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Carless -Day Thirty -Connected

We’d been living in this small town surrounded by the megalopolis for three years when the disappearing car forced us onto the sidewalks. This first felt like an imposition, as if we’d lost something important, but we’re adapting. I hadn’t suspected how disconnecting that car had become. I could disappear into it and reappear somewhere else, do my business there, then disappear into it again. Now, we have to walk a block or two before disappearing into any vehicle, and we often just choose to walk all the way rather than use any available worm hole. Slip over here for more ...

Carless -Day Twenty Nine -Patience

The myth of modern times insists that we’re all rushed. We have no time. We’re in a hurry to get there, anxious to leave, and pushy returning. We’re constantly behind schedule, running late; always, always, always running.

Because this feels like a competition, we speed compulsively as if we’ll lose something if we don’t. We’re so focused upon the future we zoom right past the present, showing up late for our own funerals.

Subtract one car from this calculus and a startlingly different world emerges. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Eight -Mastery

I can always tell when I’m in the presence of a master because he only requires three tries to put something together right the first time. Then, he’ll find some invisible fault and propose an improvement that will force him to have to put it back together three more times. Then he’ll find a perfection I can’t even sense, but do appreciate.

The necessity of seeking help from masters probably qualifies as the very greatest benefit of my mechanical klutziness. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Seven -Fishin' See?

I’m sure the notice on the bike shop’s website said they’d be open on Wednesday. I remembered the owner explaining to another customer last time I was there that he was heading out to one of the canal trails for a few days. Somehow, I’d imprinted that he’d be open after ten on Wednesday, so I grabbed the bike wheel and brake hub parts and started hiking.

I passed right by the bike shop just around the corner because they specialize in futuristic electric bikes. They’d seen my antique before and given the kind of advice that convinced me that they didn’t have a clue about mid-century classic wheels. They’d had their chance, so I kept walking until I came to the classic bike shop and found the sign saying they’d be open again on Thursday. Dang!

I try to be careful now, but I seem to be programmed to be car-full, instead. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Six -Gridlock

Traffic was terrible this morning. I know this not from personal experience, but from the frequent updates on WAMU. Traffic conditions get reported every twenty minutes starting at five AM, not ending until ten unless traffic’s particularly bad, in which case these reports might continue all day. Afternoon commute reporting starts at four and extends until eight, depending.

I swear they could (and might) just re-run a tape of yesterday’s traffic, and the reporting would be mostly correct. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Five -Side Effects

I’ve gotten better at taking apart mechanical things. Partly because Amy bought me some wrenches I thought at the time were completely unnecessary because I already owned a needle-nosed vice grip, a crescent wrench, and both a phillips and a flathead screw driver. I appreciate now that some mechanicals disassemble better when using specialized tools, though I’ll never understand torque wrenches.

My new bearings arrived, brand new fifty year-old parts. Now comes the greater challenge: reassembly. Slip over here for more ...


Carless -Day Twenty Four -Judgement Day

Half a block from our temporary home, after a long afternoon searching for a replacement place, a car blocked the street. I pulled our rental car to the curb, explaining to Amy that I’d go see what I might do to help. I’m nobody’s mechanic, but I could hear the knocking arrhythmia and see dismayed looks of the Sunday-suited people inside.

The driver spoke a broken, mumbling dialect I could barely understand. I think he was trying to get the engine to settle down before he tried to move the vehicle, but it was coughing and bucking. When he engaged the transmission, the engine died. After motioning another car around this beached whale, I suggested that he should coast the car to the curb because it didn’t seem like it was going to be going anywhere. It was busted. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Twenty Three -Skidoo

Inner-city car rental agencies are the opposite of their airport counterparts. The Grand Poobah status every frequent flier carries holds no sway here. Everyone must stand in the same long line while form after form gets painstakingly filled out, printed, reviewed, fixed, re-reviewed, then signed; but only after a guided tour around the car twice to note any dents, wrinkles, or scratches. And even then, I had to remind the agent that she might want to leave the keys with us instead of carrying them back inside the clip joint. Slip over here for more ...

Carless- Day Twenty Two -Sweat Equity

The air conditioning system in Amy’s retired car had gone funky. Only so much musty moisture can pump through any system before it becomes rank itself, pushing out stinky arid air. I kept it turned on the highest setting from April to October anyway, because I was born without the gene that counteracts humidity’s most humbling influence. Amy can walk to the Metro without sweating through her socks. I cannot.

The busses are walk-in refrigerators, the Metro trains, moving coolers. The streets swarm here in the dog days with people chasing their own tails, trying to generate their own breezes. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Twenty One -Chessmate

Driving seems checker-like; carlessness, more chess-like.

Cars can go straight to anywhere, mostly via arterials. Busses and trains have fixed but circuitous routines. Bikers and walkers skirt the edges of bus and car territory. Getting from here to there by car entails little strategy, just take the shortest, straight-line route. The same trip by bus requires some serious plotting and planning. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Twenty -Cardigan Desire

Whoever dies with the most toys, misses the point.

I figure that if I set my mind to it, I could do without most of my stuff. I suppose that I could go bookless or meatless or guitarless, perhaps even heartless for a while. Affluence stunts the imagination. Ready access to great variety sates nothing but want, and unsatisfied want might be the one necessary element for living a complete life. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Nineteen -Waning Invisibility

It sounds silly, I suppose, but Washington DC turns out to be the loneliest place I’ve ever lived. I have spent weeks without running into anyone I know, my most significant social interactions being with grocery clerks and librarians; and those, just small talk. It’s a problem of scale, I think, too many people chasing way too many choices to ever coalesce a center of anything. Everyone zooming around in closed up cars, air conditioners roaring, or walking with their heads plugged into their iPod, iPhone, or Android alternate universes. Distracted drivers, distracted riders, and distracted walkers living deliberately invisible lives. Slip over here for more ...

Carless- Day Eighteen - Crank Length

The problem, I find, with riding Amy’s “girl’s” bike has nothing to do with crossing some culturally-induced gender line. Her bike’s just uncomfortable to ride, even though it has more gears than I can practicably find. It feels somehow built wrong.

I adjusted the seat to compensate for my longer legs, making sure to find that sweet spot between over and under extension; and I think I found that spot. Still, when I started pedaling, something felt wrong. The circumference of the pedal circle seemed too short, restricted. I’d ridden bikes like this before and found them dispensing charlie horse cramps, achy knees, and sore hip joints. The only solution I’ve ever found to this difficulty has been to not ride those bikes. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Seventeen -Good Neighbor

We’d put five miles on our shoes by noon, looking at one rental and failing to find a second. Once home, Amy found the second place’s address: up an impossibly long hill. Yesterday, as I was trudging up the twenty eight percent grade on our street, our neighbor stuck his head out and gave me a round of applause because he’s a smart-ass. “Keep up the good work, David!” he cheered.

”Hey,” he continued, “if you need a lift anywhere for a beer run or to look at a place, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m just hanging around here.” Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Sixteen -Father of Convention

I’m supposing it started as most modern beliefs do, as a marketing ploy; some way to differentiate for profit. Before, there were bikes. After, “boy’s” bikes and “girl’s” bikes; not “men’s” and “woman’s,” but always “boy’s” and “girl’s”. The difference being that while one has to hike a leg to mount a boy’s bike, a skirt-wearing girl can just step through with dignity intact, as if zooming around on a bike while wearing a full skirt qualified as dignified.

For most men of my age, though, this marketing ploy stuck. I’d no more ride a “girl’s” bike than wear her skirt, and this little stigma strikes me as simply silly. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Fifteen -Troll Shoulders

Stopped in the bike shop today, committed to finally resolving that squealing coaster brake. I believed that I would need a cone wrench, a thin little baby most bike break hubs require for disassembly. The owner admired my antique then checked his master manual, because there are several different sizes of cone wrenches. He flipped the machine upside down and loosened the back wheel before concluding that my bike didn’t require any special wrenches. Slip over here for more ...

Carless- Day Fourteen -Alley Cat

The realtor had generated three possibilities in our search for a place to move, so I mapped ‘em and hopped on the bike before the predicted swelter settled in. The first place overlooked a drug store parking lot. The second, a semidetached row house in name only, was actually the middle of three undetachable brick units. The third was a tad remote, but beautiful, and someone snatched it up before we could schedule a walk-through.

Between the first and second place, though, I discovered a neighborhood with alleys. I felt transported back to my childhood, when I mostly travelled by alleyway. The town I grew up in featured extensive networks of secret passages and little-known shortcuts, and I knew every danged one of ‘em. It was as if the thoughtful city planners had created a shadow street grid, perfect for a ten year old’s needs. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Thirteen -Musings Mysterious

Modernity’s mysterious to me.

I’ve owned four cars. I’d hoped each would be my last. I drove ‘em until they were essentially undrive-able, abandoning them only after they’d abandoned me. I replaced each reluctantly, not wholly convinced that I really needed to replace any of them. I have experienced carless times before.

I have the same relationship with cars that I have with power tools. I’ve never really felt competent to operate either. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Twelve -Dweeb On Wheels

My bike is properly geared for downhill coasting, though the brakes squeal near the bottom of the steepest grades. That one gear gives me some uphill work. I walk it up any grade greater than gentle. No, I don’t wear a helmet, though I know I should. I don’t have one to wear.

When we decided to go carless, Amy asked if I needed a new bike as we waited at the bike shop while her twelve speed got a check-up. I admit that I was attracted to a fine, new ten speed, and almost saw myself sinuous and slick, a ‘real’ urban biker, but I demurred. “Nope,” I replied, “the one I’ve got seems to be working fine.” Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Eleven -The Missing Tooth

missing tooth
For the first week or so after going carless, the ghost of the red Honda seemed to haunt the driveway. Looking out my office window, I’d catch just a fleeting glimpse of it, projected, I suppose, by my steam-powered perceiving facility; as if it had just then gone and I was seeing its last few lingering molecules hanging in the humid air.

Now, the haunt seems over. It’s been about a week since I caught myself thinking that I’d just hop in the car. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Ten -Lost and Found

I suspect that we’re rediscovering long-acknowledged principles by going carless. Whether these are classified as understandings fundamental to psychology, sociology, anthropology, chemistry, physics, or library science doesn’t matter to me. Whereever fundamental knowledge resides, it seems fundamentally useless until I personally experience it.

Carless turns out to be one of those something’s missing dilemmas. In this class of conundrum, the important lessons emerge. I couldn’t usefully learn this stuff without personally experiencing it. This ain’t a thought experiment, but an existential one. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Nine -Zip 'e De Do Car

’Your first Ziptrip is kinda like a first date. You're excited. You're nervous. You hope your breath smells okay. Of course, there's always that getting-to-know-you period. To keep the awkwardness to a minimum, follow the Ziptips down below.’

So begins the confirmation ZipCar sent when I reserved my first one. No, the experience wasn’t even a little bit like a first date. Neither nervous nor particularly excited, I learned that I should have reserved a car more than an hour in advance, though the technology certainly enables me to reserve a car almost the moment I need one. Almost, because there’s always the possibility that there are no cars available at that precise moment, which is what I found. I imagined that I’d just saunter over to the neighborhood lot and hop into a zippy car. Instead, I fast walked four blocks to hop a Saturday bus which dropped me nearish to an alternate Zipcar lot, where I secured my wheels Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Eight -Not Hovering

The evening routine’s shifted. Instead of hovering, waiting for Amy to announce her departure from work and her follow-up call to report that she’s made it to the Metro stop-before-ours so I can hop in the car and collect her, I open the front door so she can let herself in. She still calls to say she’s on her way and sometimes calls to chat on her walk/bus ride from the station, but I’m not hovering. I’m prepping supper instead. Slip over here for more ...

Carless- Day Seven -Good For

Back on carless day three, the landlords called to tell us that they’ve decided to sell the house we’re living in. We gotta be out of here by October 1. Where will we relocate? No idea.

I’m adopting the strategy I employed when we found this place. A car’s no advantage when scoping out neighborhoods. I need to walk around to see what a neighborhood’s like; driving-by can’t tell me nearly as much as can the people I meet on the street. Slip over here for more ...


Carless- Day Six -Wits End

I didn’t need public transport today. I could have ginned up some excuse for an excursion just to ‘get out,’ but the weather was blistering, and by afternoon, strong thunderstorms took over. I was satisfied sitting at home.

I might not have chosen this satisfaction had the old car been handy. I wouldn’t have complained about a fresh loaf of bread. I might have ‘needed’ something from the hardware store. But the slight inconvenience of needing to plan the outing was plenty enough barrier to prevent me from such distractions. I chose to face my own demons in the relative discomfort of my keyboard, instead. Slip over here for more ...


Carless-Day Five -OutSmart

Smart phones make public transportation useable. Busses are useless unless riders can figure out where to catch ‘em, when they’ll arrive, where they’re going, and how much they’ll cost. They also must be convenient, which means frequent and reliable; they gotta show up on time. Tremendous local knowledge used to be required to even think about bussing. Now, I dig deep in my pocket, pull out my iPhone, and open GoogleMaps, which can tell me where I am, note where I’m going, and derive alternate routes: car, bus/train, bike, hoof. Slip over here for more ...

Carless-Day Four -Fare Trade

The cab arrived ten minutes early, then idled at the curb while Amy—always running a smidge late—finished packing her briefcase.

“Can you run up to my office and find a writing tablet for me?” she asked, winding a computer cable.

“Where are they hidden?”

“Just under the printer.”

I slipped upstairs, found one, then hopped back down to hand it to her.


I’m very sensitive to time when leaving on a trip. Amy’s event horizon works differently. She’s ready when she’s ready. This morning she would leave about five minutes before she’d ordered the taxi to arrive; unusual punctuality, probably a fluke. I schlepped her bag down the front walk, handing it to the cabbie. Amy and I smooched and hugged, then she disappeared into the cab and the cab evaporated into the hazy morning. Slip over here for more ...


Carless-Day Three -Shifting Gears

Shifting Gears

We rode bikes instead of hoofing it to the farmers’ market yesterday morning. I asked and Amy said she was game, so I pulled out from the back corner of the garage her 1976 Schwinn Varsity twelve speed, pumped up the tires, and brushed away the accumulated cobwebs and cat fur.

Amy doesn’t ride her bike much. And, as we started out, she struggled to shift gears. My bike has only one gear, so I was a half block ahead of her before I noticed she was fretting. She closed the gap, though, and we continued up through the complicated intersection, where she pulled off onto the sidewalk, clearly frustrated. Gears still not meshing properly. She gamely remounted and we coasted into downtown, to the small bike shop there. Slip over here for more ...


Carless-Day Two -Recalibrating


I've been reflecting on this ... liberating carless experience. I'm noticing my brain working differently. Amy has noticed hers shifting, too. With a car, we seem to take space and time for granted, as if we were the masters of both simply because we have a few hundred pounds of metal swathed around us. We imagine that we could get anywhere, anytime; we head out deluded with an easy as-if, which rarely turns out as imagined. We are, however, not the master of traffic flows and parking contingencies. We’re really just another encumbrance in an over-full cascade of them. What makes our errand so special? Slip over here for more ...

Carless-Day One -Taking Credit

We’ve declared ourselves carless for the next few weeks. Why? Not our sincere dedication to the environment, though I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. Sure, we might avoid spewing a few pounds of carbon into the environment, but that alone wouldn’t have chased us out of the vehicle. We’re interested in saving the planet, but we’re no less stuck in this car culture than everyone else.

The *real* reason has more to do with financial than environmental security. Slip over here for more ...


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