August update

Spring moves into summer. Summer somehow turns to August. Life goes on.

It’s been nearly 3 months since I’ve completely been without a car, and to tell you the truth, it’s been easier than I thought in some ways, and only difficult in a few predicable ones.

First, the harder ways are those that I’ve been prepared for and have been dealing with for a while now, like big grocery store trips or leaving town. I think the most difficult has been the patience I have to have with public transportation, and mostly the buses. I’m a mile from work and a half mile to the nearest T station, as we call the train stops for the MBTA.

Most of the time I don’t mind walking around. I do a lot of it, and that was normal even when I still had a car. I think what annoys me now, though, is those times when I would have just taken my car to avoid hassle. The days when it was windy or raining heavily or I had an appointment after work, I would just drive to my office. I could avoid having to rely solely on the buses, and therefore had more patience when things didn’t go well. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve been exhausted or it’s been raining, and the bus isn’t on schedule. It blows by me as I walk home figuring I’ve already missed it. And there’s always going to a bus you know should be there in 7 minutes only to realize it’s closing in on 15 and still no bus.

My mother is no longer able to drive, either. For her, it’s because of her eyes – she has something similar to Macular Degeneration and she no longer feels comfortable driving. She and my niece came to Boston earlier in the summer to visit the Museum of Science. In the last ten years a bus line between Boston and Hanover has gained popularity. It takes nearly the same time as if we were driving the whole way, and with gas prices, costs almost the same as well. The schedule is good, so on a weekend my boyfriend didn’t have free, I took the bus to NH. The route was familiar and I read as I used to when I was a kid and my parents drove me around. It was relaxing not driving, and although I probably would have preferred driving, it was a great surrogate.

The one benefit I didn’t expect came when I decided to move from my current apartment. I’ve lived in the same place as when I moved to the Boston area 7 years ago and I realized I need something new. Looking at my finances, and by moving my auto insurance and maintenance and registration/inspection into my housing/rent/utilities bracket, I realized I could afford something better and with only one roommate instead of two.Image

I wanted to stay in the area and near my office and obviously near the T and buses. One rule was the new place couldn’t be more than a 10-minute walk to a T stop, which means about half a mile. I also was hoping for something on a bus line that would get me close to work so I wouldn’t have to deal with walking far on bad weather days.

The past few years as a pedestrian have made me much more aware of how little drivers consider anyone outside their metal sphere. Puddles of salty, slushy ice water get sprayed up onto sidewalks without any apparent concern. I’ve seen numerous people sprayed and I’ve been close enough for a few droplets as well.

Last week I finally signed a lease and it included all the pieces I’d hoped for but doubted I’d find. I can get to a T-stop in 5 minutes, work in 5, a bus in 2, and a library, various cafes and food stores in under 10. Not having a car even made it easier to find a place because it meant that I didn’t have to negotiate parking or permits with my new landlord.

My only hassle now, of course, will be the actual move. I’m considering whether to hire a group of college movers to help me. My boyfriend has already warned me about his lack of interest in being responsible for anything larger than a car. I probably only need a cargo van, but I get the idea. I’m moving after Labor Day, so I have time to work that out. 

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Stages of Grief – Denial

I read today about breaking up. Some psychologists say that it often is similar to grieving.

The first stage of grief is denial. I think I’ve gotten past that already. Let me tell you what it was like: it was terrible.

I walked around in a daze. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. My car didn’t have an opinion. My doctors did. No driving.

But this is the US! Everyone drives! You have to!

No authentic images of Chief Pontiac are known...

No authentic images of Chief Pontiac are known to exist. Dowd (2002), p. 6 This artistic interpretation was painted by John Mix Stanley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The US was built for driving! The English landed and immediately they began driving their buggies and wagons. Chief Pontiac tried to keep them from getting too far west, but they just stole his cars and drove over him.

So I vacillated, telling myself that maybe I could drive again in a few months. Or maybe a few years. Maybe. But in the meantime I’m paying for a big loveable piece of steel that is sitting in my driveway. But then again, we’d moved to the city a few years ago, and frankly our relationship had begun to lose its appeal.

I’d cheated on it numerous times when traveling. And now living together outside Boston, a town known for tough streets and bad traffic, I leave my car lonely and sitting during the week. But we always had good weekends. It was still good.

“I can’t give it up,” I kept saying. What would I do without it? How would I get out of the city if I can’t even rent a car? How do I get to NH? How do I visit people elsewhere?

I can say that I’m past denial now. I know it’s time to end it. I know it has to happen.

Breaking up is hard

When I was a little girl, I had a toy racetrack. I would set it up in the living room and race the cars over their plastic and electrified oval. I loved it. Occasionally the electric track would give me a jolting shock that turned me away from it for a little while. But I always went back.

I drove my Matchbox cars and trucks and tractors over the windowsills and tables and the floor. I was pretty pissed off when my mother up and gave them to my younger brother several years later – maybe because he was a boy. I only had dolls left. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my dolls as well, but those awesome cars were mine and my brother had no right to them.

Growing up in rural NH it’s hard not to fall in love with the automobile. It is the only mode of transportation

Muddy dirt road during Mud Season

Muddy dirt road during Mud Season (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– even if you do get snowed in during storms, or require chains to get to town, or drive over dirt roads that might wash out in the spring or turn into sticky pits and mires during mud season.

When I was sixteen I finally got my own car. I’d saved up for it and although it wasn’t flashy, I was glad to be driving. The feeling has faded somewhat in the past few years. But I still love my car. I’ve traveled across two countries by automobile. I’ve owned six myself, one after another, until now.

So now I feel like I’m ending a relationship. I’ve decided to sell my car. And although I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, it’s not easy. Health issues mean I have to stop driving, although unlike my mother with her deteriorating eyes and bad knees, I’m only 35 and otherwise mobile. But an ultimatum has never sounded so harsh. Not knowing when I can drive again, possibly ever, has taken my relationship with automobiles from a friendly growing apart to a feeling of an ugly breakup.

I feel like a bitter Bogart in Casablanca. But instead of an Ingrid Bergman, I’m enamored with an oily, mechanical, cold set of metal, nuts, bolts, hoses, and a lot of fluids.  So I’m going to try writing to go through the motions and record the memories. But I’m also going to try to see where I’m going from here. What does it mean to live in America without a car? What are the other options? How easy is it to get around?