Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On Being Carfree in the 'Burbs

If you live in Europe or even New York City, not having a car & driver's license may not be a big deal. But for a native Californian, especially living in the suburban Silicon Valley, a functional adult who chooses to not drive might as well have 4 arms & bright green skin -- it's that weird.

That's me, the non-driving freak. I'm 45 years old, & I choose not to drive.

It started simply enough. I took driver's ed classes in high school. My mom even got me a beat-up old car to practice driving in. I passed the class, but I didn't enjoy it. All the other teens were chomping at the bit to get their licenses, & I just didn't care.  Driving made me edgy & nervous & uncomfortable. I didn't want to bother with it. And I didn't really need to drive. I could walk or take the bus to school, & my friends all drove, so they took me anywhere further.

I went away to college, to a very compact town with horrible parking problems. It was much easier to get around on foot or by public transit in the 4.5 years I lived there. Maybe I'd get a driver's license later. Or maybe not.

My first job out of college was an hour's drive away from town, back towards my hometown while I still lived near the university. But I got into a carpool with three drivers going the same route & toughed it out for three months, until I decided to move back home & closer to work. Where I again carpooled.

Then I went to grad school, living on or near campus for a few year, having no need of a vehicle. Even my part-time jobs were all within walking distance or a quick pubtrans route away. When I dropped out of grad school, it was for a great job that was literally a six-block walk from my apartment. I stayed at that job for five years, though I moved from the apartment a little farther away, just a short bus ride away. And because I had started working on the Internet, I could work from home occasionally. 

This became the pattern for my working life -- figure out a carpool &/or public transit route, plus add in one or two work-from-home days. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, traffic congestion on the freeways is relieved by carpool lanes, so my riding alone usually helps lessen the commute time a bit for a driver, plus I always chip in with gas money. The public transit system isn't very comprehensive, unfortunately -- buses & light rail don't connect conveniently, & they're slow, so it can take me double the distance on pubtrans that a car would take. Still, it's cheap, & I can enjoyably pass the time listening to music or podcasts or surfing the net on my phone.

I do a lot of my personal shopping & errand-running by bus as well. This forces me to be very organized. I plot out where I want to go, exactly what I need, & how much I can carry. If not by bus, then I shop online, so I still have to plan in advance. This cuts down on impulsive shopping & being last-minute about things. You have to be a planner if you can't just jump in the car to run to the store for more milk or another spool of thread or whatever. I'm the queen of scheduling & to-do lists!

For a long time, my mom kept asking when I was going to get a driver's license. Sometime after I turned 30, she stopped. My husband (who I've known since I was about 22) also kept thinking I'd learn to drive, but he finally realized, nope, that was not my thing. We do have joint ownership of our Prius, & he drives us to do things like get groceries & he takes me to many doctor's appointments. But I do try to get around by myself.

Being carfree is a deep & essential part of me now. It's like how some people are vegetarian. This is something I do & something I am. I don't want to drive a car, I wouldn't feel right doing so. There's nothing traumatic or terrifying about the concept -- I obviously ride in cars all the time. I'm not militant about not driving. It's not like a strident vegan who is offended by your steak. I'm more like the vegetarian who doesn't care what you eat, but doesn't prefer to eat meat myself. That's me & driving. It's not my bag, baby.

What I'm wearing: Grey knit dress with black trim, bought in London | Black tights, Calvin Klein | Black ankle boots, Aerosoles | Chunky silver bead necklace, random accessory store | Gunmetal hoop earrings, random accessory store

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