Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Grist recently posted two good meditations on car ownership and its deceptions.  

It’s been two years now that I’ve been car-free.  Before then, I was dependent on my car in ways that neither of the above links touches on: as someone who spent the better part of a year couch-surfing I literally lived out of my car, packing everything I owned into my trunk and carrying it around with me like a turtle.  Sometimes I even slept in my car (which allowed me to wake up with the sun and enjoy some stunningly beautiful early-morning hiking at Crater Lake).  I road-tripped like a fiend and, in spite of my otherwise impeccable greenie credentials, couldn’t even fathom a carless life.

What happened?  Simple economics.  Insurance, gas, repairs, parking, parking tickets — I gave up my car because I straight-up couldn’t afford it.  I anticipated that the switch to walking and public transit would ease the stress on my bank account, but what I didn’t foresee was how much getting rid of my car would ease stress, period.  Sure, it’s sometimes irritating if the bus shows up late, or if somebody smells funny on BART, but I never have to worry about traffic, or accidents, or getting pulled over, or that person two lanes over who hasn’t looked up from his cell phone in five minutes.  I don’t have to worry about parking, or paying for parking, or moving my car for street cleaning, or paying parking tickets when I forgot about street cleaning.  Repairs?  Insurance?  The ever-increasing price of gas?  These things don’t even enter my brain anymore!

Sure, not having a car has limited my freedom in certain ways — when it’s midnight and I’m stricken with a sudden craving for In-N-Out Burger, I can’t just pop over to the nearest drive-thru and order up a double-double, animal-style.  Nor can I meander over to Target whenever the mood strikes.  I have to think these consumerist impulses through a little more thoroughly, even if I’m just walking to the grocery store or Out of the Closet a couple blocks away (after all, I have to be able to carry all my purchases back).

For some people, the loss of consumerist freedom isn’t worth it.  For me, it only adds to the benefit; I spend less money and have less useless crap to deal with.  There’s a car-sharing service one block away from my new house, and I’m contemplating joining — but it’s been a month and I haven’t yet, because once I’m paid up, I’l feel compelled to drive, and, well, as much as I used to love it, driving just isn’t something I miss all that much.

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