Friday, August 8, 2008

Going Carless! Ooh la la!

So, I’m going carless. This sounds somewhat risqué, like going braless or even topless. (A side note here – whenever I say I’m going to a tapas restaurant, people always think I’m saying a topless restaurant. Does anyone else have this problem?) But what I mean is that I don’t currently own a car. This is practically blasphemy in the Midwest, home of car racing and big trucks. Once, I met my MOH at a restaurant for lunch, but it was closed. We decided to go to a restaurant about six stores down the strip mall, and she got into her car and DROVE there. (Granted, she has a really cool car – a MINI Cooper named Stella).

Let me explain. The place where I live with the Mister has only one parking spot. Usually, I would just park on the street, but we live near a busy downtown building, so all the spots are metered. If I ever decided to stay home for the day (say, for example to meet the cable guy, who has come to my house four times in the past two days, and still, no cable!), I’d have to put money in the parking meter on the street. There is a nearby garage, but it costs $40 per month to park your car there. I work for the State, so I can park in the free State garage, but it’s about ten blocks away. So then I started thinking, “If I’m going to park my car so far away, do I really need a car at all?”

In the downtown area where we live, there’s a grocery store and a hardware store and a mall and a movie theater. In other words, the majority of the stuff I need is within walking distance. (And a lot of things I don’t need, like great pubs and restaurants. I hope walking to these locations will make up for the caloric intake!)

Sooooo, the Mister and I decided to try an experiment. When the lease on my old car ended, I would just walk to and from work. This wasn’t so much of a stretch because: (1) I was already riding my bicycle to work a few times a week for fitness and environmental reasons, and (2) it takes about as long to walk from my house to work as it does to walk from the State parking garage to work. If I needed the car on the evenings or weekends, I would ask the Mister. And if the car and the Mister were busy, I could always rent a car. We would take it one day at a time. Whenever it got unbearable, I would just go get a new car, and the experiment would be over.

It’s been two months so far, and it’s going swimmingly. The whole walking around thing reminds me of being in college, when I didn’t even dream of having a car. If what I needed was off campus, I just learned how to do without. A girl can get a lot of wedding thinking done while sashaying about town.

I’ve only rented a car once during this experiment. I reserved a subcompact car to save on gas and to get into those teensy tiny parking spots, but the rental agency gave me a giant V-8 two-door and expected me to be happy about a car that vroomed unnecessarily. I took Mama and Mr. Mama for ice cream in it, and I had to fold Mr. Mama into a pretzel to get him in and out of the back seat. He was crabby.

I’d be lying if I said that I never felt slightly trapped by not having a motor vehicle at my beck and call. There are times I want to just drive off, away from responsibilities (or at least toward my Mama and my MOH, both of whom live too far away to walk). But those few trapped feelings are greatly outweighed by the benefits of going carless:

I can eat corndogs and not gain weight.
I see the same people on my walks every day, and I like the feeling of community.
Mother Earth approves of my smaller carbon footprint.
While my backside (or my dignity, as my grandmother used to call it) is less plump, the opposite is true for my wallet.

There are a few drawbacks. Like the crazy guys who ask me for money every day. And my hairdo is usually a hairdon’t by the time I get to work. But little miracles happen all the time on my walks. Last week another (obviously crazy!) guy said, “Pardon me ma’am. You have a beautiful figure. I’ll bet you get that all the time.” Um, no, I most certainly do not! I was walking on air for days.

I get two reactions to the experiment. COOL! and WHAT?! People either love or hate the idea – there’s no middle ground. Some folks can’t fathom going without a car, while others secretly wish they could. I realize that there are a gazillion people who ride the bus or their bikes or walk to work every single day, and it’s not like I’m some nutty radical who’s changing the universe just by waiting to buy a new car. But I am literally the only person I know in my profession who doesn’t have a car (and isn’t even shopping for one).

So, anybody else out there going carless? We should all meet up at the local topless (I mean tapas) restaurant to bond.


Meg said...

We had no car for years in NYC, but since we moved back to the west coast, we knew we needed one to drive from SF to our parents in LA. So now we have one small car, but it stays parked in the driveway all week long. I've only lived as a adult in big cities, so this seems uber normal to me. Now the fiance is going to drive across the bay for school each day and THAT seems crazy. (and expensive, no? how do people do it?)

penn said...

I also have the same problem when I go to a tapas place, complete with shocked looks that I'd go to such an establishment.