Black Cat

Going not gentle into that middle age.

We used to own a car (or two)

Filed under: Car-less,Expat — 21 September 2006 @ 2:05 pm

Michael and I lived most of our lives in Silicon Valley, California, where living without a car is unthinkable. The bus network was not useful for getting to work, shopping, social engagements. The train ran on one line between San Fransico and San Jose at irregular intervals and, of course, you needed a car to get to the station. In large parts of the Bay Area, there weren’t even sidewalks, especially in industrial “parks” and shopping malls. There were parking lots everywhere. There were no bicycle lanes anywhere. Motorists hated bicyclists using “their” streets, and tried to run them over.

No walking. No bicycling. Driving.

And we did drive. With enthusiasm.

I did live for one year without a car in the late 1970’s, while I saved up enough money to buy a new VW Rabbit (now called the Golf). This was a luxury on my meager salary. The reason I was able to save up enough for the down payment is that I couldn’t go anywhere. Because I didn’t have a car. The city buses ran until about 10 p.m. So seeing a movie after work or attending a night class at the junior college were not options, since I wouldn’t be able to get home afterwards without paying for an expensive taxi. I tooled around in the daytime on my bicycle, but I wasn’t equipped for night driving or transporting quantities of purchases. So I stayed home after work, and didn’t do much on weekends.

I was very proud of handing over the down payment for the new Rabbit and signing the contract that bound me to 4 years of payments. I started driving everywhere. I put 365,000 miles (587,410.56 kilometers) 265,000 miles (426,476.16 kilometers) on that car over the next 13 years. I felt like a princess. I felt like I could go anywhere. I became an asshole on the roads, secure in my steel fortress. I felt powerful.

Skip forward a couple of decades. We moved to northern Germany 11 years ago. We didn’t buy a car when we got here, and we learned that it is possible to live fine without one.

I want to explore both worlds in a series of posts. In the meantime, here are a few blogs and articles that I found interesting:

Christine Gardner moves to Normal, Illinois with her husband and two small children, and experiences one month of living car-free:

Christine Gardner’s experiences are described in Grist:

Alan Durning’s family of five start a year of living car-free in Seattle:

Kipchoge Spencer, president of Xtracycle, answers Grist readers’ questions about not owning a car:

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  1. Michael:

    Hey blackcat,
    First, I must correct you. You/we only put 265,000 miles on that car. Still a helluva lot. Maybe it just felt like 365K.
    But that wasn’t the only car. There were the sports cars I owned (and wrecked) and the Ford we owned when we moved here. So add a few more miles—actually a lot more miles—to the total.
    One observation from my side. In western culture (well, in America and Germany anyway) it seems that all men think that they are excellent drivers. I did when I was younger. It took a few accidents and lots of tickets (equals money) before it finally sunk in that I was not, in fact, a good driver. I accepted it and made an effort to slow down, play it conservative and obey the rules. Driving became just transportation. And for the next twelve years I didn’t hit anything and didn’t get any citations.
    But the real truth didn’t make itself apparent until we came here to Germany and started living without a car. And the truth is: I don’t like to drive. I have no desire to drive. I don’t want to get a car because I would have to drive it. There I said it. I’m a man and I don’t like to drive. And I am grateful that here I have the option not to.
    — Michael

  2. judy:

    OK, numbers are not my strong point. Well, it was a lot of miles. Text amended.

    I appreciate how hard it must be to admit that you don’t like to drive. I don’t either, actually. I’m glad we live in a place now where we don’t have to.

    You did like cars, however. You lovingly took your Jensen Healey apart and cleaned it and put it back together again. Several times. I knew where to look for my glass baking dishes when I wanted to bake a casserole. Eventually I bought you your own set for the garage.

    Ah, nostalgia. Even though I was a bit, uh, vocal about reclaiming my baking dishes, I must admit that I loved seeing you engrossed in an activity that you loved.


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