Car-sharing is great. I use rent-by-the-hour Zipcar and live in a small big city where I can get around on two feet or two wheels for most things.
Most Americans probably can't imagine getting by without a car in unsustainable subdivision land.
But not having a car even sucks in pedestrian-friendly 7x7-square-miles San Francisco. For nearly two years, I've bitterly missed my 1981 Mercedes 300D (so much, perhaps, that I fetishized such cars in this story).
1. Without a car, you look like you're in the fourth grade no matter where you go. That's because you have to lug a backpack around town if you're bringing simple things like lunch, a jacket for the evening, a change of shoes for work, a laptop or books for the café, an umbrella. A car is like having a closet, a desk, and a dresser on wheels--perhaps even a kitchen cabinet too. You can't really chow on chocolate in a shared Zipcar because it may fall and melt into the seat, which the next user won't appreciate.
2. Riding a bicycle in a city means taking your life into your hands, let's face it. Ditto for motorcycles and mopeds. But at least you'll probably die quickly if someone hits you, if you're not paralyzed instead. A Segway could get you killed simply because the sight of your smug, upright posture gliding uphill in a business suit can inspire murderous rage in passersby.
3. Taxis burn a hole in your pocket. They're never there when you need one. And again, there's the risk of taking your life into your hands.
4. You have to schedule a Zipcar usually days in advance, especially on weekends. You can't zip across town at night on a whim to meet friends. You get used to canceling plans and staying in your neighborhood. You miss chances to go anywhere interesting in any nearby cities, which can really screw up your job if there's a conference 30 miles away. And even if you do get a car, you have to leave it at the drop-off spot far from your house, then walk home from there on a poorly lighted street, again taking your life into your hands, when the evening's over. Every Zipcar reservation must be a round trip. Thanks for the "convenience."
5. Forget about petite shoes or pedicures. And while your seat may not spread out because you hoof it or bike so much, your lower legs start looking meaty. (This is pathetic; please pretend you didn't read such shallowness here. Scroll down to see #2 on the next list of why it's good not to have a car.)
6. Your life slows down. You wait for buses. You wait for trains. You wait at stoplights. You wait for an opening between the shoulders ahead of you on the sidewalk so you can pass dawdling walkers. If you want to call people you love in other time zones, you can usually only talk to them while you're panting on the way home because by the time you reach your couch, it's midnight on the east coast. In a car you could gab for hours, shielded from the rain.
7. In mountainous places, the bike can be painful or impossible to ride. In cities with snow, bikes are no-go half the year.
8. To jaunt off on a road trip, you'll probably have to rent a car from the airport to get a good rate. That means going to the airport. And it costs more than $60 per day to rent a car with a car sharing service. I might as well buy a couple of 1978 Volvos each month at that rate.
9. You feel like a mooch when asking a friend for a ride home--again--even if it's only 10 blocks out of their way. At the same time, you fine tune a bad attitude about drivers and start to preach to friends and family about how evil driving is, usually while they're scowling behind the wheel in rush hour during your chat. Mooching and self-righteousness are unattractive qualities, but you will learn to nurture them without a car.
10. Groceries are heavy. When will I get around to buying that backup case of Clif bars in case the Big One rocks the West Coast? And forget about picking up 50s furniture on a whim from a garage sale, once a beloved pastime. I've biked uphill from Alemany Flea Market with a folding table on my back. Won't repeat that.
11. You don't get to listen to NPR on the way to work. Scratch that, I forgot about iPods and podcasts. But I refuse to dangle those white strings from my ears, tuning out the real world around me. It's bad enough that I'm always on the phone while walking to and from work.
Am I a total wimp? Siel of Green LA Girl/Emerald City seems to love de-caring in Los Angeles. Many other people relish their petroleum-free lifestyle. But I still want to throw things in a trunk and wear cute shoes.
On the other hand, not having a car is great because:
1. Your life slows down a bit. You smell the flowers. Your sense of smell becomes acute, especially when exhaust fumes from muscle cars leave you in the dust.
2. Exercise is built into your form of transportation. That's hot, right--defying gravity and age without going to a germy gym--even though you fantasize about foot massage? Again, shallowness: blame me for having been a scholarship kid at a private grammar school.
3. Your carbon footprint shrinks. Of course, you're not supporting the evils of Big Oil (or the Big Agra ethanol lobby, for that matter).
4. You probably save money. I'll add this up and figure it out eventually. Car sharing does include gas and insurance, but I spent nearly $400 on it last August.
5. You never have to deal with parking and parking tickets.
6. Without a car, you no longer power a weapon of mass destruction. If you're in an accident on your bike, at least you won't kill anybody (However, you'll be dead and won't know how good it feels to be the killee rather than the killer.).
7. Taxi drivers become some of your closest companions, at least for 15 minutes at a pop. Hey, they might hook you up with cousins to stay with when you travel across the globe.
8. When it comes to greener transportation, you walk the talk, or cycle the…something.
9. Without that broom closet on wheels, you have no car to wash.
10. Maybe I'll add more to this list. Trying to live a greener lifestyle is great, but mostly I'm finding that it's a pain in the rear. Call me coddled, an ugly, lazy American imperialist. I get it.
But people's approaches to alleviating the inconveniences of daily living, without considering the ecological impacts, have led to this inconvenient truth of global warming. It needs to be easier to be eco-friendlier so we as masses can make sweeping changes in our daily habits. Otherwise, major calamities--whether economical or ecological or both--eventually will force the issue.
A better transporation situation, for me at least, would be sharing a car with a cluster of friends who live nearby. That way, you could run household errands together, share maintenance costs, and yet never have to walk home far from where you park. If you really get along, you can go on the same road trips, or use a car sharing service in a pinch.
Alas, the era of communes is long gone, and they were a wreck anyway. People don't want to share anymore. Since nobody wants to share, would someone like to donate instead? Somebody, pretty please, gimme a car. I'd prefer leather seats and a sunroof. I'll give everybody a ride home like I used to. Thanks in advance.
By the way, I apologize for not having updated this blog in so many months. I'll blame that on not having a car as well.