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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My Dad Took My Car

Really, he did.


No, I am not grounded.


The car has become... an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad, and incomplete. ~ Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964

I've been mentally working towards this state of car-less-ness for a while now. It occurred to me several months ago that I don't really need a car as long as I'm living and working where I am. But when it came time to act on this realization, I kept chickening out. The idea of not having a car reminds me of those bad dreams you had about high school when you showed up for class without any pants on. The idea of not having a car was scarier than the actuality of not having a car, especially since I've had a car pretty much from the day I learned to drive.

I was afraid I would be rendered helpless.

Car sickness is the feeling you get when the monthly payment is due. ~ Author Unknown

I've been paying hundreds of dollars every month for my beloved Passat to sit in the garage. Ever since I moved to the city, I've been getting around and enjoying San Francisco primarily via Muni, taxis and walking. This is quite a change from my former life, where no car = no life. But spending all that money for the possibility of needing a car, it just didn't make sense no matter how my imaginary fears tried to convince me how real they were. Plus, there are car share programs I can participate in, as well as renting a car, if I get in a bind and really need some wheels (for what, I cannot imagine now). And even then, it will still be more economical than more years of car payments.


My dad needs a reliable car and I don't. So we're helping each other out and I think it's really the best of both worlds.

Saturday was the big day. I took a deep breath, handed over both sets of car keys to my dad (with a tiny lump in my throat, I will admit) and The Boy and I took CalTrain and Muni back home. And you know what, it was fun. The pressure was off. We read, had some snacks, looked out the windows.

I came back down to San Jose on Monday, to see my grandma who is in the hospital. Same drill: Muni to CalTrain and same thing back home. I really felt something I can only call relief at not having to drive. It was an odd and pleasant feeling, and certainly not one I had expected to have.
Something about the act of travel made me slow down and enjoy the journey itself. I think I am so driven all of the time. I am always in the driver's seat. It took a long train ride to make me realize that it's okay to just go along for the ride, too. You don't always have to be the one in charge...and you'll still get where you need to go.


msHedgehog June 3, 2008 at 4:12 PM  

I'm so glad I don't have to have a car. I've always hated driving, and I get a lot of knitting, reading, and writing done on the Tube.

tangobaby June 3, 2008 at 4:57 PM  

Hi Ms. Hedgehog,

It's really a foreign concept (to me, at least) to not need a car, let alone want one. Especially where I grew up and lived for most of my life, having a car is a necessity because things are so spread out. The public transportation system is just not as efficient compared to what most people in Europe are used to. It just doesn't exist.

I do enjoy reading during my commute and it's amazing how many more books I read nowadays.

Anonymous June 3, 2008 at 6:30 PM  

For the 11 years I lived in NY, I did not own a car. The prospect of having to get one when I moved out here caused the same anxieties you went through when, um, "surrendering" your wheels.

Relyn June 3, 2008 at 8:08 PM  

Yeah for you. It feels so good to surrender something that requires a lot of energy, time, and/or money. I love your choice. Of course, I have never been much of a car person.

I happily drive old beaters because they are paid for. I can carpool with someone (and do as often as I can) and after a year, still not be able to tell you what kind of car they drive. I will say something like, "It's one of those big jeepish things and it's light blue." We only spend the minimum on our cars. They are only a way to get from point A to point B. Well, that and a rolling storage system.

When in a large city, I have always enjoyed public transportation. Such wonderful people-watching opportunities.

studio wellspring June 4, 2008 at 9:16 AM  

plus you've got your own personal lemon drop bumble bee taxi any time you want it! ;o)

tangobaby June 4, 2008 at 10:57 AM  

Hi Johanna,

I can imagine the perplexity you must have suffered in leaving a place where you never needed a car (or even having one might have been a hindrance as there's no place to park) to going somewhere where, if you don't have a car, you stay home.

And the traffic of the LA freeways! Boy, I have to hand it to you, that is way more of an adjustment than I'm making now.

Hi Relyn,

I wish I could say our public transportation system in the city is great. It's adequate and it meets my needs, more or less, and I'm hopeful that the city will keep working to improve it. What I need to take advantage of are the old streetcars and cable cars, not only for their charming historic value, but I can ride them just like I can the subway and buses with my monthly pass.

I will miss my car more than the others I've owned because this was the nicest car I've ever had. It is nice to have a car with all the bells and whistles and it does make driving a pleasure. But with gas topping $4.50/gallon, I think I can take a long raincheck!

Hi Ms. Wellspring,

You know I love my little personal lemon drop bumble bee taxi service! You just have to start letting me chip in for gas and parking!!!

I am very grateful for all of the rides, plus it's a great way to see you.

Anonymous June 4, 2008 at 11:13 AM  

There are things I love about both having and not having a car. But life is about change, TB. Adapt or die.

paris parfait June 4, 2008 at 11:53 AM  

It must have been a wrench to give it up, but I think you'll agree life will be simpler - and less expensive - without the hassle of the car.

Just back to Paris and seriously jet-lagged; trying to hold my eyes open long enough to read your lovely blog. Will catch up w/ you soon. xoxox

j June 4, 2008 at 12:41 PM  

i cannot give up my car, because i just want to do it alone. i love having my own little fortress to protect me from all the nuttiness of the city while i crisscross about.

some people also call this "control freak" :)

tangobaby June 4, 2008 at 4:08 PM  

Hi Paris Parfait,

I tell you, the idea was worse than the acutal event. I hate feeling unprepared, and not having things I may want at my disposal.

I still keep my little purple carnet ticket stuck in a corner of my vanity mirror. I look at it every day. *sigh*

I love the Paris metro. Do I love it because it's the metro or because it's in Paris?!!

Hi j,

I'm going to let the extra hundreds of dollars a month in savings buoy my spirits. Paying off some bills is going to be fantastic, and being able to save some money for a change.

Alex June 4, 2008 at 7:13 PM  

Good for you Baby!

We have all been fed the illusion of the American dream for far too long. Car, college, degree, marriage, mortgage, white picket fence, credit card debt, 2.3 kids. Not necessarily in that order.

I once calculted the real cost of owning and maintaining two cars - fairly modest ones - a Nissan Maxima and a Ford Exploder. The car payment, gas, oil, tires, repairs (over the life of the loan), interest, taxes, fees, and the biggie that everyone forgets - depreciation. It was close to 30% of our take home family income. That was about 12 years ago when gas was "normal".

I will be selling my 5.4 liter Ford Ejaculation by the end of August and buying a Harley. I will never look back as I ride off into the sunset.

I would recommend that we all seriously start looking at our lives/budgets when gasoline is at $5, $6, $7, $8 a gallon and higher. Gas is only going to get more scarce and more expensive. We are looking at our toes twiddling in the ocean surf while a 50 foot tall tsunami is stacking up over our heads, ready to crash down upon us.

tangobaby June 5, 2008 at 3:13 PM  

Hi Alex,

Yes, little by little I seem to be chipping away at my own preconceived notions and making my own American Dream, just tweaked to suit me.

Part of not having a car right now feels mildly subversive, as I felt when I first stopped watching, and then owning, a television. That was twelve years ago. I wonder if I'll look back at car ownership twelve years from now with a similar perspective that I have to TV.

I have to say that I am strangely attracted to Vespas of late and seem to keep finding them about, in the most beautiful pastel colors. Even today I saw one that was cotton candy pink, and I gasped inside a little. But it's probably more of my Roman Holiday/Audrey Hepburn daydreams that are surfacing than my actual need for a Vespa.

Please do keep us posted on the Harley! But I think you should get an Indian. They are WAY cool.