Black Cat

Going not gentle into that middle age.

Spontaneity and other Car-ful Reasons

Filed under: Car-less,Expat — 22 September 2006 @ 3:09 pm

[from Admin: this post by PJ was originally submitted as a comment to Judy’s post “We used to own a car (or two)”. I thought it deserved to be a post in its own right.]

A car is a great thing to have. It is not, however, a great thing to need, whether or not you have one.

I have often longed for a job where commuting by public transportation made sense. I am now working at a company where the Light Rail stops literally outside my office door. Have I used it? Not even once in the year I’ve worked here. Why? First, my company has many sites, and I often don’t know from one day to the next if I will be called on to visit one of them. Most days it doesn’t happen, but when it does, I gotta be there. Second, I often run my personal errands after work, something that is extremely difficult in this area on public transportation (as you pointed out). Third, during Daylight Savings Time (do you have such a thing in Germany?) I would have to walk quite a long way in the dark to get to or from my home through an area that’s uncomfortable to be in after dark. Fourth, it would add about an hour a day to my commute. Fifth, it’s quite expensive to ride public transportation here, and I’d still have to keep my expensive car for other purposes.

I live in a suburban area. So do most of my friends — but not the same suburban area. So getting to each other is difficult without a car. Dropping by on my way to somewhere else would be prohibitive on public transporation. There is no central meeting place in the sprawl in which I live, no place to go where I’d likely run into someone I know. I blame cars for this. Being dependent on cars is lonely. It’s also convenient.

Do I wish things were different? I think so, but I’m not sure. Convenience is seductive. Drat! My last lightbulb just blew. Off to the store. Oh, no, I’m out of milk! I’ll just go get some… Dinner? Tonight? You bet — where shall we meet?

I recall that year when you lived without a car. You approached it (as you do most things in your life) as quite a fun experience. I don’t recall ever hearing you complain. When you needed to buy something too big to navigate on your bicycle (cat litter, laundry detergent) you and I made a fun excursion of shopping for those things in my car. Other times, you took me on bus rides, something I was totally unfamiliar with. At the time, I thought that riding the bus with you was quite a fun adventure. It was so much fun that even now, 30 years later, I recall it fondly. And I haven’t ridden a bus since.


  1. Minkymomo:

    It has now been almost 17 years (I’m not great at numbers either, so this is a best guesstimate) since I’ve been “car-free.” And, I admit I say that with a bit of arrogance and a lot of pride — of the same sort that I feel about being able to say “I have been an ex-smoker for 3-1/2 years now.”

    But, that’s not to say I haven’t moments of temptation (not with the cigarettes, with the car). Whenever I head back to the States to visit family and friends, I rent a car. As soon as I have access to that four-wheeled addiction, off I go. Whether it’s to a friend’s who lives 20 miles away via highway or whether it’s to the local CVS three blocks away, I’m leaping into that rental car with a sense of freedom and abandon. The thought of walking somewhere (except specifically for exercise) or hopping on a bicycle doesn’t even enter my mind.

    The ridiculousness of it all hit me on one of my recent trips to Washington, DC. A couple of girlfriends and I decided to get some exercise by taking a walk in a park that was about 2 miles away from one of the friend’s houses. I hopped in my rental, picked up one friend, continued onward and picked up the other, and off we DROVE to the park. To walk. I never would’ve seen the contradiction in this during all the years I lived in the States (the first 30 years of my life).

    But, once back in Europe, I manage — without difficulty — to go back to my “old, new habits.” I walk everywhere, I take public transportation, I manage somehow (and I might add, happily so) without a car. … well, okay, so that kitty litter and laundry detergent ARE issues … but thanks to these sorts of items, my husband has great shoulder and arm muscles.

  2. Andreas:

    I met Clarisse
    back then in my late school days. She started – for fun and other
    reasons – to walk to school, each and every morning. About 5 kms, a
    one-hour-walk. I was fascinated, and joined her several times.

    It was beautiful. And no, I already got a girlfriend by that time. Fresh air, birds singing, clear sky (sometimes), nice

    Then my car years went by. But I was still (dis)infected,
    and their were two souls in me: the convenient one, and the
    other one always trying to convince me to use my bike,
    feet or public transport instead.

    Then someone crashed in to my car. Nobody was hurt, I
    got my money back, and could have afforded to buy a new one
    the next day.

    But I didn’t. I just changed my life by doing nothing.

    Since then I had so much fun and experienced so many cool
    and sometimes adventurous situations.

    I learned, step by step, how to integrate activities. I
    travel and at the same time read good books, sleep, eat,
    socialize, make friends, make sports, work, shower, shave,
    learn, learn how friendly and helpful people are and do
    many more things. I travelled more or less each and every
    country in Europe without car or plane. I optimized my
    travelling gear and infrastructure (e.g.Bike Friday).
    It’s fun to ask
    in a travel agency how to get to xxx by train, ship or bike.
    It’s fun to open a well packed suitcase with good cheese,
    bread and a bottle of red wine in short distance train.
    It’s fun to go by boat to a business meeting and people
    don’t trust their eyes how I did it this time without
    a car (too often I don’t explain it – they would declare
    me insane).

    Altogether, I save money and time and my quality of life

    I should add that I’m a kind of “techie” and love machines
    and computers. I don’t blame cars for anything in general.
    From time to time I rent one.
    I just think that 10 or even 1% of them would suffice.

    And, yes, of course in Germany it’s easier without. But still
    there are miles to go… (e.g.)

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