My friend Erik offered a rejoinder to my previous post: that cars make road trips, and hence visits to out-of-town friends or family, possible, or at least vastly easier. Until America gets itself a genuine inter-city high speed rail network, his point is definitely true. But here’s another interesting bit to add to the mix: this post, from Sociological Images, points out the stunning poll result that 23% of respondents declared their car to be their best friend. Nearly one-quarter of people polled — who were meant to be a representative sample of drivers — felt that a hunk of steel was their best friend! Obviously, something is amiss.
Unlike some other enviro-progressives, I’m not an absolutist. Cars certainly have a place. I used to love mine — probably not quite enough to call it my best friend, but I did anthropomorphize it as a friend; my car was named Nadine, and on long road trips I would address her by name. It’s taken as a given within much of America that any adult living outside of Manhattan needs a car to get around, that not having a car is both limiting and somehow immature, and that’s what I find troubling. Our reliance on cars has been a carefully constructed result of marketing, economics, and urban planning, and it is not fixed or even necessary.
Again, though, I’m not an absolutist. I think car-sharing is a great idea, and not merely for urbanites; how many suburban dwellers could save a great deal of money by becoming one-car households, with a car-sharing membership for the occasions when a second car is necessary?
I don’t think cars should, or can, disappear overnight. But I do think that, as something with tremendous extrinsic costs which also underpins so much of our society, car ownership merits critical interrogation by everyone with a drivers’ license. Three years ago, I would never, ever have imagined that becoming car-free would have been such a positive change in my life. It’s remarkable how easy change can be if only we look honestly at the way things are.