I was in a spectacular car crash. Roads were deceptively slick from an overnight storm. A white Civic speeds alongside and darts suddenly in front of me, leaving inches. Then his brake lights come on. I cut right to avoid hitting him. My wheels go bald, my car skidding left into his with a sound like a crumpling tin can. His car careens left, slamming into the median. Mine slides right, out into the river — almost. A few pieces of well-placed wire keep me from going in face-first. (I guess we have Robert Moses to thank for something after all.) I walk away, but the car is totaled.
After the adrenaline of the accident wears off, panic sets in. I’m without a car for the first time since high school. Sure, I’ve taken public transit for long stretches before, but there was always the car out back just in case. Sayonara safety net.
And suddenly the amount of pro-car propaganda arriving by mail turns from a trickle to a flood. Since my car became a twisted heap, I’ve found myself awash in shiny brochures from everyone from Mercedes to Hummer to Hyundai. Heck, even my insurance company sent me a brochure with details of their “best rate” auto loans. Why were they all so sure I wanted a new car? That’s car culture. Even if you don’t need one, you want one.
Instead of running out to fill that auto void, though, I decided to go cold turkey. It wasn’t easy. My commute ballooned from 30 minutes to an hour thirty in each direction, and the up-front cost went from $15 a week to $30 a day. Going carless takes planning and cold hard cash. (Transit subsidy, anyone?) Plus, it just feels strange.
And it’s that lifelong programming that still has me subconsciously shopping for parking spaces a month later. What does that say about the creep of the almighty auto into our collective psyche? But things have gotten better, too. No more dealing with obnoxious drivers for an hour a day, no more traffic jams, no more worrying about the next car repair or getting a ticket. But my biggest worry driving a car has always been the ever looming possibility that you might seriously hurt or kill someone — someone who just happens to wander out into the street at the wrong moment: a kid chasing a ball, an adult who misreads a crosswalk sign. That anxiety is behind me, too.
As if to punctuate my first month of auto abstinence, World Car Free Day was this weekend. It’s nice to be on the right side of that equation for once, even if it started off against my will. And GM’s workers added their own inadvertent nod by walking off the job yesterday. Friday also saw the return of parking spaces to nature via Park(ing) Day. Signs from above, no? Well, at least I’ll take it that way.