What Being Car-less Has Taught Me
On December 23, 2015, at approximately 5 o’clock in the morning, I was on the road in my trusty 2002 Grand Am, pushing through holiday traffic toward my mother’s home, seven hours away. My radio was humming from my mixed CD, and the night around me glittered with the headlights of my fellow travelers.
Then, in the form of a fleet-owned semi truck ramming into the side of my car and veering me off the highway, my transportation world as I knew it changed forever.
Three weeks later, I received the fateful call from the fleet’s insurance company that they were totaling my car, that it was less expensive to just pay me for its value than it was to repair it. I was mortified, devastated, and burst into tears in the middle of my office cubicle.
I have no car, was all I kept thinking as coworkers rushed over to make sure I was okay. I live in one of the busiest, biggest cities in the United States, and I have no car. I have no car!
Fast forward to today — more than four months post-accident, after multiple financial checks, several budget adjustments, hours of new and used car research, and one bittersweet car-buying seminar later — and I am still without a vehicle. I must admit, I am exhausted. I am tired, I am wound up, I am irritated, and I am annoyed.
But not for the reasons I thought.
That being said, the lessons that I have learned these last 4+ months have not all been easy — but they have certainly been helpful in how I have been changing my lifestyle.
1. I don’t need a car to survive.
The first month and a half after the accident, I was renting a car almost every weekend. Enterprise offered some great weekend specials, and I used them as much as I could. Even then, I was averaging between $150 to $300 for just two and a half days of travel. Not bad for once every two or three months, but after about the fourth rental in eight weeks, I needed to find other means of food and personals shopping.
At first glance, being without a car in a place like Atlanta was terrifying. Mind, everyone’s experience would also be very different from mine. Home location, family size, and job location can all affect how this could impact a person’s experience. For me — single, no kids or pets, living alone and probably more independently (*cough*reclusively) than I should — having no vehicle has given me much time to reflect on what I need and don’t need in my daily life. It’s also taught me how many ways and opportunities I can to relax and enjoy myself in the comfort of my home — and that I can no longer ignore nor avoid that random pile of junk I need to sort through.
Hmm…guess I still need to get on that.
2. Mother Necessity is a great provider.
Being raised as someone who was very selective about where she shopped, I would have turned my nose up at shopping for produce at a retailer like Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart was good for contact lens solution, multivitamins, frozen foods, cereals — and maybe yogurt. But apples? Bananas? Ground beef? Bah.
Fate would have it that my neighborhood sits behind a Wal-Mart. Like, literally a five-minute walk behind it. After my rental car revelation, practicality and one-stop shopping was going to work massively to my advantage.
At first, Wal-Mart tried to shut its automatic doors and lock itself up at 11:30 am when it saw me coming. “Turn your nose up at me, will you?” it growled as I was forced to resort to entering from the underground labyrinth under the parking lot.
The aficionados who’d told me to only buy produce from farmers markets and small/local grocery stores would have probably cried silently as I piled my cart full of strawberries and oranges and spinach and…those odd little yellow mangoes and two pounds of chicken parts. But you know what? It’s close by, it’s accessible, and it’s convenient.
And those pre-bagged ambrosia apples might be some of the best I’ve ever had.
3. People care.
As I always say (or complain; whatever), being a shy, anxiety-riddled introvert can, quite naturally, keep you to yourself at home and at work. Your friends are very few, and you don’t tell everyone the whole story. It keeps the conversations from being too long.
Despite my ways, word disbursed throughout my office that I was (originally and still) without a car. The losing the car lost ground pretty quickly, but the subsequent car search breathed new life each day.
“How’s the car search?”
“Do you have a car yet?”
“Hey! Are you—”[insert hopeful car-driving pantomime here]
At first, the new attention was extremely jolting, and I shied away from saying much beyond the stuttering, “Oh, you know…just…trying to figure things out.”
But then the questions extended as initial eagerness melted into concern. “How did you get here today? How are you getting home? Are you traveling by yourself?”
The attention confused me. Why were all these people asking me these questions? What was their ulterior motive? What did they possibly want from me?
Then, after a fairly close friend told me point-blank, it hit me.
People were asking me these questions because…they cared. If they didn’t care…they wouldn’t have asked.
Depression can easily make you selfish and jaded. You can forget that, somehow, your existence might matter to people outside your own skin. For friends and coworkers who might have been wanting to find an excuse to talk to you for years, the lack of a standard necessity is the perfect opening.
For me, it’s like someone shining an LED flashlight into a self-created, windowless room. You try to keep the shadows going, because that’s what you’re used to. But then, you have the revelation: you kind of like the light. You can see where you’re going, and you like how thinks look in the room. And then you think about other sources of light, their brightness and their warmth, and how you can see outside of the room, as well. The shadows were getting old, and it can be so much work to keep them up. And suddenly, not only do you want the lights to see you, but you want to know all about the lights.
So to speak.
4. Time to put up or shut up.
One of the biggest decisions I had to make from the start was one of the scariest: how was I going to get to work? My job was in the lower midtown of the city. The commute via car was between 30 – 45 minutes on a good day. But I didn’t have a car. So that meant nothing.
At first, I called my good-hearted Samaritan coworker who lived fairly close by, and we carpooled amicably for the first three months. But then his schedule changed, and I was both too nervous to approach anyone else and, I guess, too proud to burden anyone any more than I already had. So, after a head-in-hands session of resolution, I went back to the methods of my college ways, jumped online, and typed two words into the search:
[I actually typed in “marta bus schedule near me,” but let’s keep the melodrama, shall we?]
The first couple of days were rough. I had to wake up at 4:45 am to get ready and walk to the bus stop, which I then rode to the train station closest to me. From there, it was a 25-minute ride downtown, where I then hopped onto my company-specific shuttle that rode me straight to the building’s drop-off port. The total ride took me nearly two hours — and a lot more human interaction and stimulus than I’m accustomed to.
But, like with anything, I adjusted. I had to. I am a healthy, combat-trained woman who (when she gets enough sleep) has a pretty solid-functioning brain and can (must) mold herself accordingly to get herself to work. And I’m an adult, dagnabbit. It’s how I roll.
Of course, my coworkers learned of my change in travel, and two of them who also live in my area have offered to give me rides home when I would like it. I take them up on it on occasion, but I find I enjoy the mornings to myself and the surge of urgency as I lock up my house and race out of my neighborhood only minutes before my bus is supposed to reach my anticipated stop.
Works better than coffee.
Watch for Lessons 5 – 9 in the next post, where I garden, turn myself into a sail, and absolutely loathe all things car-related.