February 10, 2004
Naked in America

Things to do (or not) when the car doesn't start for the second time in a week, and it's 10 above zero and everything's covered with snow:

1. Kick tires.
My relationship with my cars has always been a little schizophrenic. I drove my 1981 Chevette well into 1992, when its myriad problems drove me to despair. I then bought a 1990 Accord, which seemed to me the Cadillac of Hondas, although it was already far from new. The Accord has been a highly reliable and happy car, but now the signs are telling me the end is in sight. The creeping rust keeps creeping; the radio's shorting out, and this battery thing is a continual worry.

2. Talk pleadingly to car, directing pleas to dashboard.
So now I am thinking wild, crazy thoughts. Like what if I just didn't have a car? It doesn't sound so crazy until I remember that I am an American, living in America, and outside of a few select areas, Americans have cars, mostly because most places they live are set up so that they can't go anywhere if they don't drive.

3. Kick dashboard.
But I live in a major city, right next to public transit. Not only that, we have sidewalks and taxis and real neighborhoods. So what if...I just got rid of the car and pitched my lot in with all of these things?

4. Look for jumper cables. Discover they have been stolen.
What if we just didn't have a car?

5. Call AAA and wait on hold for 20 minutes without ever talking to a real person. Listen endlessly to tape-recorded messages trying to sell you things. Wonder, "If this was an actual emergency, would I be dead of hypothermia yet?" Get mad. Hang up.
I would miss my car; I've always liked it. I would not, however, miss:
-paying for insurance, license plates, city stickers, parking permit, and so on
-the eternal bait-and-switch that is dealing with auto repair and maintenance
-car payments, when the Accord finally gives up. To buy another car that will eventually give up, too.

6. Go around the corner to auto parts store. Buy new cables.
So...what if?

7. Call neighbor and ask for jump.
Learning to live without a car would require some life recalibration. Visiting friends in the suburbs would be problematic. Road trips would take some more planning and car rental would cost us. It's been reassuring to know the car is there in an emergency, in case the cats get sick, for example. Grocery shopping for certain items (kitty litter, for instance) would be tricky.

8. While waiting for neighbor, kick tires one more time, just for spite.
But...what if?

9. Contemplate selling the whole damn thing.
But we take taxis and fly most places anyway, and it's my sense that what we save in insurance, etc., would offset the cost of this. I need to run some numbers and think some more. Living without a car would be strange for a while; it would be like being naked, in America, without our armor of steel. We would, in a sense, be walking--literally--away from the American Dream. But we might also be free.

Posted at February 10, 2004 07:02 PM

I just bought a new car, but only because I commute to the suburbs for work. If I worked downtown, I'd be perfectly happy without one. Renting a car for road trips and the occasional trip to a mall is far cheaper than owning a car -- sure, it's a hundred bucks or two, but you probably pay that in insurance each month, if not more.

Posted by: Andrew on February 15, 2004 09:20 PM

Not having a car is ok, I don't usually mind. Not having access to a car, however, is a pain. Routine shopping or acquisition of stuff becomes harder.

Posted by: brian on February 24, 2004 02:40 PM
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