Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Not Owning A Car

I've read the first five chapters or so of How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life so far, and I'm impressed enough with it that I'm not putting it down. So far it's just been the author's work at convincing people of the benefits of not owning a car and the awful things that an automobile culture does to both us and the world.

So, basically, not a lot of stuff I didn't already know, though it's interesting to see him break down the money part of it (and point out that the figure $8410/year spent on cars from AAA was for 2003 - when gas was only $1.55/gallon).

But the thing I got the most out of was when the author started talking about how HE came to be a carless gentleman. It got me thinking about how I came to this and therefore how I got more into biking.

I went through my actual bicycling history in an earlier post. And this post is going to be more about my recent adult life.

When I lived up in Alma, MI, I was not a huge car fan. I came to the conclusion, though not formally, that they were more trouble than they were worth. And though I had a car at college that my parents let my brother and I take, I didn't use it all that much. Notre Dame is a walking campus, and honestly there's not that much stuff off-campus to do.

So when I got out of college and my initial military training, I had to buy a car for the first time. I didn't want to spend a lot of money and get myself into horrible debt, so I bought myself a $2,000 1987 Mercury Lynx wagon (this was in 1993, by the way). It was in good shape, and basically served as a good first car. Plenty of cargo space (which was nice when I moved to Lansing, MI) and good gas mileage.

I took a lot of ribbing from my friends and co-workers who didn't understand why I didn't get a new car or at least one that wasn't a station wagon. But I really didn't care - I never attached any sort of sense of self-worth to my car purchases. I think that in the two years I owned it I put something like 40,000 miles on it - mostly from having to drive on business trips, which my job required at the time. It was reliable and I think I only put $600 of maintenance into it (not including regular oil changes and such).

I had to get rid of it, not because it died or anything like that, but because the girl I was dating at the time wanted me to get a car that had a working heater in it. And, I figured it was time for a new car anyway - the Lynx (which I fondly referred to as the "Jazz Odyssey") was almost ten years old at that point and had well over 130,000 miles on it.

My next car was a 1992 (I think) Mercury Mystique, bought in May of 1996. I overpaid for it ($13,000) and put more maintenance into that car than I knew what to do with. Coil spring replacements, head gasket replacement, computer chip replacements, I don't even WANT to put all that together. Truly a poor purchase.

During one of these car-less times, I had to figure out how to get to work as it was going to be over a week. I didn't want to rent a car as money was tight and my insurance at the time wasn't so good, so I looked at taking the bus. There was a stop right outside my apartment complex that got me almost all the way to work, and another right next to my job. Perfect.

So I started taking the bus. It took about 40 minutes each morning and evening on the bus, but I discovered something: I loved it! I loved not having to drive, being able to read something, and just sitting back and letting someone us do the driving for me. I got to work without any stress, found myself walking around to get to lunch, etc. and all in all my frame of mind improved immeasurably.

When the car was fixed, though, I went right back to driving... pretty much until the car died again. This was right before I moved from out near Easton to Clintonville. The car made it as far as the front of our house and I never drove it again. I took the bus to work because it was even easier than it had been from the Easton location.

A gentleman noticed that the car had been out there forever and asked if I was interested in selling it. I had always planned on selling it but to actually be asked was weird. So I sold it, and I haven't owned a car since then. And I've been happier getting to work almost every day since then. Even on the cold wet mornings of February and March, I realize that I'm still happier busing or cycling to work than I ever was driving. And now I keep finding new ways to make biking for my main form of transportation easier and more fun.

So get rid of your car! You really don't need it!

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