautiful car, very elongated and very pretty. But this one is more compact and easier to park."
Like so many of us, Kain doesn't care for individuals racing through red lights when she is waiting in the intersection to make a left turn. "I think that's rude. What does it save, a minute? It's dangerous, too."
She laughs when asked if her Infiniti has any bumper stickers. "No, not even one that says 'I'd rather be dancing.' I like a clean, nice, tidy car."
Krystyna Lagowski is a Toronto-based freelance writer.