I’m so excited to feature my first guest blogger, Sharon Martell! Sharon and I worked together at Oregon Children’s Theatre, where she is their Community Relations Director. After reading a post she put on Facebook about having to live without a car for a while, I asked her if she might be willing to reflect on what she had learned from the experience. I am VERY attached to my car, and despite the expense and guilt I have sometimes for the pollution I contribute to, I can’t even imagine living without it – and wouldn’t react kindly to being tested. Ron and I won’t even consider sharing a car – for us, being a two car family is lagom. But I know a lot of families that function with either a shared or no vehicle, and when Ron’s car fell apart last year we were faced with whether he should buy another one or figure out how to function with just my car. It was not a prolonged decision – we went the route of him getting a new car, which obviously came with new payments as well. However, I was curious to hear what Sharon’s experience had taught her – read on to find out.
Speeding Toward Slowness
A few weeks ago my car broke down. It had begun to make some odd noises and my husband, Scott, made an appointment at our regular garage. But days before the appointment, it suddenly began to overheat. We were lucky enough to get it into the shop the next day. I was concerned, yet not too worried. At 10 years old, our car is no spring chick, but we are not big drivers and it only has 61,000 miles on it. We figured we’d have it back by the end of the day or the following day at the latest.
However, it definitely wasn’t convenient. We have two kids and this is our only car. How could we get a family of four to all their various activities with no car for two days? Fortunately, Scott and I are both regular bikers. Unfortunately, Levi, my 4-year-old, is not. I quickly started juggling schedules and making phone calls to see if we could carpool with friends. So, no, it wasn’t convenient—but I was figuring it out and making it work. Yay me!
Then the really bad news came. We had major engine troubles and the shop would need at least a week to fix it, maybe longer. Now the schedule juggling really began. My 8-year-old, Gabe, always walks to school, so that was no problem. But instead of a five-minute drive to get Levi to preschool, we were now looking at a 25-minute razor scooter ride. I’d always been a little loathe to have him ride his scooter to school; partly because it was a big distance for a little guy and partly because of the extra time it would take. Now it was just a given. We had no choice.
I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike to work, but when we had a working car I was often tempted to drive, especially in bad weather. Now I had to choose either a 15-minute bike ride or a one-hour bus ride with tranfers. It was an easy decision to make. And surprisingly, even when the temperatures went below freezing, I enjoyed it and felt lighter just by not having to make the decision to bike or drive.
But there were other issues. Becca, our caregiver, graciously offered to pick up and drop off Levi. If she hadn’t, it would have been challenging to get him to her house and, by extension, hard for me to get to work. Also, Levi had a weekly acting class at Oregon Children’s Theatre. “How am I going to get there?” I asked myself that question over and over again during the week and a half that we didn’t have a car.
In fact, my whole idea of local suddenly shrank. Simple errands suddenly felt difficult. I hardly thought about a 10-minute drive, but a 45-minute bus ride to the same place seemed really far away.
I also found that there could be economic repercussions. Getting to the nearest box store to get shoes for my boys was now a major endeavor. But most of the stores within walking distance only carry trendy shoes at 3x the price. Since I was walking and carrying, grocery shopping became all about weight. I actually planned meals based on how heavy the ingredients were! And I didn’t buy in bulk as much; smaller, more frequent trips to the store were the way to go—even if it did cost me more in time and money.
Even Levi’s scooter ride to preschool became problematic when I got a nasty cold. I hardly had the energy to walk across the house, much less to his school and back in near freezing temps.
We are lucky that Portland is bike-friendly and has so many close-in services. I did a lot of thinking about how access and convenience can really influence my ideas of what’s necessary and important. Sure my kids needed new shoes. But they didn’t need them that badly. I knew I could wait until the car was fixed.
There are many people who don’t have that luxury. People whose decisions and spending are constantly framed by the transportation question. “How am I going to get there?”
If you’re low-income, the choices can be painful: spend more money for the convenience of shopping closer to home or spend more time getting to the cheaper outlet stores? Perhaps you could buy some necessities online—if you can afford a computer and internet. (Three cheers for the Multnomah County Library and all the free services they provide!)
I’ve always known that, but it’s different to feel it.
Our car is now fixed. May it live a long and healthy life! But my takeaway is complex. I come away with new empathy for those who are not so privileged. And yet, despite the juggling and difficulties of being carless, I was surprised at how much I appreciated the simplicity of it too. I didn’t have the inner dialogue debating if I should drive or walk (and subsequent guilt if I drove). I just walked. And it felt good…most of the time.
It also slowed me down. Instead of squeezing in that extra errand or two, I re-prioritized my time. I spent more time hanging out with the kids or reading the newspaper (yes, I still do that). And that felt good too. I found abundance in simplicity. Now, like a well-oiled engine, I just need to maintain it!
Sharon is the Community Relations Director at Oregon Children’s Theatre, where she works with a stellar team to bring creative expression and great storytelling into the lives of as many children as possible. She lives in Portland, OR with her husband and two children.