Carless, three years in

August 23, 2022 Comments Off on Carless, three years in

I quit driving on August 19, 2019. Or maybe it was August 18. I was driving back from Santa Barbara to LA, stuck in traffic on the 101. I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and said, “This is the last time you will ever drive a car.”

I was almost right.

Except for a brief 100-yard excursion behind the wheel of a rental car, I’ve not driven for three years. I’m pretty pleased with myself when I think of how Greta it makes me, all the trees I’ve saved, how much holier I am than thou, and how much less my shit stinks than yours.

Pretty pleased, that is, until Kristie deflates my bubble. She is very good at this, but to be fair, my bubbles are more numerous than a waterspout’s, and if you don’t get good at bursting them you eventually are encased in the delusion bubble yourself. However, I get the feeling she had this skill before we met.

“You fall into one of two modes, or both, neither of which is good,” she said.

“Only two?”

“With regard to the carless thing, two. Probably more if I think about it.”

“What are they?”

“The first mode is what I call ‘Man who lives on a rowboat three miles out to sea.'”

“What’s that?”

“It’s you. You’re like a person who lives in a rowboat three miles out to sea for moral or philosophical reasons and says that anyone who wants to see him, talk to him, or have anything to do with him has to either get in a boat and go visit, or wait until he happens to row in.”

“It keeps down on unwanted visitors, though.”

“But for those who do visit it’s massively inconvenient and selfish. Especially when, with a little effort, you could live on land. But no. You choose to live on a rowboat at sea and everyone else can go pound sand. It’s so selfish.”

“What’s the other mode?”

“The other is your Greta mode, which is wholly bogus.”

“How? I saved a hundred trees this morning.”

“Yes, but by making me drive all the way from LA up here to see you, I had to kill about a thousand. You’re still totally car dependent, you just make other people do all the driving.”

“I’m glad I don’t have to choose between being unreasonable and selfish, and can be both.” That comment didn’t seem to smooth things over.

She’s quite correct. I still benefit from other people’s cars, whether it’s her driving up here, or ordering online and getting stuff delivered on a UPS truck. Plus, I live in a house. Houses are very non-Greta. The most Greta and unselfish I’ve been was when I lived in LA, in an apartment, without a car. I did everything on foot or by bike. Canceled my Amazon account. Rarely if ever had anyone pick me up or take me anywhere. If it was too far to ride, and it almost never was, I took the train and biked. I think at one point I had gone an entire year without sitting in a car at all.

But once I left LA, my reliance on cars increased a lot, along with my carbon footprint.

On the whole, though, it has still been an eco-success and a health success. The vast majority of time I’m alone and really do have to go everywhere on foot or by bike. But since everything’s so far away and the weather is often really fucking hot, I don’t go “everywhere” anymore. Shopping is highly surgical.

And when I do shop, there are massive physical limitations on what I can carry. So I buy less and eat less. Also, I tend to buy lots more vegetables and fresh food than I used to because it’s cheaper and tastes better than prepared stuff. Buying gasoline, paying for car maintenance, insurance, and the general malaise that comes from being in a steel box are all things I’m better off without.

What’s important is that I have no desire to drive or own a car. Even riding around in one is uncomfortable and feels like I’m being a bad person. But what’s also important is realizing that having a car is the global exception and a huge luxury. Even here in the U.S., so many people are carless because they are too poor to own one. I recently saw an article that said new cars are no longer within reach for the average American unless you’re willing to buy them on a 7-year note … after which time, of course, the car is most of the way to useless.

But the luxury to choose not to have a car? That’s the biggest luxury of all.


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