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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Carless? Car-Free?

Forget about an epic story like Eight Years in Tibet, I’ve now gone eight years without driving a car. It’s true, the last time I drove a car was my VW Jetta in Seattle, Washington, USA back in 2006. Something my European friends have a difficult time understanding is that for an American not to drive a car is an incredible luxury, or I should say that to have a lifestyle in which owning a car isn't an absolute necessity is a great luxury. For many people in the USA it’s impossible to live without some form of personal, motorized transportation. For the past eight years I’ve managed rather well with only bicycles, buses, and trains.

 Even back when I lived in Seattle and owned a car I rarely ever drove it. People who knew me for years were often surprised to discover that I even had a car. A car for me back then was strictly recreational, something I drove out to the mountains on the weekend. My car was like a snowmobile or a jetski—two stupid toys I wouldn’t be caught dead on and now I’ve added the automobile to that list.

For most of my adult life cars have been a luxury and certainly nothing remotely resembling a necessity. Going backwards in time from the present and going back eight years I’ve had no use at all for cars, then in my eight years in Seattle they were on the weekend fringes of my existence, further back in my life they were a tool to get to work and a few other places, further back in time before I had a license I was chauffeured around by my parents but even back then I wasn’t living in a totally car-dependent world.

The whole idea of cars is completely absurd and horrifying if you think about it for about a minute. Automobile transportation in the current era assumes that absolutely everyone who drives is capable of handling the skills that only a generation ago were only expected of a fighter pilot. Freeway driving in an intense environment like Los Angeles or the entire eastern seaboard in the USA can be a terrifying experience and it’s a miracle that there aren’t thousands of fatalities every day. As it is there are tens of thousands of traffic deaths every year in America and over a million serious injuries yet we continue to go all in for cars to the almost total exclusion of mass transportation. I used to always consider myself a good driver but I never want to go back into the ring if I can help it. I’ve survived this long and don’t want to press my luck. I never want to come out of retirement if that will at all be possible.

What is life like without a car? For one thing there is an almost child-like simplicity in your daily routine when you don’t have to get behind the wheel of a car and negotiate traffic, parking, other assholes behind the wheel, police, etc. Being released from the financial burdens of owning a car is no small benefit. If you don’t own a car you are free from car payments, gasoline, insurance premiums, parking fees, repair bills, and all the other costs associated with driving. One of the worst things about driving is having a breakdown and I can’t even remember the last time I had car trouble—bike trouble is a whole other matter but overall far less of a headache.

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