Happy Leap Day 2020 to you, and happy 10-year anniversary of being car-free to me!
I can’t let this February slip away without celebrating that it marks ten years that I’ve gone without owning a car in America. Yes, I went from a car I’d named Maggie to a bike named Yoko.
I don’t even remember why the car’s name was Maggie, but here’s a Rod Stewart song to remember her by:
When I made the decision to give the car up, I had no idea the path my bicycle would take me, along with a little help from light rail and the local bus. I’m not going to retrace all those steps in this post, though I really should try to make a graph of how living without a car gets easier over time.
On the other hand, I’m not 100% sure that’s the case, since America keeps stuffing more car capacity and car parking where bike lanes and housing should be.
“Sorry, more car capacity is written up in our city’s Transportation System Plan,” mayors say, even as they enact Climate Action Plans, “to reduce congestion. Our planners said we have to make room for more cars.” Oh; doing the same thing expecting different results, eh. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?
But certain things, unmeasurable things, DO get easier. Rainbows appear.
I don’t mean to shroud it in mystery, but the carfree experience is somewhat subjective; you can always give up your own car(s) to find out what I mean. However:
- If you visit the doctor half a county away three times a month & there’s no bus there, sorry, but I do not recommended going carfree. I do recommend you stop at city hall three times a month to demand decent buses for your journeys.
- If your kids would fill three Burley trailers & you lack an e-bike to power that train, again, sorry, I do not recommend going carfree. I do recommend that same city-hall-demand-a-bike-lane thing; surely some of those kids are old enough to ride their own bikes places? Make your city code help you take a load off!
- If you’re someone who literally prefers concrete over the earth and machines over the magic & rhythms of living things, I guess I don’t recommend you go carfree (but how, may I ask, did you find this blog?)
I didn’t have any of those concerns, but I sure had all the other reasons & excuses to fear and resist going carfree. You know, like, “How will I get to the beach on the spur of the moment?”
But after getting hit rather hard by the Great Recession, I had to weigh my options for my personal economic recovery, and the car was just not helping. Aside: there’s that word again: ‘Great.’ I for one sure wouldn’t use that word in my presidential slogan if you know what I mean. All I hear is “Make America Great Recession Again.”
Back to 2010, I had a decision to make. It wasn’t just that insurance, gas, and parking my car downtown near work was too expensive (though the parking expense had gone away when I was laid off from my state job due to state budget cuts). It was also that the car had been totaled that February in a hit and run crash. It was like the universe had stepped in with a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.
An astrologer I’d consulted a few times back then, Paul H. Richard, told me that in the future, by around 2015 as transiting Uranus conjuncted my ascendent, I’d start attracting & being attracted to more radical, “rebellious” people, “Uranian” types, he called them. He predicted I’d be changing the way I appear and act in the world, in ways that could even upset some people who’d known me before. He said I should continue to strive for and defend my authenticity. And he said much more that happened to be right on the money. Being carfree has not only led me to city hall, it’s led me to join others stating what much of society deems unruly: our simple expectation that those of us using bicycles as transportation get access to suburban streets. Cars can’t keep hogging all the seats. Or the view.
But I bet you want to know more about the crash, so I’ll briefly describe it. No serious injuries, but in stop & go traffic, one reckless, distracted, or just plain mean driver barreled into my car, sandwiching it between their car and the one in front of mine. Then the driver sped off and was never caught. Some “accident,” as the DMV “Accident” Report Form calls this sort of thing. Nope, that’s a CRASH. It’s intentional, to drive without care, then desert the scene of what you did and pretend it never happened. To pretend you didn’t cause all that damage, just run away and leave it to other people to clean up the mess you made with your jerk car.
But I digress. No one had been seriously hurt (well, I can only assume the hit & run driver wasn’t). And in all honesty, gratitude was the emotion I felt most sincerely. I looked at it like divine intervention. I’d thought about selling the car a couple years earlier, but the bluebook was low & no dealer would even make an offer on a V8 engine, with gas prices what they were. “Tell me about it,” I’d said. So I’d accepted being saddled with the old thing, figuring I’d just drive it less. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t always liked that car. “The morning sun, when it’s in your face, really shows your age. But that don’t worry me none, in my eyes, you’re everything,” sings Stewart.
When the insurance company pronounced Maggie totaled they gave me a choice: pay them $100 to repair the buckled insides, OR surrender the car and take a check for a little more than $1100. I added up the number of $80/month insurance payments I’d made to them over the years (a LOT more than $1,112.44 worth) and immediately felt ripped off.
“Send me the check,” I ordered. “And send me a thank you card for making you rich!” No, I didn’t say that last part. But I still could, since I still have that agent for a different policy. In fact, his office is always trying to get me to add “my car” so I can “bundle” and “save money.” Don’t know how many times I have to tell them: I. Do. Not. Own. A. Car. Remember?
But about that beach trip. Turns out it can happen as spur of the moment by bus as by car. Just have to be willing to carry a backpack, be out in the weather (often the point of a beach trip anyway), and do a bit of walking (usually already part of coastal vacation hikes). So that’s how I got to the beach, to spend last Christmas. The motel lobby even had a bunch of board games to borrow. No need to bring that stuff. And traveling light is traveling free.