Back in 2009, I gave up my first real car, a Saab. I’d had a piece of crap car before that, that at the encouragement of a friend I’d named in a flattering, rather than insulting manner: “Golden Chariot.” The gold was mostly rust.
The Saab, though used, was a real car. It could go. It was handsome. I had so much pride in it. I’d recently moved back to Boulder, and used it to drive to the mountains, mostly for work at Shambhala Mountain Center, and later to deliver magazines (Elephant used to be a print magazine). Over time, though, living in a tight-knit, small town, and riding an ever-more-practical series of bicycles, my Saab stopped getting love and attention, and started sitting around.
At some point, I gave it away/sold it for not-much to a friend in need of four wheels.
I didn’t miss it. I didn’t look back. I was in love: bicycling.
Free exercise, that turns one’s commute from the worst moments of the day to one’s best, every time. Free “valet” level parking, right in front of wherever I was going. Suit up, gear up, warm gloves, a hat with a bill for snow and gloves with a few layers, and I could ride all winter, and I did. Two panniers on the back, slide on, slide off, and I could load up enough groceries for a family of three, or, you know, me. No gas. No insurance (gosh I’d hated paying insurance, it was pricey). No (almost no) maintenance costs, no $500 little fixes a few times a year. And best of all—health. A little exercise (it’s less than you’d think, it just rolls, it’s efficient, and hills you just take ‘er easy on). Folks waving to you, community, and you waving back. No isolation. No traffic frustration. Just defensive riding, you gotta watch out for folks driving drunk or texting, which is two ways of saying the same thing.
I haven’t owned a car, now, for 12 years, or so. I still fantasize about owning an old Ford pickup, two-tone with white and turquoise, and some chrome, and a saddle blanket, and I got in line for and almost bought a Model 3 Tesla a few years back. But with add-ons like good range, it was 57K, and let’s face facts—I don’t like being in a car, and I wouldn’t have used it often enough to merit the price tag. I don’t want to drive. I want to move my body, to be outside, to see community instead of insulating my life in a plastic and metal and glass bubble.
But, yes, I still hunger for a car. As an American, I’ve been trained by marketing to want a car since, well, I was a boy. But every time I get close…I come down to the visceral not-wanting-a-car feeling, and I retreat.
If more of us did, so would climate change. So would despair, and unhealthy loneliness. So would speediness, and consumerism itself.
That’s my kind of retreat.
This is why we invest in public transportation, so that—like in NYC—it’s better than the alternative, it’s something everyone wants to use.
And this is why we put in protected bike lanes so that, like in Utrecht, we turn our societies from gas-guzzling isolated speedy stress-inducing…to airy, communityful, healthy, fun—again, for all. Old, young, rich, poor, athletic and casual. Cycling must not be only for the spandex-class, but for the everyday. It’s cheaper, after all, and will save us a bucketload on healthcare longterm.