22/04/2010

Accelerating fast from car-less to car-free

Like many others, I’ve had to change gears from driving anywhere I want to go to being car-less. And quickly shifting up to fifth gear to feel car-free, rather than car-less.

It’s been a hard road my friend, I won’t lie to you.

Having had the dangerous thought last year that perhaps part of my stripping away unnecessary things in my life might possibly include my car – how irrational a thought that seemed at the time – the universe has responded by wrenching that car right out of my hands.

It started with not being able to afford to fill the petrol tank. Then putting repairs on to my credit card. Next, rationing petrol and journeys. Consciously not using the car, walking instead of driving. And so now, the end of the road.

A few weeks ago my car received, not an MOT certificate, but its Death certificate. The cost of repairs needed for a new MOT exceeded the value of the car.

Today my car was towed-away. The kindly vehicle wrecker, John, who took it away pressed a £20 note into my palm in sympathy.

Really, he could have charged me for taking it away because in active protest at being scrapped my car had set off its immobilizer – for the first time ever. Its flashing hazard warning lights and shrill screams of alarm going on and on, and even John not able to switch the immobilizer off, were like an external manifestation of my own tiny internal cries.

£20 for a beautiful, vintage Mercedes Elegance 180C. £20 compensation for my bubble of mobile independence and protection being burst.

I took the cash. He took the car. We walked to the local shop and used the money to buy ice-lollies, sucking them in the fresh air and sunshine.

I feel really vulnerable not having a car. But I like it. I am just another soul washed and rinsed by the recession and, like so many of us, queerly but resiliently appreciating the living-more-simply-changes a lack of funds has brought.

I feel inexplicably, wildly, excited about the prospect of living without a car.I am liking the idea of leaping on and off buses. And communing with all kinds of people on public transport instead of locked in my isolated, safe metal space. Walking and noticing things, talking with people, waiting at bus stops, hearing birds singing…

But oh my car, my dear car!

I have never lived without a car.

It’s a scary thing, especially with a child and a giant dog and um, 3 cats. Plus, I’ve almost always had beautiful cars. I love cars. As a teenager I drove two Triumph Spitfires. I drove a black, vintage 1952 Citroen Traction Avant Light 15 as my everyday car for years and years in my Thirties. I’ve had 4×4’s and oh my darling silver Subaru Legacy stationwagon with its faux walnut dash … sigh … it’s over for now.

Wait a minute! I love cars, can I just say it again? I like vans too. I love the perceived freedom they give us, the style and grace they afford us, they sheer pleasure of driving, a leather-wrapped steering wheel in my hands, and a wide, open road ahead. I love going on adventures in cars, just driving and seeing where you end up.

But it’s over, for now. And I am glad. I feel strangely relieved of a burden. How very odd.

I have just ordered our economy-bulk, multi-journey bus tickets for a full month online. Our tickets to ride will be here soon and oh, wait – another benefit – I shall regress to when I was a school girl with my school bus pass!

If you’re interested in living without a car, make it easier for yourself by reading how others have made it a wonderful experience – like lovely RowdyKitten, Tammy Strobel, with her Simply Car-free book.

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