Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Car-free Report No. 1

With all the best environmental good intentions, I started out last Saturday morning on a no-car moratorium to see how many days I could go without my car.

On Saturday, it was warm and sunny, so I actually started the day doing my "health walk" -- a steady fast clip for an hour early in the morning around my neighborhood. It's something I try to do most days for exercise. It's not something I was able to do earlier in the summer when my back was still healing from my tailbone injury, so now that I'm back in my routine, I'm really happy to get out early and go for my walk.


Since I had forgotten my afternoon errands would be ON FOOT, it ended up meaning I nearly doubled the amount of walking I did on Saturday. I suddenly realized the pioneers didn't exactly need a gym workout thanks to their lifestyle of non-stop working, walking and labor of various types all day long. Trying making BUTTER for instance.

I had to dress for WALKING -- that meant no high heels and no flimsy dress or skirt. And if I had the car I would have indulged my girly dressing habits, but not as a roadside traveller. I thought about taking my bike, but I won't ride without a helmet, as I once was in a bike accident and it saved me from serious injury, but if you wear your helmet, YOUR HAIR LOOKS LIKE HELL.

So I couldn't take my bike, because I didn't want a mess of flat stupid-looking hair. I know, I know, vanity thy name is Halley. Also I had to wear my backpack because I needed a "real bag" not some silly little purse if I were going to actually buy anything or go to the library as I planned. No car meant I had to think about these contingencies and plan for them. No tossing stuff in the trunk, no matter how large. No trunk to toss it in.

You don't think about these trade-offs with a car. You can wear next to nothing, crank the heat or a/c accordingly, not worry about weather. One thing about the car-free challenge is that it's most decidedly YOU AND THE ELEMENTS, something I would learn later in the week when the rain came.

I walked into my town center for a coffee date at Starbucks. The walk was supposed to be 30 minutes but took 45. The coffee date was supposed to be an hour, but lasted more like 30 minutes. Then I went to the library.

I had to THINK about how much book weight I really wanted to carry home on my back. I decided NONE and held off on taking out a new book. I had one I was reading at home anyway. At the library, I noticed I was sitting longer than I expected and didn't feel like getting up and walking home. It was hot now and I scanned the room for a neighbor. I'm not above begging a ride while doing my little no car experiment. I'm willing to share their gas and carpool, this game is about not using MY car. I didn't come up with any offers.

Speaking of the warm weather, I arrived in town sweaty like a pig. You are at the mercy of the weather, which is not saying much in a place like LA where I used to live (and drive everywhere), but is saying a helluva lot in Boston here. This no car thing was getting on my nerves. HOWEVER, I did enjoy the walk and was pretty impressed by all the little stuff you see when you stop flying by at 60 mph and take the route at a snail's pace. A sweaty snail's pace.

I walked home and it took more than 45 minutes, because I stopped on the way at Dunkin Donuts to get an amazingly delicious Iced Coffee and a sourdough bagel. And to use the bathroom. Another no-car issue, you better think about where the next bathroom is, expecially if it's NOT close.

When I got home, I sudenly remembered I'd forgotten to pick something up at the drug store in town. Nothing crucial, but faced with the choice to WALK 45 MINUTES BACK INTO TOWN, I had no problem deciding, "forget it!" If I had been using my car, I know I would have jumped into the car and wasted a bunch more gas taking an extra trip to the drug store.

I went into the bedroom to look for my book. And then ... lay down a minute to read ... and then ... OUT LIKE A LIGHT ... it was 5:00 pm and I slept until 6:30 ... not something I usually do.

When I woke up I realized the pioneers probably took a lot of naps after walking for hours and churning butter all day and their lifestyle was probably pretty damned boring. If you spend 3 hours walking and an hour and a half napping, well, what the hell do you ever get accomplished?

Someone texted me and wanted to know if I wanted to hook up for dinner in the next town over ... in 15 minutes! Ha! I realized if I walked it would be more like an hour and a half to go to that particular restaurant and even if I biked, it was more like a half hour. I was too tired anyway. I declined.

The experiment was illuminating, but a little daunting. I talked with a friend who'd lived in a number of towns like me (LA, NYC) and also in Europe. There's no question that even fairly mass-transit endowed cities like Boston have a lot of suburbs which REQUIRE a car. Do you just move into town? Not when you moved out to the suburbs so your kid could attend a decent school. And this was an experiment I began without my kid -- he was with his dad this week. I could hear the whining and moaning already when I planned to tell him next week we would be walking or biking everywhere.

But more for later ... that was just one Saturday ... next was Sunday and riding my bike to church in my church clothes ... stay tuned.