A Car Free Life

I was at work the other day and a co-worker asked me, “Candace do you know how to drive?” I always find that a very funny question. I am in my late thirties, I have been born and raised in the United States, I talk about the road trips that I take, of course I drive!

I explained to her that about five years ago, I gave up my car for a simpler way of life. Living in a big city, driving a car has its advantages, just as not driving has its advantages. However, when I chose not to drive, I knew that it would make MY life simpler. I didn’t do it as a part of a movement. In fact, I had no idea that people gave talks on giving up your car. I just knew that mentally I needed the space that a car took up in my mind.

The neighborhood in which I live, indeed most of the neighborhoods on the north side have a HUGE parking problem. If you have an apartment that offers parking, you must pay for it and just like your rent, the parking goes up every year. It is also in short supply. If you are not fortunate enough to have parking available to you, you must look for parking on the street.

Street parking is a story in itself. It took me forever to learn how to parallel park. People parking on the street, they are still learning to park too. They hit your back bumper and your front bumper. They give you less than an inch to get out of your parking space. That is if you can find a parking space! I remember getting home after 8 p.m. and praying to find a space. Often, you must drive around and around the block looking and sometimes, it is necessary to park your car blocks from your house.

When I think about registration and city stickers, oil changes and additional maintenance, shoveling out of the snow in the winter, driving in the snow and ice, some of the highest gas prices in the nation, tickets, insurance, accidents and other drivers, WHEW, I am surprised that anyone would choose to drive. Knowing that I would be going through an extremely stressful time of my life with a divorce, I gave the car to the ex and took to public transportation.

I absolutely LOVE public transportation. I know that it can be very smelly at times, dirty, and filled with strange people. But in spite of that, it is so convenient for me and the lifestyle that I choose to live. I have not felt my safety threatened. I have rarely been late, and I don’t have to worry about the person in the next lane. I let someone else do the driving and I can read!

On occasion, I someone comments on whether riding public transportation is good for the health of my child, or their baby. My Bean was premature when she was born. She began riding public transportation the moment she was released from the hospital and she has never once been sick due to the bus or train. I put her into her sling and off we went.

A few of the things that really enjoy about living a car-free life:

  1. Interaction with others

Before Bean was born, I was pretty much invisible. I am not naturally gregarious. I could get on public transportation and no one would speak to me or look up. There may have been a random person who commented on my hair or general appearance. Maybe someone needed directions or a little assistance, but mostly my ride was tranquil.

After Bean was born, things changed. It seemed that everyone wanted to know about her. Since I wore a sling, I had so many people ask, “Is there a baby in there?” that I wanted to answer “No, I have potatoes. I am just doing my grocery shopping.” I was forced to interact with people and I found I enjoyed it. I thought that the attention would disappear at some point when Bean got older, but it hasn’t.

Bean is a social butterfly. She never meets a stranger, even if we are on the bus. She greets people, asks them questions, tells them about her day, and most people LOVE it. We have made some lovely acquaintances that will be in our lives for a long time because of riding the bus. In fact, Ms. Becky, who is helping us with our garden, came into our lives because Bean said “Hello.”

Our daily commutes are a joy instead of a drudge. Even if Bean is not with me, I try to remember to say hello to the driver, nod to someone I see every day, and be more present in the commute.

  1. Letting someone else drive

I do enjoy the fact that I don’t need to drive. This has to be one of the main reasons I choose to continue taking public transportation. I am able to focus my energies and attention of Bean when she is with me and on my personal development when she is not.

If I were in the driver’s seat, I would be much more stressed. It would be necessary for me to have my focus on being a good driver. On the train or bus, I am able to read to Bean, practice our foreign language skills, read, and relax. We have played games, colored, and drawn pictures (which Bean promptly gave away to the people sitting around her.) I find those activities preferable to having my eyes glued to the road.

  1. Limiting daily activities

Living simply/being a minimalist involves your daily actions. It means choosing what the most important task to do is and doing that task. When you take public transportation on a daily basis, you realize quickly that you can not do everything. It is simply not possible to pick up your child from school across town, take them to extra-curricular activities on the other side of town, go grocery shopping and then be at home for a relaxing evening. I suppose you could do it if you want to be irritated and stressed every day, but who REALLY wants to be that person.

By living a car-free life, I am forced on a daily basis to choose one activity that requires my attention and I do that task. This is also where my routine comes in handy. For example, I know that certain stores have a sale on Monday, so I schedule Monday as the day to go shopping. When I have what I need, I go home, prepare dinner and for the next day and continue with our evening routine.

I do not rush to get more done. There are only 24 hours in a day and if you choose your activities wisely, that is all you need.

  1. Daily exercise

This has to be the second favorite reason of mine to live a car free life. Getting daily exercise was not stressed when I was a child, we just played outside every day. That is not true of many of the children who are being raised today. Bean has exercise automatically built into her life. Even though we live within one block of the train and several buses, we often walk to our various destinations on the weekend. As a result, Bean is a great walker and doesn’t easily tire when we are walking all day on vacation.

Many people spend large amounts of money for gym memberships when all they need to do is get out of their car and walk more. I easily walk 30 minutes or more a day just because I need to get from one bus stop to the next or to make it to my job. I often walk home after work so that I can be more active, especially if I know I will have more sedentary activities at home that night.

Not owning a car allows you to take a nature walk every day. Just this morning, Bean and I spotted a beautiful spider web, a worm stranded on the sidewalk (which we helped back into the soil) and newly blooming wildflowers. This all happened within the five minutes it took us to walk from our house to the train. It was an excellent start to the day.

  1. Set monthly fee

Being budget conscious, I like to know what expenses are coming up monthly and how much they will be. I buy a monthly pass at the beginning of the month and it costs me $100 for the two of us. That is all. No rising gas prices to be concerned about, no parking tickets, no unexpected breakdowns to factor in, just $100 a month, month after month.

I know that it isn’t often someone sings the praises of public transportation though they may mention how much they like a car free life, so here I am. I am encouraging you, if you have the ability to walk, bike or take public transportation to do it. I promise after you too see the benefits, you will wonder what took you so long.

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