Going without – a car, that is | Art & Appetite

By James Spangler | Mar 20, 2017

201,708 miles – that's a long way to drive a car. It's equivalent to driving eight times around the world.

But unless I'm very much mistaken this is the end of the road for Blanche, my old Chevy Tahoe. Saying goodbye is bittersweet. When I bought her, my oldest was practically a newborn, sleeping in a baby carrier as we signed the papers. Now my daughter’s a full-fledged college freshman.

Blanche transported us to countless swim meets, weekend getaways and road trips – she had a full complement of snow tires, luggage pod, and bike rack – she was equipped for every kind of fun we could think of. There was always a football, a basketball, a picnic blanket, a couple of frisbees and tennis gear stashed in back.

When Blanche brought us home the first time, gas was $1.03 a gallon. I used to laugh when people asked me if she got good mileage. I would reply “if you like single-digit numbers like eight or nine.” That joke became considerably less amusing to me at least – if not to my Prius-driving friends, when gas prices topped $4 per gallon. Hundred-dollar weekly fill-ups dampened my enthusiasm for my big SUV.

It’s impossible to gauge the number of books that I've transported to and from my little bookstore over the last 18 years, but it would be in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand. Blanche has been a great SUV; I’ll miss her.

But before I run out and buy another automobile, I thought I'd see what it might be like to do without. After all, my kids seem to have mastered mass transit – maybe I could, too. I have a perfectly good hybrid bicycle, and I've been complaining that I'm not getting enough exercise. This might be the ideal solution! With things like Lyft and Zipcar available, maybe it's time to rethink this whole car ownership thing.

Imagine monthly parking fees, insurance, gas, maintenance, license tabs, car washes – all gone. I should be able to save a considerable sum.

A couple of days ago, I set out to find my first bus in 37 years. Things have changed in my absence.

On the advice of that same college daughter mentioned earlier, I downloaded an app called OneBusAway. I remember listening to an NPR piece on OneBusAway – while driving my enormous SUV, no doubt. According to the story, it was originally created by a UW grad student to satisfy a class requirement. As far as I'm concerned, it may be the coolest app ever. Without getting into the minutia of it, it tells me (among other things) if I should stroll or sprint to the bus stop.

Sadly, it is beyond the capacity of OneBusAway to remove my male pride or to flatten my learning curve. I have only myself to blame for missing a bus. Am I willing to disgrace myself by asking the simple question, “Is this bus going to Edmonds?” Apparently not. (There’s a half an hour I’ll never get back.)

Or how about only having a $5 bill to pay a $2.25 fare? Guess what? They don't make change. My driver took pity me and gave me a $1.50 voucher as I exited the bus. Rookie mistake. But hey, I'm learning.

One thing I've discovered is that the bus drivers are generally rock stars who obviously care about their riders. Most of the riders seem to genuinely like and respect their drivers. This restores a little hope in civilization for me. It's encouraging to see simple kindnesses in what sometimes seems like a cold and heartless world.

I'll keep you posted occasionally over the next few months, but I’m actually looking forward to going carless.

 

 

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