Sixteen years ago, on January 25, 2005, the car I was driving was hit by a truck and was damaged beyond reasonable repair. In the ensuing years, I made do with taking the bus, walking, and bicycling. In fact, I had lived without a car on and off for many years. A whole decade passed before I got serious about cycling; in January of 2015, I began riding longer distances, charity rides, and the like. A year later I had a smart phone, Strava, and a better bicycle. That journey led me to travel the equivalent of around the equator, plus another 1,790 miles as of today (26,691 total). Normally in the space you would find a blog post about my 16th year being car-free, or at least car-light (because I borrowed them). For two reasons, you won’t read that post.
Reason #1 is that I’ve retired the title, based on the movie named Twelve Years a Slave. But using 400 years of enslavement, oppression, torture and murder of Black people by White people (I’m White) in order to make a clever pun about not being dependent on gasoline-powered machines never did feel right. I’m not changing those past blog titles because they show where I was at that time (really, just the first time; the follow-up titles just copied the initial post and changed the number). But in the spirit of the times (*not* because I’m claiming to be an enlightened being), it is time to let that go and choose better words. You can go read last year’s post about me not owning a car for 15 years. It has the previous years’ links in it, too. They’re good posts about living car-free. I still think it can and should be done if it works for you.
Reason #2, and you might want to be sitting down for this, is that I can no longer claim to be car-free. Last summer, I was given a car. The story behind that doesn’t really matter; what is important to know is that unbeknownst to the giver or to the recipient, the car came with many problems. As a dude with modest resources, I have not been able to spend the thousands of dollars required to fix said car. That said, in six months I have driven it for short distances in town totaling less than three months of my bicycling mileage last year. So I’m still mostly a bikin’ and walkin’ dude.
Bet you didn’t see that coming! Yeah, me neither; it took me by surprise. I can imagine the tabloid headlines now: “Car-free Bike Dude Gets Car; He May as Well Drive the Highway to Hell!” Or, “Bicyclist Given Car; Head Spins Around and Vomits Like That Girl in The Exorcist.” And, “Dude Who Biked 15.75 Years With No Car Now Going to Environmentalist Prison.” I debated a long time about accepting it. Refusing wasn’t really a good option, either. But believe me, I had sticker shock when I saw the repair estimate. A bike shop owner told me, “Sell the car, buy three bikes!” I seriously considered it.
Here’s the thing, I was never a car hater like some bike people. There are good reasons to: they are a major source of pollution, kill tons of people, are hella expensive to get and then maintain, they separate people from nature and others (road rage much?), and supplant the ability of people to transport themselves (or at least to use mass transit). The infernal combustion engine is their main drawback. Of course, even electric cars get their energy from the electrical grid, which still comes in part from fossil fuels and nuclear power plants. (Let’s hope it’s all solar, wind, etc. someday soon.)
The lyrics from the song Cars by Gary Numan come to mind:
Here in my car / I feel safest of all / I can lock all my doors / It's the only way to live / In cars
Here in my car / I can only receive / I can listen to you / It keeps me stable for days / In cars
Here in my car / Where the image breaks down / Will you visit me please / If I open my door / In cars?
Here in my car / I know I've started to think / About leaving tonight / Although nothing seems right / In cars
While I lament becoming part of the problem of climate change (yes, it’s real, because, science!), I’m an atheist agnostic and don’t believe in a space heaven or a subterranean hell, for environmentalists or otherwise. I did my part not owning a car for many years — most of my life, actually. I’ll continue to bike, walk and try to keep my car-bon footprint smallish. If you want to get picky about things, the last two summers I had to drive for my job at the time. So I was never completely 100% car-free anyway; I was more car-light. Sometimes I’d borrow a car to visit out of town relatives, or get rides, or take the bus. Nobody’s perfect, we all do our best. Everywhere else in Texas outside of Austin, where the motto is Keep Austin Weird, not having a car is highly impractical and looked down upon. Like, a lot. Interestingly, billionaire Elon Musk moved to town and is building a huge Tesla (electric car) factory in Austin.
Another reason I don’t feel bad about having a car: I ain’t getting any younger. Currently I’m nursing an injury that, while minor, has slowed me down on the bike. I haven’t had a day off the bike for almost 16 months. It or other issues may take me off the bike for longer, or even completely. But that’s always been true every day, moreso now during pandemic times; no one’s health and survival are guaranteed. (Mostly because of cars potentially crashing into me while I bike.) Also, a car is useful for hauling things that don’t fit on a bike trailer, if one has one and is strong enough to haul it. Cars move one (and passengers, if any) quickly across town and the country to see loved ones (some day post-vaccination). In cold, wind, rain, snow, (ice, not so much) they are great alternatives to freezing one’s tuchus and family jewels off if one needs to be somewhere. In themselves, they aren’t inherently bad, though they may be a necessary evil. They’re just tools, and how and how much they’re used counts. I still often forget it’s there and don’t believe it’s mine. How and how often you use them matters, too. Are you delivering food to shut-in senior citizens or doing drive-by shootings?
Well, there you have it, my kar-mic confession. I wrote to POTUS #45 for a pardon but didn’t make the list. (Just kidding.) Will my readers forgive me now that I’ve gone over to the Dark Side? Remember, even Anakin Skywalker — you may know him better as Darth Vader — had good within him. (Still kidding, well, about me switching sides.) As for why I didn’t come clean until now, well, I wanted to see what happened. Who knows? I could still get rid of it due to the cost of repairs and upkeep. Maybe self-driving electric cars will be here sooner than we think and we won’t need to own them anyway. Or we’ll all be working from home in a version of The Matrix and fed through tubes and only needing stationery bikes. That would be hell for sure. If you don’t like me having a car, to quote THE DUDE, “Well, that’s just like, your opinion, man!”
Speaking of THE DUDE, to conclude on a cheerier note, here’s a fun bit about 10 Dude-Like Facts About the Big Lebowski Car. As always, comments are welcome below.
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4 thoughts on “Come to the Dark Side, Dude: Where’s My Car?”
I bought a car (a 1975 GMC van) for my move to California in 1984. It was cheaper than renting a van or hiring movers. I figured I’d sell it when I got there and make it even cheaper. I discovered two things quickly: 1) being car-less in that region was impractical (long distances, poor public transportation) and; 2) selling the car was not an option. People out there had very strong ego-attachments to their cars and several expressed pity to me due to my inferiority. I(t) was ugly and rusty. I drove it until it blew a head gasket, which was too expensive to repair.
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If I ever on a mega-lottery, I would sell my car. I wouldn’t miss not driving.
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So how would you get around?
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Public transportation. Uber. No need for a car, really. I’ve never been the “road trip” personality.
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